Puppies face many stressors during their first year of life, which may adversely affect their health. During this first year of life, puppies undergo many changes ranging from going to a new home, being bathed for the first time, vaccinations – all stressors which can adversely affect his intestinal microflora as well as point to the fact that nutrition is paramount during this very demanding period of growth and development. Colostrum helps balance the beneficial and harmful bacteria in the intestine, which not only promotes nutrient absorption facilitated by colonic microflora, but lowers potential for infection, diarrhoea, and intestinal inflammation. Recent research has shown that natural antibodies and other bio-active growth factors found in colostrum can help strengthen a puppy’s immature immune system.
Immune Functions of the Paediatric GI Tract
The protective function of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract helps prevent the invasion of pathogens and undesirable substrates. An abrupt change in gut barrier function occurs at birth as the gut switches from processing amniotic fluid to digesting milk. The transition to a fully functional physical barrier is complete sometime between 12 and 22 weeks of age.
The GI tract’s Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) is the largest immunological organ in the body. While the canine neonate is born with a functional immune system, it is still immature and naïve at birth. Its response to any immunostimulation is that of a first exposure, requiring a prolonged period to produce immunoglobulins. Colostrum provides immunoglobulins and other growth factors that stimulate development of the GI tract.
In cases where canine colostrum is not available for newborn puppies, bovine colostrum may provide a suitable alternative. Even in fully weaned puppies, bovine colostrum may have benefits. Another important part of GI’s defence system is the resident microflora populating the intestinal lumen. The newborn GI tract is sterile, but rapidly begins to accumulate microflora. The composition of this population profoundly impacts immunological health. Within a day or two after birth, the newborn’s entire digestive tract is populated with microorganisms from the environment, with transfer from the mother’s colostrum as a dominant source. Weaning is associated with large-scale changes in the composition of the GI microflora. The ability of pathogenic or beneficial organisms to become established is much greater during this period of microfloral transition.The GI microflora serve a critical function in the development of the host animal’s immune system and is the primary stimulus for the development of the GALT. The endogenous intestinal microflora compete with pathogens and provide an environment that favours beneficial bacteria. In addition to the physical barrier provided by the mucous membranes lining the GI tract and the immunological power of the GALT, the intestinal microflora has a very important role as part of the body’s natural defence system.
Research Studies Identify Benefits of Natural Antibodies
Recent work in our facility has shown the benefits of natural antibodies. In one study, hyperimmunised egg powder was used as a source of natural antibodies. In this study, two groups of 18 Alaskan Husky puppies (12-16 weeks old) undergoing a controlled exercise programme were fed identical diets except for the addition of the hyperimmunised egg powder. Supplementation of the diet with egg powder:
a)Stabilised gut microflora which helps to optimise nutrient absorption and reduce stress-induced or related diarrhoea.
b)Increased IgA levels in the faeces which indicates mucosal immune stimulation in the GI tract, which supports the protective function of the gut.
c)Decreased faecal pH which is correlated with a higher level of beneficial gut bacteria leading to a healthier gut.
In another recent study, we evaluated the ability of colostrum to enhance immune and gut health in dogs. Dogs were either fed a control diet or the control diet supplemented with colostrum. Colostrum was evaluated because, similar to hyperimmunised egg powder, it contains natural antibodies and other bio-actives.
The diet containing natural antibodies and other bio-actives from colostrum showed a significantly higher response to canine distemper virus booster vaccination, which indicates an enhanced immune status in dogs fed this diet compared to control. Despite the enhanced immune response to vaccination, no overstimulation of the immune system was observed in this study. C-reactive proteins and plasma IgG, IgM and IgA, all measures of immune stimulation, were not different versus control. The immune system in dogs fed a diet containing colostrum is therefore likely to respond better when exposed to an infectious agent or vaccines that are administered as part of routine veterinary care.
Bacterial populations are in constant flux in the gut due to cellular turnover, nutrient availability (introduction of food at weaning) and interaction of the gut microenvironment. Natural antibodies and other bio-actives in colostrum help to balance beneficial and potentially harmful intestinal bacteria. By stabilising gut microflora, colostrum promotes nutrient absorption facilitated by colonic microflora and lowers the potential for infection, diarrhoea, as well as intestinal inflammation.
New research demonstrates that natural antibodies and other bio-actives found in colostrum, whey protein concentrate, or hyperimmunised egg powder, have beneficial health effects in dogs. These compounds help to enhance the puppy’s immature immune system to better respond to challenge without overstimulation. The compounds also help stabilise the gut microflora, lowering the potential for infection and stress-related diarrhoea.