Mothers are always told to give their babies the very first milk that comes out from their breasts right after giving birth. This milk, known as colostrum, is rich in maternal antibodies that can confer short-term immunity for the baby for up to the first 6 months of life. Colostrum is also rich in all the nutrients that babies need to start life in a good way. Now, if you’re thinking only human moms will produce colostrum, think again. All female mammals are capable of producing this highly nutritious and very protective drink for the very young. And yes, even Fido, Bongo, and Spot can produce colostrum for their respective puppies. But why is colostrum so important anyway? Let’s look at the benefits that this milk can provide.
Protects Against Certain Infections Especially Flu
One of the most important benefits of colostrum for dogs is its ability to confer some sort of immunity to the puppy; albeit on a short-term basis. The mother dog’s milk is rich in natural antibodies that can beef up the defenses of its young immune system in the first several months of its life. While these antibodies may offer protection, it is not absolute. What this simply means is that the puppy will still be subject to other types of infections for which there are no antibodies in the colostrum to fight them with.
Nevertheless, the mere fact that colostrum contains antibodies that may work against certain types of bacterial infections easily translate to a reduction in the risk of infections for the puppy. On a more positive note, giving colostrum to your adult hound can also confer some sort of protection especially against certain types of canine flu.
Minimizes Allergic Reactions
Colostrum is also rich in proline-rich polypeptide or PRP which is a hormone that is believed to play an important role in the down-regulation of the responses of the dog’s immune system. This can have significant implications in the occurrence of hypersensitivity and allergic reactions whereby the main issue is a hyper-reactive immune system. If the cells of the immune system in an allergy-susceptible dog can be somehow tamed, then the manifestations associated with allergic reactions can be minimized if not totally eliminated.
Allergic reactions occur when cells of the immune system identify and consider certain otherwise “normal” and “harmless” molecules as threats or as “foreign”. As such, inflammatory reactions are mounted in an effort to destroy and eliminate the identified “foreign” substance. These substances that are considered “foreign” typically contain certain proteins that bind to specific receptor molecules which are then recognized by immune system cells as “allergenic”.
Proline-rich polypeptide limits the dog’s ability to produce T-lymphocytes so that the immune response will not be too severe in the presence of an “allergen”. Additionally, this substance in colostrum also increases the synthesis and release of suppressor T-cells which serve to temper the immune response.
The suppressor T-cell-inducing and T-lymphocyte-suppressing effects of colostrum can have substantial implications in other inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Promotes Healthier Digestion
Colostrum can also promote healthier digestion especially for the young puppy. It contains the right amounts of nutrients and other substances that are easily digestible. Even if the digestive system of the young puppy is not yet fully mature, they can easily digest and absorb the various nutrients found in the milk. Additionally, the probiotics contained in colostrum can help provide a more normal microbial flora in the dog’s gut, paving the way for an improvement in its immune system and not only digestion.
Since colostrum can also tame the immune response when it comes to allergic reactions, it can also be beneficial for older dogs that may be suffering from food allergies. The reason behind food allergies in dogs is that large peptides are able to pass through the lumen of the intestines. Since the immune system cells only allow amino acids, they don’t necessarily recognize peptides and even whole proteins as ‘harmless’. When these proteins and peptides reach the blood where majority of the immune system cells are located, an immunologic reaction occurs. We know this as allergy.
Aids in Canine Cancer Management
Colostrum is rich in interferons, lymphokines, and interleukins, immune system cells that are considered to play a role in the mitigation of certain types of canine cancers. Both interferon and interleukin act by activating cytokines which are a special type of leukocytes that search and destroy cells deemed neoplastic or cancerous in nature. Interferons also induce apoptosis especially in cancer cells. What happens is that the cancer cell ceases to grow and eventually die.
The colostrum from a mother dog also contains lactalbumin, a combination of protein and lactose that has cancer-fighting properties. The Immunoglobulins contained in colostrum, especially IgD and IgE can also help fight certain DNA viruses that have the capability to induce tumor growth and develop cancer. Aside from these immune system cells present in colostrum, there is also phytic acid which is an antioxidant believed to be instrumental in preventing the utilization of iron by cancer cells.
Overall, colostrum is an important component of present-day management of certain canine cancers.
Promotes More Efficient Tissue Repair
Insulin-like Growth Factor, a hormone that is mostly produced by the liver upon the stimulation of growth hormone, is also found in colostrum. This hormone plays a role in the growth of puppies by facilitating the accumulation of the necessary building blocks for the various tissues in the dog’s body.
More importantly, however, are its anabolic effects among older dogs. When given to sick and debilitated dogs or even those with wounds or other forms of tissue injury, colostrum can help facilitate more efficient tissue repair, healing, and regeneration. This can also have significant implications in dogs that lead a very active lifestyle or those that are bred for heavy work. Since these types of dogs are more susceptible to muscle tissue injuries, the addition of colostrum in their diets can help promote better healing.
Colostrum is no longer just for puppies. With its unique nutrient composition that also includes antibodies, hormones, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories, among others, colostrum is now a mainstay in complete canine wellbeing.