What is colostrum and what are the benefits of colostrum for dogs?
These are the questions we’re going to be answering today. We'll be discussing the potential health benefits for your canine and how it can support their overall health and wellbeing.
What is colostrum?
Colostrum, a substance known for centuries, holds a level of familiarity for most individuals, yet its comprehensive range of health benefits for humans and dogs remains largely unknown.
Described as the 'preliminary' or 'initial' milk, colostrum is produced by female mammals in the final stages of pregnancy and continues to be produced for several days post-birth.
Its significance stems from its function as a vital immune booster for newborn mammals, who are typically born with limited immunity. As such, colostrum acts as a conduit, transferring essential immune defenses from mother to offspring.
Additionally, colostrum serves a key role in fulfilling the complete nutritional requirements of the newborn, making it crucial for immediate survival and for the offspring's long-term health and development.1
What are the benefits of colostrum?
Colostrum is a veritable powerhouse of nutrition, boasting an impressive concentration of protein and fat, among numerous other vital nutrients.
Its composition includes an exhaustive suite of both fat-soluble vitamins — A, D, E, and K — and water-soluble B vitamins, all of which are essential to the daily dietary needs of canines.
Moreover, colostrum provides a bounty of crucial minerals like calcium, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, thereby further amplifying its nutritional stature.1
In short, the benefits of colostrum for dogs are numerous and we’ll cover some of them here:
Colostrum's immune factors, often referred to as 'bioactive components', are renowned for bolstering the immune system and augmenting resistance against infections instigated by harmful microorganisms.
The critical immune constituents of colostrum include:1
- Lactoferrin: This multifaceted protein exhibits antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Lactoferrin destabilises the outer membranes of certain bacteria, enhancing the immune system's ability to combat them. It also displays potent antiviral attributes by latching onto viruses, thereby impeding their invasion into cells.
- Immunoglobulins: These proteins serve as the immune system's foot soldiers, neutralising toxins and microbes, such as bacteria and viruses.
- Trypsin and Protease Inhibitors: These compounds perform a crucial protective function, safeguarding the immune and growth factors from degradation within the gastrointestinal tract.
- Proline-Rich Polypeptides: These short chains of amino acids have a dual function: stimulating a suppressed immune system while concurrently stabilizing an overactive one, as might occur due to autoimmune diseases or allergies.
Colostrum is also a treasure trove of several growth factors, such as:
- Growth hormone
- Epithelial growth factor
- Insulin-like growth factor
- Fibroblast growth factor, and
- Platelet-derived growth factor
These growth factors are critical biochemicals that make substantial contributions to overall health and are fundamental to a variety of physiological functions. They serve as catalysts for cell growth, multiplication, and differentiation, taking centre stage in processes like tissue repair and wound healing.
Growth factors also play an integral role in safeguarding the health of the nervous and skeletal systems, promoting nerve regeneration and regulating bone density. Additionally, they enhance immune system functionality by adjusting immune responses and promoting immune cell growth and differentiation.1
The health benefits of colostrum for dogs
Diarrhoea in puppies
Diarrhoea is a prevalent issue in young puppies, often attributed to abrupt dietary changes, coupled with the stress of separation from their mother and acclimating to a new environment.
This all transpires during a crucial period when the puppy's immune system has not yet fully matured, making them more prone to infections and gastrointestinal upsets.
Research studies suggest that the inclusion of bovine colostrum powder in a puppy's diet can enhance the solidity of their stools, thereby mitigating instances of diarrhea. Additionally, bovine colostrum has been found potentially beneficial in reducing recurrent gastroenteritis occurrences and enhancing puppy vitality in their formative stages.2
A study unveiled in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2013 presented novel evidence that a well-rounded diet supplemented with bovine colostrum over a 40-week period significantly bolstered the immune response in dogs, thereby decreasing their susceptibility to infections.3
Furthermore, the inclusion of bovine colostrum in a dog's diet notably amplified the diversity and stability of the gut microbiota. It is now well-established through extensive research that a richly diverse gut microbiome correlates with better health outcomes, while its reduced diversity is often linked with disease and suboptimal health outcomes.
In dogs, a less diverse microbiome is typically associated with gastrointestinal dysbiosis, intestinal inflammation, and weakened immune function.4, 5
The components found in bovine colostrum, including epithelial growth factors and various immune factors, possess notable anti-inflammatory and healing properties. Research has indicated that they can effectively alleviate gut hyper-permeability and repair damage caused by NSAIDs, addressing gut irritation.
Extensive studies conducted on both humans and animals have likewise demonstrated the broader benefits of bovine colostrum in gastrointestinal disorders such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), infectious diarrhea, and damage resulting from cancer therapy.6, 7
Tissue repair and recovery from injury
Bovine colostrum, enriched with a plethora of diverse growth factors, has been harnessed to expedite tissue healing, aiding the recovery process for both humans and animals following injuries. These growth factors work synergistically to promote accelerated repair of damaged tissues.
For instance, platelet-derived growth factor stimulates collagen production, while fibroblast growth factor and epithelial growth factor contribute to the mending of muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments.
Notably, additional studies have showcased the advantages of bovine colostrum, including enhanced strength and endurance, reduced recovery time, and decreased muscle injuries.8 These findings support my strong recommendation for incorporating bovine colostrum into the diet of highly active sporting or working dogs.
Research studies have revealed the direct impact of bovine colostrum on enhancing bone healing at a cellular level. It plays a pivotal role in promoting calcium absorption and contributes to the augmentation of bone density.
Notably, lactoferrin, a key bioactive compound found in bovine colostrum, plays a significant role in expediting bone regeneration. It accomplishes this by stimulating the proliferation of osteoblasts, the cells responsible for synthesizing bone tissue.9, 10
Allergies are classified as immune system hypersensitivity disorders that arise from an abnormal immune response to substances that are typically harmless. Bovine colostrum contains proline-rich polypeptides, which serve as regulatory agents for the immune system.
Extensive research has identified these polypeptides as key components of colostrum that contribute to the alleviation or improvement of allergy symptoms, as the proline-rich polypeptides work to inhibit or suppress the excessive production of specific cell types typically associated with allergic reactions.11, 12
Bovine colostrum has demonstrated remarkable efficacy in preventing recurrent Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), particularly in children, athletes, and even horses.
It is hypothesised that colostrum could also serve as a valuable preventive measure against URTIs in dogs and cats. Administering colostrum before and during boarding or during other stressful events that may involve potential exposure to infected animals could prove beneficial in safeguarding the respiratory health of our beloved pets.1, 13
Periodontal disease, a prevalent health issue commonly addressed by veterinarians, affects a significant proportion of dogs. In fact, it is estimated that by the age of two, approximately 80% of dogs display some form of periodontal disease.14, 15
Research has shed light on the potential of various antimicrobial factors present in bovine colostrum to combat or delay the progression of periodontal disease.
Given that oral bacteria play a role in triggering this condition, certain antimicrobial factors found in bovine colostrum, such as lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, and lysozyme, may directly contribute to reducing the bacterial load responsible for disease development.
Moreover, the immune-modulating factors within bovine colostrum can help alleviate the inflammation that arises as a consequence of dental disease. Lastly, the abundance of growth factors in bovine colostrum can support the repair of damaged gum tissue by acting upon fibroblasts and epithelial cells.
Senescence in aging
The weakening and decline of skeletal muscle, as well as bone resorption, are significant contributors to the aging process in both humans and our pets. Fortunately, bovine colostrum harbors growth factors, such as insulin-like growth factor-1, which possess anabolic properties that can facilitate muscle growth and regeneration.
Notably, a recent study demonstrated that the supplementation of bovine colostrum led to increased lean muscle mass, improved leg strength, and reduced bone degeneration in humans.16 These findings imply that bovine colostrum, when combined with regular exercise, may help counteract age-related musculoskeletal deterioration in dogs as well.
Not all colostrum powders are created equal: what to look for
These are the core elements of colostrum powders to consider when shopping for your dog, so you can ensure you’re selecting the highest quality natural pet products.
Immunoglobulin G (IgG) percentage
The quality of colostrum can be determined by the IgG percentage it contains.
It is crucial to check if this information is provided on the label or website of a product. If the company refuses to disclose this information, it should raise a red flag, and it is advisable to avoid these products.
In case you opt for a product with a lower IgG percentage, keep in mind that you will need to administer a larger dosage to achieve the same health benefits as a stronger product.
For context, CanineCeuticals Pure Colostrum contains an IgG content ranging from 28% to 32%. In comparison, many other products on the market fall within the range of 15% to 20% IgG.
It's essential to consider this factor in terms of cost as well. While a more concentrated product may be pricier due to its potency, it requires a smaller serving size per use.
Certain companies may incorporate fillers like soy, silicon dioxide, and even hydrogen peroxide as a preservative in their colostrum products. Additionally, depending on the farming practices employed, bovine colostrum might potentially contain traces of antibiotics, pesticides, or synthetic hormones.
On the other hand, CanineCeuticals Pure Colostrum is composed of 100% pure human-grade freeze-dried colostrum, without the inclusion of any fillers or additives whatsoever.
The processing of colostrum plays a crucial role in preserving the efficacy of its valuable components, as many of them are sensitive to heat.
Optimal manufacturing techniques for colostrum involve low temperatures and freeze-drying methods.
CanineCeuticals Pure Colostrum is produced using meticulous processing methods tailored specifically for colostrum. The final product undergoes rigorous validation to ensure the presence of the complete range of bioactive compounds in the specified quantities; this ensures that the colostrum maintains its utmost potency and effectiveness.
CanineCeuticals Pure Colostrum is carefully collected from cows residing in the grass pastures of regional Victoria, where they are allowed to roam in their natural environment throughout the year.
These cows are not subjected to any intensive feedlot practices and the colostrum is hand-harvested from a small, handpicked group of family farms, allowing for complete traceability of each tub of colostrum.
In fact, not only can it be traced back to the farm of origin, but also to the specific cow it originated from.
It's also worth noting that the farmers adhere to good farming practices by only collecting excess colostrum beyond the requirements of the calves. In Australia, Dairy Australia has published Colostrum Collection Guidelines to guide farmers in this process.
Regardless, it is important to acknowledge that sourcing colostrum from grass-fed cows and maintaining traceability does come at a higher cost when compared to colostrum sourced from intensive feedlot cows. However, if you are committed to ethically sourced pet supplements, then this calibre of care for the cows is essential.
Dosage and Administration
When it comes to dosing, there are no strict guidelines set in stone.
As a starting point for pets using a high-quality colostrum, a reasonable dosage is approximately a quarter teaspoon per 10 kilograms of body weight, once a day.
However, I consider this to be more suitable for maintaining overall health. In the case of an active disease or flare-up, I would recommend increasing the dosage to two or three times this amount.
Freeze-dried Bovine Colostrum powder mixes easily with wet or fresh food, making it convenient to incorporate into your pet's meals. Alternatively, it can be sprinkled as a topper over kibble. The high palatability of Bovine Colostrum makes it a great option to entice fussy eaters or support the appetites of sick dogs.
Bovine colostrum is considered to be highly safe and can be used alongside traditional veterinary or human medical treatments, including antibiotics. Notably, there have been no reported common side effects or interactions with other medications associated with the supplementation of pure, high-quality colostrum.
The only circumstance where colostrum should be avoided is if an individual, whether human or canine, has a genuine milk protein allergy.
It is worth noting that bovine colostrum has relatively low lactose levels, measuring at around 2.5%. To provide a comparison, human colostrum typically contains approximately 7% lactose. Therefore, reports suggest that bovine colostrum is generally safe for individuals with lactose intolerance.
Canine colostrum typically contains around 1.5% lactose, while cat colostrum contains around 3% lactose.
To summarise, colostrum is the 'preliminary' or 'initial' milk produced by female mammals in the final stages of pregnancy and continues to be produced for several days post-birth. It is also a nutrient powerhouse, with pure colostrum offering the following benefits:
- Pure Colostrum provides a potent array of immune factors, growth factors and nutrients that benefit dogs of any age.
- Bioactive compounds in Pure Colostrum offer potential relief from allergy symptoms.
- The anti-inflammatory compounds found in Pure Colostrum aid in the repair of intestinal membranes, alleviating symptoms associated with leaky gut, IBS, IBD, and NSAID-induced damage.
- Pure Colostrum has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing the occurrence of diarrhea in puppies.
- Pure Colostrum shows promise as a preventive measure against upper respiratory tract infections.
- The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory factors present in Pure Colostrum can potentially combat or delay the onset of periodontal disease in dogs.
- Pure Colostrum contributes to tissue healing, repair, and may help mitigate age-related degradation in the musculoskeletal system.
Prefer to learn by listening? Then check out Narelle's podcast episode on The Benefits of Colostrum here.
- Playford, R.J. and Weiser, M.J. (2021). Bovine Colostrum: Its Constituents and Uses. Nutrients. 13(1). DOI: 10.3390/nu13010265.
- Giffard, C.J., Seino, M.M., et al. (2004). Benefits of Bovine Colostrum on Fecal Quality in Recently Weaned Puppies. American Society for Nutritional Sciences. J. Nutr. 134: p. 2126S–2127S.
- Satyaraj, E., Reynolds, A., et al. (2013). Supplementation of diets with bovine colostrum influences immune function in dogs. Br J Nutr. 110(12): p. 2216-2221.
- Valdes, A.M. (2018). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ. 36(1): p. 36-44.
- Pilla, R. and Suchodolski, J.S. (2019). The Role of the Canine Gut Microbiome and Metabolome in Health and Gastrointestinal Disease. Front Vet Sci. 6: p. 498. DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2019.00498.
- Artym, J. and Zimecki, M. (2023). Colostrum and Lactoferrin Protect against Side Effects of Therapy with Antibiotics, Anti-inflammatory Drugs and Steroids, and Psychophysical Stress: A Comprehensive Review. Biomedicines. 11(4). DOI: 10.3390/biomedicines11041015.
- Gomes, R.D.S., Anaya, K., et al. (2021). Bovine colostrum: A source of bioactive compounds for prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. NFS Journal. 25: p. 1-11. DOI: 10.1016/j.nfs.2021.10.001.
- Davison, G. (2021). The Use of Bovine Colostrum in Sport and Exercise. Nutrients. 13(6). DOI: 10.3390/nu13061789.
- Arslan, A., Kaplan, M., et al. (2021). Bovine Colostrum and Its Potential for Human Health and Nutrition. Front Nutr. 8: p. 651721. DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2021.651721.
- Kydonaki, E.K., Freitas, L., et al. (2021). Bovine Colostrum Supplementation Improves Bone Metabolism in an Osteoporosis-Induced Animal Model. Nutrients. 13(9). DOI: 10.3390/nu13092981.
- Boldogh, I., Aguilera-Aguirre, L., et al. (2008). Colostrinin decreases hypersensitivity and allergic responses to common allergens. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 146(4): p. 298-306. DOI: 10.1159/000121464.
- Ulfman, L.H., Leusen, J.H.W., et al. (2018). Effects of Bovine Immunoglobulins on Immune Function, Allergy, and Infection. Front Nutr. 5: p. 52. DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00052.
- Hałasa, M., Baśkiewicz-Hałasa, M., et al. (2022). Bovine colostrum supplementation in prevention of upper respiratory tract infections – Systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Functional Foods. 99. DOI: 10.1016/j.jff.2022.105316.
- Enlund, K.B., Brunius, C., et al. (2020). Dog Owners' Perspectives on Canine Dental Health-A Questionnaire Study in Sweden. Front Vet Sci. 7: p. 298. DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2020.00298.
- Stella, J.L., Bauer, A.E., et al. (2018). A cross-sectional study to estimate prevalence of periodontal disease in a population of dogs (Canis familiaris) in commercial breeding facilities in Indiana and Illinois. PLoS One. 13(1): p. e0191395. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191395.
- Duff, W.R., Chilibeck Pd Fau - Rooke, J.J., et al. The effect of bovine colostrum supplementation in older adults during resistance training. (1543-2742 (Electronic)).