The best way to keep your cat healthy is to support his/her immune system! While there are a number of products out there being marketed to help a cat’s immune system, there are a few immune system builders for cats that don’t require extra purchases. A few simple lifestyle changes could make all the difference.
This post is part 3 of 3 in my series about the cat’s immune system.
#1 A Healthy Diet
A species appropriate diet will help your cat to be healthy in more ways that one. There are 4 things that a cat’s body does with the food that he/she eats:
- Food is used to give energy to the cells of the cat’s body so they can perform their functions.
- Food is used as the building blocks to create new cells and other things the body needs to function. Good foods are quite literally immune system builders for cats.
- Food can be stored as fat and used for energy at a later time.
- Parts of the food that can not be used by the body become waste.
Cats bodies don’t handle carbohydrates very well. When a cat eats a diet that is high in carbohydrates (like dry cat foods are) a few carbs are able to be used by the body, more of them are stored as fat, and many of the carbs become waste. Not much of that goes into building a healthy immune system. Cats need foods that are high in animal proteins, have moderate levels of animal fats, and high moisture levels (70% or higher). You want your cat to have plenty of high-quality parts to build their immune system with. The fresher and less processed the food is, the more immune system builders it contains.
#2 Getting Enough Sleep
Normally, getting enough sleep isn’t hard for a cat. A house cat should sleep anywhere from 15 -18 hours per day. They are designed for short periods of high-energy wakefulness (usually around dusk and dawn). Believe it or not, all of that sleeping serves a function. Wakefulness promotes one part of the immune system while sleeping promotes another. As your cat sleeps, important parts of the immune system, like T-cells, are replenished. Certain types of messenger proteins called cytokines are released during sleep as well. Cytokines can promote the healing of wounds and help T-cells and B-cells to remember intruders that they have already faced (thus impacting immunity).
#3 Stress Reduction
Stress causes health problems for all mammals. High levels of stress over a short period of time can temporarily give a boost to the cat’s immune system. If a stressor continues indefinitely, the immune system is suppressed. The following symptoms of a syndrome known as “sickness behavior” can be seen:
- Reduction in activity
- Reduction in social activity
- Reduction in sexual activity
- Increased responsiveness to pain
- Depressed mood
Another notable change has to do with 2 different types of T-cells: Th1 and Th2. Th1 cells send messages to other parts of the immune system to mount an attack on an invader that is within a cell of the body (like a virus or cancer). The result of these attacks is a cell being killed and disposed of. Th2 cells send messages to other parts of the immune system to mount an attack on things that are not within the cells of the body (like a parasite or bacteria). Often inflammation is a part of these attacks. These Th2 cells are at work during an allergic reaction.
When stress becomes chronic, the brain sends messages out to the immune system to suppress the activity of the Th1 cells and increase the activity of the Th2 cells. That is why cats that have been in stressful situations for a prolonged period of time are prone to illness while at the same time they develop more, stronger allergies.
You can find a list of things that could be stressing out your cat here. Please have a talk with your veterinarian about your cat’s daily routine, if you are concerned about your cat’s stress level. The things that remove stress from your cat’s life are definitely immune system boosters!
#4 Vaccines are not always immune system builders
Vaccines are designed to imitate an attack of a certain virus on your cat’s body. The idea is that your cat’s immune system will easily fight off a dead or weakened virus and in doing so, create antibodies against the virus that will help fend off a real attack by that same virus. The cat’s immune system is also supposed to create a memory of how to fight that virus for the future. Eventually the cells containing the memory of the virus die off and a booster vaccine is needed for further immunity.
The problem is that the list of recommended vaccines that cats are expected to receive just keeps growing. Do your research and know which vaccines will be helpful and which will not. Each vaccine puts stress on the cat’s body to not only fight off the virus but the other contents within the vaccine as well.
Many veterinarians recommend having your cat re-vaccinated every year. However, there is evidence that cats do not need yearly vaccines. A titer test, which measures the amount of a particular antibody present in your cat’s body, can save your cat from being over vaccinated.
Everyone needs a little help sometimes! Your cat’s body is covered inside and out with helpful microorganisms. These microorganisms help the cat’s immune system to learn the difference between good things and bad things that enter the body as well as fending off some attackers themselves. Since so many things enter the body through the digestive system, that’s where the immune system needs a lot of help. Giving your cat a probiotic that is designed for cats can help to make sure a healthy balance of good microorganisms in place in the digestive tract.
What immune system builders do you use for your cat?
Sources and Digging Deeper