What's the scoop on immunostimulants in pets? (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2009

The recognition that dietary constituents play a significant role in not only maintaining good health, but also preventing chronic disease, is a relatively new phenomenon in veterinary medicine in comparison to the long history of pet nutrition and studies of nutritional deprivation. For example, the use of supplemental vitamins, iron, and other minerals has been widespread for more than 50 years. Indeed, western populations have revolved around the concept that nearly everything can be provided in pet food. In contrast, the perception that foods themselves are beneficial and can provide much greater clinical and biochemical improvements to patients than pills, is a relatively new finding. Clearly, the whole is better than individual components, i.e. consumption of diets rich in antioxidants such as green vegetables, is far better than taking a dietary antioxidant tablet. This concept although well known in humans, is only now gaining attention in our profession

Although this concept may seem obvious to most scientists, it is still not as widely accepted in the general population as one would expect. Indeed, one has only to go through the shelves in pet stores to appreciate that at least in the United States, a great deal of money is spent on dietary supplements. Indeed, even within the pet food industry that recognizes the importance of dietary quality control, there is still ill conceptions on how pet food should be prepared, the interactions between food ingredients during preparation, and, in particular, the relative absence of the long-term epidemiologic consequences of poorly designed pet food. We seem to accept that diet is healthy without a scientific basis, the mechanism of action. Hardly a week goes by when we are not told of the benefits of green tea, of red wine, of grapes, of eating fish, but the proof of the pudding, namely evidence based research, remains lacking. These concepts have now made it into the veterinary literature and our daily practices.

In this talk I we place these concepts in perspective with emphasis on immune stimulants with respect to the following
1. What is an immune stimulant?
2. Is immune stimulation always helpful?
3. Under what clinical situation should a veterinarian recommend dietary supplements?
4. How do we evaluate short term versus long-term effects?
5. What quality controls exist to protect the consumer from fraud?
6. What quality control exist to protect the pet from chemical contaminants?
7. What is the future of these concepts for our profession?

Finally my goal herein is to focus on future directions in nutrition and pet health, including point-counterpoint arguments that address contemporary pet needs of problems of aging, of cancer development, of inflammation, of immune responses and to the increasing burden of allergies in our pets—and how and if immune stimulants can help.


1 Greco DS Nutritional supplements for pregnant and lactating bitches. Theriogenology. 2008 Aug;70(3):393-6. Epub 2008 Jun 12