Ayurveda is an ancient holistic healing system that was developed in India — and can be applied to companion animals as well as humans.
It’s considered by many to be the oldest healing system in human history. Ayurveda is truly holistic in that its goal is to help us achieve balance in our lives — and the lives of our canine companions – and to create and sustain health and wellness. Ayurveda treats disease by supporting the body’s ability to resist illness, and in some cases by treating the disease directly.
Ayurvedic medicine is based on the principle that each individual has a unique constitution related to the energies within his or her body. A balanced constitution is the best defense against disease. Ayurveda aims to prevent illness by working with the constitution of the individual. It sees body constitution as a balance between three vital energies known as the Doshas, or the Tridosha. These three Doshas are termed Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
The Doshas represent the three primal metabolic tendencies in living organisms. Every plant, animal and human being embodies one, or a combination of two or three, Doshas. The specific blend of Tridosha in a person or animal is considered to be that individual’s constitution. Each constitution is controlled by all three Doshas to varying degrees, but usually only one, or sometimes two, are dominant.
Vata roughly translates as “wind”. It is characterized by the qualities of dry, cold, light, mobile, subtle, hard, rough, irregular, changeable and clear. Vata is the principle of kinetic energy and is concerned with processes that are activating and dynamic in nature. It is considered the most powerful of all the Doshas, as it is Life Force itself. Vata governs all movement in the body, such as respiration, circulation, excretion and voluntary action.
When out of balance: primary symptoms are flatulence and painful muscular or nervous energy
Physical constitution: ectomorphic — thin and wiry with fast-twitch sprinter muscles
Typical breeds: include sight hounds such as the Borzoi, greyhound, Afghan, whippet, and other breeds that are thin and lanky, such as the great Dane
Pitta translates as “bile”. It is derived from Fire plus an aspect of Water. It embodies the principles of biotransformation and balance. Pitta is the motive force behind all metabolic processes in the body, and also rules all enzymes and hormones. It is associated with the mental process of intellect with clear and focused concentration.
Pitta governs the activities of the endocrine organs, and controls body heat, temperature regulation and all chemical reactions. It maintains digestive and glandular secretions, including digestive enzymes and bile. Pitta is responsible for digestion, metabolism, pigmentation, hunger, thirst, sight, courage and mental activity.
When out of balance: primary manifestations are acid and bile, leading to inflammation
Physical constitution: mesomorphic — very muscular with a “hot” temperament
Typical breeds: Rottweiler, pit bull terrier, Chesapeake Bay retriever, Labrador retriever, mastiff
Kapha translates as “phlegm”. It embodies the principals of cohesion and stability. Kapha regulates Vata and Pitta. It promotes properties that are conserving and stabilizing in nature, as well as the anabolic functions of growth and tissue development. Kapha is responsible for keeping the body lubricated, and is essential for maintaining its solid nature, tissues, strength and sexuality. It maintains substance, weight, structure, solidity and body build, and is associated with the mental properties of courage and patience. Kapha integrates the structural elements of the body into stable form. It forms connective tissue and musculoskeletal tissue.
When out of balance: manifests disease symptoms associated with liquid and mucus, leading to swelling
Physical constitution: endomorphic — stocky and strong, gains weight easily
Typical breeds: English bulldog, Staffordshire terrier, Newfoundland, great Pyrenees.
Ayurveda in action
Diagnostic techniques used in Ayurveda include pulse and tongue diagnosis, urine examination, and visual examination of the skin, nails and other physical features. Another important part of the diagnostic process is a detailed and careful history of the patient’s lifestyle, diet, thoughts, feelings and emotions.
The day-to-day practice of Ayurveda involves the integration of herbal supplements with diet, massage, exercise, purification and meditation to create balance among the three Doshas. Although some Ayurvedic practices may not be applicable to animals, such as meditation, many others are easily adapted to our canine companions.
By first determining the constitution of your dog, it is possible to then match the appropriate energetics of diet and herbal therapies with exercise, massage and purification or detoxification practices. Ayurveda favors the gradual process of healing over more rapid and instantaneous processes.
• Dietary changes are fundamental to the healing process in Ayurveda, as most disease problems are thought to result from dietary indiscretions.
• Herbal therapies are directed at restoring balance to the dog’s Tridosha constitution, either by reinforcing or reducing Dosha qualities, based on the Tridosha properties of the specific herb(s) used.
• Detoxification, or purification therapy, may be as simple as feeding a purifying diet with herbs and specific nutrients.
• Any form of bodywork for animals qualifies as massage in Ayurveda.
Ayurvedic herbal therapies
Here’s a list of the most common Ayurvedic herbal remedies that are safe and effective for dogs.
1. Neem (Azadirachta indica) is derived from a tree. Different parts of the tree have different applications, but usually the leaves and seeds are used, although the bark is also often used in India. An oil extract of neem is often used clinically. Neem balances Kapha and Pitta. It is good for skin disorders and can also kill and repel ticks, mites and lice, as well as treat ringworm. Neem is good for GI complaints and is effective for treating diarrhea. It is also used for respiratory problems, bleeding and fever.
2. Olibanum (Boswellia serrata) also comes from a tree. It is a gum resin and is collected from the tree just like maple syrup. Boswellia balances Kapha and Pitta. The extract has potent anti-inflammatory activity. Its use has been studied and reported in research papers as being effective for arthritis, colitis and asthma. It can also help with the inflammation associated with skin allergies.
3. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a commonly used culinary spice but also a powerful medicinal herb that balances the Tridosha. Turmeric is a rhizome (type of root) used topically for abscesses, ulcers, ticks, castration wounds, bleeding, eye disorders and fungal diseases. The list of ailments that turmeric addresses is long, and includes digestive disorders, bacterial infections, inflammation of the tongue (glossitis), threadworms, and loss of appetite. Turmeric is also used for arthritis, respiratory problems such as asthma and pneumonia, tonsillitis, and some renal disorders. Recent research has indicated that it might be of value to cancer patients.
4. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) pacifies Vata and Pitta and is used for a variety of ailments such as coughs and colds, bronchitis and fever. It has been used as a GI tonic and has mild laxative properties due to its soluble fiber content. It is also used to treat gastritis as well as gastric and duodenal ulcers. Licorice root has potent anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce the amount of corticosteroids a dog needs. Licorice root has an effect on sodium retention and blood pressure, and is not recommended for animals that are hypertensive and on medication.
5. Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) is a great culinary spice with very useful medicinal properties. It will pacify Kapha and Vata. Ginger root is used most commonly for digestive disorders such as diarrhea and/or vomiting. It can also be used for colds and coughs. It has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, so it’s good for chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis, dermatitis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma. Ginger root has been found to be effective for car sickness and nausea.
Work with an integrative or holistic vet who is trained and experienced in veterinary Ayurveda. He or she can help you determine which body constitution/s your dog has, where he may be out of balance, and what the most effective treatments will be.