The focus of this study was to examine the influence of age and diet on various parameters of immune function in young and old Fox Terriers and Labrador Retrievers.

Eighteen young and old dogs were utilized for this study. Young and old dogs were fed a basal diet containing an (n-6):(n-3) ratio of 25:1 for sixty days (Phase I). Half of the dogs were then switched to a diet with an (n-6):(n-3) ratio of 5:1, and all were maintained on their respective diets for an additional sixty days (Phase II). Results from these studies revealed an age-associated decline in several immune parameters measured. Both these breeds demonstrated a reduction in sheep red blood cell titers, as well as in their ability to respond to different mitogens. Interestingly, this decline was greater in Fox Terriers, suggesting a decrease in cellular proliferative capacity in lymphocytes isolated from the larger breed. Neither cytokine production or DTH response was affected by age. Diet and breed interactions resulted in a significant increase in T- and B-cell mitogen responsiveness.

In contrast, supplementation with n-3 fatty acids did not affect IL-1, IL-6 or TNF-alpha production. Supplementation with n-3 fatty acids resulted in increased PGE3 production from peritoneal macrophages but had no effect on PGE2 production from peripheral blood mononuclear cells or peritoneal macrophages. The n-3 fatty acid supplementation did not influence alpha-tocopherol status although older dogs had significantly lower serum alpha-tocopherol concentrations. Oxidative status of these dogs was assessed by serum levels of malondialdehyde (MDA) and 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE). Feeding an n-3-enriched diet did not affect 4-HNE levels but significantly decreased MDA levels in old dogs.

In summary, this study indicates that feeding a diet containing an (n-6):(n-3) fatty acid ratio of 5:1 had a positive, rather than a negative, effect on the immune response of young or geriatric dogs.