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How to Strengthen Your Cat's Immunity

By Susan McCullough
Most people don’t think of a cat as a four-legged war
machine. A feline that is napping on a soft blanket,
playfully pouncing on its favorite toy or rubbing up
against his/her human doesn’t exactly look like a
soldier. But make no mistake. Your feline friend is a
kitty combatant, battling 24/7 to defeat a tenacious
enemy. That enemy is germs, and the stakes are
your cat’s health -- even its life.

Fortunately, your cat’s equipped with a remarkable
set of defenses: its immune system. But while this
system is amazing, it’s not always able to withstand
assaults from germs and to fight off resulting illnesses.
That’s where you come in. You can strengthen your cat’s immune system so that
your pet is better able to combat germs and disease by following these four steps.

Step One: Feed Well

Just like you, your cat needs good nutrition to keep its immune system in tip-top
shape. “We do believe diet is important,” says Vicky Thayer, DVM, who is on the
board of directors of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and owns
Purrfect Practice, P.C. in Lebanon, Ore. She recommends a diet that’s high in proteins
-- particularly those with amino acids, such as taurine, arginine and carnitine -- and
relatively low in carbohydrates. Proteins are crucial to building and maintaining immune
system strength. High-quality manufactured cat foods can fit this need. Access to
fresh water is also important.

Step Two: Reduce Stress

Stress can lower your cat’s bodily defenses, so keeping stress to a minimum is
important. “Crowding with too many other cats, poor sanitation and poor ventilation
increase exposure to pathogens and stress,” says Dr. Thayer. “And I have historically
seen that if one has more than five cats, especially in a smaller space, the amount of
behavior issues and illnesses seem to increase.”  

Step Three: Enrich the Environment

A good diet, clean home and plenty of personal space aren’t always enough to
strengthen a cat’s immune system, although they certainly help. Equally important is
an environment that provides lots of exercise opportunities and chances for your cat
to tap into its natural instincts. “Regular moderate exercise enhances immune
function,” explains Dr. Thayer. “Play toys, especially with owners, multilevel housing
structures, ramps and outdoor enclosures all help. Cats have historically been hunters
and outdoors looking for prey. Adding some of this natural behavior back to their
[indoor] routine is important to keeping them disease free and healthy.”

Step Four: Consider Alternatives

Some alternative (also known as complementary) therapies may go a long way toward
reducing the stresses that can compromise a cat’s immune system. Dr. Thayer
maintains, “Anything that relieves pain and stress for cats helps their immune systems.
So massage and acupuncture all have their uses.” That said, it’s a good idea to
consult your veterinarian before treating your cat with any alternative therapies.  

Keeping your cat healthy doesn’t have to be difficult. Just give your pet the weapons
it needs to keep its immune system strong and to fight off disease. These include a
good diet, minimal stress, a rich home environment and openness to alternative
therapies. With that strategy in place, you’ll greatly increase your feline friend’s ability
to win the battles against illness for years to come.

By Susan McCullough for The Daily Cat