Colostrum is well known for its role in helping dogs with allergies. It helps with allergies because it’s a potent immune modulator. But those immune benefits mean colostrum for dogs offers a whole array of other benefits … far beyond allergy relief. Here’s a closer look …
What Is Colostrum?
Colostrum is a substance in mother’s first milk. It gives newborns their first nutrition and helps build a healthy immune system. But it’s not just newborns who benefit from colostrum. There are some important reasons to give colostrum to your adult dog too. And it doesn’t have to come from a dog. Bovine colostrum (from cows) works just as well and it’s easy to find.
How Do You Give Bovine Colostrum To Dogs?
Colostrum usually comes in a powder or capsules that you give orally. It’s most effective on an empty stomach, not with food. But you may need to mix it with a little broth or plain unsweetened yogurt to give it to your dog. For dosing recommendations, see the last section of this post.
Why Is Colostrum So Good For Dogs?
These are the key components of colostrum’s healing properties …
Colostrum contains immunoglobulins (also called antibodies). The antibodies in colostrum include IgG, IgM and IgA.
IgG antibodies give puppies and young animals passive immunity. This protects them until their own immune system matures. IgG antibodies can neutralize viruses. In fact, they’re injected into humans to control hepatitis A. IgG antibodies can also fight bacteria and long-standing chronic infections.
IgM antibodies are the first antibodies newborns make. They activate a component of the immune system called the complement cascade … and that’s an important job. Some bacteria have evolved with surfaces that complement proteins can’t bind to. But IgM antibodies can bind to nearly every surface the bacteria will throw at it. This helps the complement proteins attach and destroy the invaders. IgM antibodies are the first line of defense against viruses too.
IgA is another important class of antibodies. Your dog makes more of these than any other antibody. IgA antibodies form a lining in the digestive tract. Their job is to coat bacteria and viruses in the digestive tract so they don’t enter the body. So if dogs don’t have enough IgA antibodies, foreign invaders will constantly escape the digestive tract. This will cause chronic diarrhea and bowel inflammation. Or they can enter the bloodstream and cause allergy symptoms and chronic inflammation in the organs. So it’s critical that dogs have enough IgA stores in their bodies.
Growth factors stimulate cell growth, help repair muscle, bone, and connective tissue. They can also heal the intestinal lining.
This protein is antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal and antiparasitic. It helps eliminate pathogens that trigger inflammation. It also has anti-tumor effects. And new research shows it’s more effective than the drug doxycycline at treating Lyme disease. Keep reading to learn about that.
Proline-rich polypeptides (PRP) regulate the thymus and immune function … stimulating underactive immune systems or moderating overactive ones. They help the body respond to invaders like microbes, toxins or allergens.
Methylsulfonylmethane is a substance that’s often in joint supplements. It’s a micronutrient that supports wound healing. It can maintain cartilage and manage pain. MSM is also used in cancer treatments. In studies, it’s reduced breast cancer tumors and helped manage prostate and liver cancers.
As you can see, one of the main roles of colostrum is to regulate your dog’s immune system. But there are some other important benefits of colostrum for dogs.
The Top 12 Benefits Of Colostrum For Dogs
There are many reasons to give your dog colostrum. As mentioned earlier, one of the most common reasons is to relieve allergy symptoms.
Allergies are an overactive immune response. The PRPs in colostrum help moderate that response. Colostrum also helps manage inflammation that causes rashes, itching, and discomfort for your dog. Colostrum also helps manage leaky gut, which a common cause of allergic reactions in dogs.
Let’s look at leaky gut in more detail …
#2 Leaky Gut
Leaky gut in dogs happens when the gut lining gets damaged. Drugs or other toxins in his environment can do this. Once damaged, undigested food particles can pass through the lining and get into the bloodstream. These invaders can cause problems ranging from allergies to digestive issues and arthritis.
Studies show that colostrum can help heal leaky gut. And lactoferrin plays an important role. It helps manage inflammation and acts as a prebiotic to “feed” healthy gut bacteria.
So, now that you know it can help heal leaky gut … it shouldn’t surprise you that colostrum can also help manage diarrhea.
Studies show it can help reduce many different kinds of diarrhea. This includes chronic, acute and even infectious diarrhea.
Colostrum can also be useful for your litter of puppies. A 2004 study showed that colostrum improved the fecal quality of weaned puppies.
#4 Oral Health
Periodontal disease is a leading veterinary problem in small animal patients. It’s especially prominent in small dogs and often leads to tooth loss. Most conventional vets recommend regular teeth cleaning under anesthesia. That’s risky and many dog owners are understandably reluctant.
But John Ellis DVM PhD suggests colostrum can reduce the bacteria that cause gum disease. Growth factors in colostrum may also repair damaged tissue.
#5 Gut Damage From Drugs
Has your dog taken drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or antibiotics? These drugs have many side effects. And they can cause permanent damage to your dog’s gut health, including leaky gut.
Several studies show that colostrum can help repair gut damage from pharmaceutical drugs. Keep colostrum in mind if your dog ever needs conventional drugs in an emergency.
We all want our dogs to stay young and vibrant forever. And research shows colostrum can have anti-aging effects on your dog … in several ways. It can help preserve lean muscle mass and bone density in older adults. This could mean better mobility and strength as your dog ages.
Colostrum also improves recovery from exercise, helping prevent oxidative stress. And studies show it may prevent cognitive decline as well.
#7 Autoimmune Disease
Like humans, dogs are suffering more and more from autoimmune disease. Over-vaccination, leaky gut and environmental toxins are just some of the factors. The PRPs in colostrum help regulate an overactive immune system. While growth factors decrease inflammation. Both of these are important in reducing the risk of autoimmune disease.
Immunoglobulins and lactoferrin also help by limiting bacteria and viruses. These viruses can trigger or aggravate autoimmune disorders.
Many dogs have to deal with itching, skin odor and discomfort from yeast. Lactoferrin and its peptides have strong antifungal activity. And, as you’ll read later, it also helps get rid of biofilms that protect yeast. Along with colostrum’s immune-boosting properties, it can help fight your dog’s stubborn yeast infection.
Immunoglobulins in colostrum help support your dog’s immune system. They also help fight viruses and bacterial infections.
Lactoferrin’s anti-inflammatory effects may also help treat and prevent cancer. And the cytokines in colostrum can help the body fight cancer as they activate special white blood cells … that can find and kill cancer cells. Colostrum also contains a special protein called Lactalbumin. Researchers report that colostrum lactalbumin can cause apoptosis (death) of cancer cells … but leaves the healthy cells to thrive.
#10 Joint Issues And Arthritis
Managing leaky gut and inflammation are a big part of controlling your dog’s joint pain or arthritis. And growth factors in colostrum can also help repair tissue damage in the joints. The MSM in colostrum can help manage pain and inflammation. MSM is also important to help maintain cartilage.
#11 Canine Flu
Colostrum can prevent upper respiratory diseases. It can also prevent the flu better than vaccination. A 2007 study showed that colostrum was “at least 3 times more effective than vaccination.” A 2013 study found that a lactoferrin-whey protein supplement can cut down on colds. Only 48 of the participants got sick vs 112 in the placebo group. And patients who did get colds were sick for shorter periods.
So, if your dog goes to daycare or boarding, give him colostrum to prevent flu or kennel cough.
Another study in 2013 showed that dogs’ immune function improved with colostrum. And if your dog’s vaccinated … the same study suggested colostrum may improve the vaccine response.
#12 Skin Problems
You can use colostrum topically to speed skin repair and wound healing. Its antibacterial effects can also help with skin infections. Make a paste of powdered colostrum mixed with distilled water and apply it to problems like …
- Skin infections
- Wounds (including surgical wounds)
- Insect bites
- Hot spots
- Ear infections
RELATED: 6 natural remedies for itchy dogs …
Bonus Benefit: Colostrum For Lyme Disease
There’s a bonus benefit to colostrum. A new study at the University of New Haven found that lactoferrin, (milk protein in colostrum), can help treat Lyme disease. The study shows it’s more effective than the antibiotic doxycycline … the standard treatment for Lyme disease.
Lyme disease comes from the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Previous studies have shown that B burgdorferi often appears in biofilm form. Biofilms are structured colonies of bacteria, surrounded by a polysaccharide layer that contains minerals like calcium, manganese, magnesium, or iron. Biofilm hides the bacteria from the immune system and protects them from antibiotics. Studies show biofilms can increase B burgdorferi antibiotic resistance up to 1000 times compared to individual spirochete forms of the bacterium. This makes Lyme disease very difficult to treat. And it’s not just Lyme bacteria. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 80% of human bacterial infections have biofilms. (Yeast also has biofilms that protect it.)
The new UNH study shows that lactoferrin at concentrations of 80ug/ml was 5% more effective than doxycycline. Lactoferrin lowered the viability of B burdorferi biofilm by 15%. Lactoferrin may work because it absorbs minerals like iron and manganese from biofilms. B Burgdorferi uses manganese for biological processes, so this deprives the bacteria of their essential nutrients.
The 80ug/ml concentration was the most effective. (Lower concentrations (20ug/mL and 40ug/mL) slightly increased biofilm viability.) So how much lactoferrin is in colostrum? Researchers have found the concentration of lactoferrin in colostrum ranges from 1.5 to 5 mg/mL. The effective concentration of 80ug/mL converts to .08mg/mL … so colostrum has ample concentrations of lactoferrin.
If your dog has Lyme disease symptoms (or if you do!), colostrum is a low cost, safe supplement to help fight this stubborn bacterial infection.
Is Colostrum Safe For Lactose Intolerant Dogs?
The good news is that colostrum has very little lactose and shouldn’t cause a reaction in most lactose intolerant dogs. But if your dog has a dairy or beef allergy, start with a small amount and watch your dog for reactions. If you don’t see any signs of digestive upset, you can continue to give the colostrum.
How To Choose The Best Colostrum For Dogs
Colostrum quality varies a lot. So here are some guidelines to help you choose a high-quality product.
- Find colostrum that comes from pasture-raised, rBGH-free cows. rBGH is a genetically engineered growth hormone. Dairies use it to boost milk production. Any genetically engineered product carries potential health risks, maybe even cancer. It’s banned in many countries, including Canada, the EU, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
- Make sure the dairy source doesn’t use antibiotics in the cows’ feed. Dairies often use antibiotics to prevent mastitis and other diseases.
- Ask your provider for an independent Certificate of Analysis. Make sure the product doesn’t have harmful bacteria. Watch for heavy metals or other contaminants too.
- Be aware of ethical concerns too. Calves need colostrum from their mothers, especially in the first 48 hours. Ask your supplier when they harvest colostrum. Look for products where the calves get the colostrum they need in their first hours.
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How Much Colostrum To Give Your Dog
As mentioned earlier, colostrum is best fed on an empty stomach … but you can stir it into a small amount of yogurt or broth. The late Gloria Dodd DVM recommended giving it for one month, then as needed.
- If you’re giving a powder: give 1/16 teaspoon per 25 lbs of body weight, once or twice daily.
- If your colostrum comes in capsules: give small dogs 1 cap daily, medium to large dogs can have 2 caps daily.
As you see, colostrum can help with a wide range of health problems in your dog. It’s inexpensive … and easy to dose because of its mild flavor. Holistic veterinarian Stephen Blake DVM finds it can strengthen other treatments like homeopathy, acupuncture and flower essences. Dr Blake says …
“That this natural package contains all the immune and growth factors necessary for life is no accident […] and should be considered in any health-related problem.”
S Chastant-Maillard et al. Canine and feline colostrum. Reproduction In Domestic Animals. Vol 52, Issue 52.
Dylan Haenel, Eva Sapi PhD. Antimicrobial effects of lactoferrin and cannabidiol on Borrelia burgdorferi. Department of Biology and Environmental Science/ Biotechnology, University of New Haven.
Römling U, Balsalobre C. Biofilm infections, their resilience to therapy and innovative treatment strategies. J Intern Med. 2012 Dec;272(6):541-61.
Sapi E, et al. (2012) Characterization of Biofilm Formation by Borrelia burgdorferi In Vitro. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48277.
McGrath, BA et al. Composition and properties of bovine colostrum: a review. Dairy Sci. & Technol. 96, 133–158 (2016).
Di Domenico EG, et al. The Emerging Role of Microbial Biofilm in Lyme Neuroborreliosis. Front Neurol. 2018 Dec 3;9:1048.