Puppy bottle feeding

Colostrum boosts the immune system of a puppy.

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Reasons to give your dog colostrum

By Dr Alice Watson MA VetMB MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Colostrum is enormously benefical to a just-born puppy. But what exactly is it? And is it good for older dogs too?

The first milk produced by the mammary glands (breasts) after giving birth is called colostrum. Colostrum is produced by a bitch that has just given birth and lasts for around two days. It is generally slightly sticky and thicker than normal milk, as it is rich in proteins, fat and energy.

What are the benefits of colostrum to puppies?

Colostrum is rich in energy, nutrients and proteins. Energy and nutrients are essential for the newborn pup to ensure blood sugar levels do not drop too low.

Special proteins called antibodies in the colostrum can be absorbed through the intestines into the blood to boost a puppy's immune system. Antibodies provide puppies with some protection from infectious diseases until their immune systems develop. The antibodies can also provide protection by directly binding to germs in the gut and preventing the germs doing any harm. Antibodies in the colostrum can only be absorbed into the blood for a short period of time after birth (around 24 hours). After this time the intestines (guts) are no longer able to take up antibodies. Therefore it is important that puppies suckle on their mothers within the first few hours of life. Colostrum is also rich in other hormones and growth factors that help puppies to grow and their organs to develop.

What are the benefits of colostrum supplements for adult dogs?

Bovine colostrum contains some proteins that can influence the dog's immunity (e.g. growth factors, antimicrobial proteins (lactoferrin) and immuno-modulatory proteins). Bovine colostrum has been shown to improve the immune response to vaccination in adult dogs. Bovine colostrum has also been shown to improve the gut flora (microbiome), which is likely to improve the gut health of the dog and reduce the risk of diarrhoea.  

What colour is dog colostrum?

Colostrum is off-white or yellow, and is generally slightly thicker and stickier than normal milk, as it has a higher protein and fat content. It is only produced by a bitch for the first 48 hours after whelping (birth).

Can I give my dog colostrum?

It is important that all puppies get enough colostrum from their mothers, and puppies should be encouraged to suckle within the first few hours after birth, ideally before giving any supplements to your pet. You should discuss your options with a vet. 

Does colostrum help dog allergies?

Anecdotally, people have reported that colostrum may help a dog with allergies, But it's probably best to discuss options for controlling your dog's allergies with a vet.

Will colostrum help my dog's immune system?

Colostrum will boost the immune system of a puppy. It is very important that puppies get enough colostrum to give them some protection until their immune system has developed properly.

There is evidence to show that colostrum may help to boost an adult dog's immune system. One study has shown that giving bovine colostrum to a dog around the time of vaccination improved the dog's response to the vaccine. You may like to discuss this option with a vet, if you are interested in finding out more.

How long does it take for colostrum to work on dogs?

In puppies, colostrum works as soon as it is within the gut, because it can bind to germs and stop them causing harm. It takes slightly longer for antibodies to be absorbed into the bloodstream to give passive immunity, and good antibody levels are usually achieved around forty eight hours after birth. After this time passive immunity (antibodies from the puppy's mother) will start to drop, and the puppies own immune system will mature and they'll start to produce their own antibodies. It is important to ensure puppies are vaccinated around 10 weeks of age to ensure they have protection from the major diseases (leptospirosis, canine distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis) and prevent them being at risk.

Does colostrum help arthritis in your dog?

One study in mice has shown that bovine colostrum may help with rheumatoid arthritis (where the immune system attacks the joints). Yet most arthritis in dogs is caused by mechanical wear and tear to the joint (osteoarthritis rather than rheumatoid arthritis). If you are interested in supplements that are beneficial in treating arthritis in dogs, you can ask a vet.

What advice should I ask a vet about dogs and colostrum? 

When thinking about breeding a dog, you may like to ask a vet about how you can make the bitch produce the best quality colostrum. Things you might discuss include vaccinations and adjusting the bitch's diet. You may also like to talk to a vet about whether giving bovine colostrum can help around the time of vaccination.

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