Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) teaches that foods affect the body in multiple ways. Feeding your dog using this approach can enhance his well-being.
Food can do one of two things — build health or produce disease. The better the nutrients we put into the body, the better the body will perform. It’s impossible for our dogs to attain good health if we feed them processed foods, sugars, dyes, and high-carbohydrate diets. Not only do I advocate the use of real foods, I also advocate foods that help heal specific conditions. From a TCVM approach, all foods affect the body in multiple ways.
Warming or cooling
Foods like venison, chicken and lamb (Yang foods) add heat to the body. Dogs do not sweat, so they will pant and drink more water to cool themselves when given foods that are energetically hot.
Certain diseases also produce a lot of heat in the body, including inflammatory conditions like arthritis, diabetes, Cushing’s Disease, and infections. Feeding diets that contain a lot of warming or Yang foods is contraindicated for such conditions.
Dogs that are cold, lethargic and low in energy, however, may benefit from foods that produce more heat in the body. Warming foods can be a great addition to the diet during the winter.
Other foods, like melons, help cool the body. Most meats tend to be warmer or more Yang in energy, but cold water fish and rabbit tend to be cooler (more Yin). Dogs with inflammatory conditions would be better served by eating these cooling proteins. Most dogs with allergic skin disease, for example, fare better when fed a cooling protein like fish or rabbit. For years, veterinarians have advocated lamb or venison for dogs with chronic skin infections, dry skin, or inflammatory bowel disease. From a TCM perspective, however, these would be the wrong proteins, since we should be trying to “cool” the inflammation from the inside.
In addition to warming or cooling the body, foods can be used as Qi tonics to add energy. Qi is the energy of life, which means old or weak dogs need foods that will increase this energy.
Some common Qi tonics include meats like beef, chicken, rabbit, lamb and tripe, and vegetables like pumpkin, squash, sweet potato and Shiitake mushrooms. These ingredients can be used to make home-cooked meals if you work with a veterinary nutritionist or holistic veterinarian. Or, you could make a ‘topper’ stew from these foods to add to your dog’s current diet.
Food can also be used to decrease phlegm production, which is commonly seen with sinus infections and other diseases, like dry eye, in which mucus is formed. Clams, radishes, kelp, pears and apples are great for decreasing mucus. Foods to avoid would include any dairy products, since milk is really just a form of mucus.
Tumors, lumps and bumps can be made to dissolve or decrease in size by feeding the dog foods that resolve stagnation. The easiest way to illustrate stagnation is to think of a bruise, an area where blood has pooled or become stagnant. It has a lavender color and is painful to the touch. Tumors are just another form of stagnation, in which blood and energy have become ‘stuck’. To help move the blood and decrease stagnation, we can give the dog foods like lamb, venison, crab, shrimp, radishes, ginger, turmeric and vinegar.
These are just a few examples of how food can be used from a TCVM perspective to heal health issues in dogs. Working with a holistic veterinarian who specializes in food therapy is the next step in determining which foods might benefit your own dog the most.
Case report – Dexter
By Tonya Wilhelm
When Dexter joined our family as a puppy, I fed him a premium kibble, Omega-rich eggs, cooked meats, fatty acids and supplements. My long term goal was to home cook all his meals, but I was worried I would fail to meet his nutritional needs by missing something.
Dexter was later diagnosed with Chiari malformation and syringomyelia. Chiari malformation is a skull defect, and syringomyelia is a neurological disease caused by the malformation. Syringomyelia progresses and varies in severity. There is no cure, only various treatments to keep the dog comfortable. The condition is widespread in Cavalier King Charles spaniels and other breeds with “bubble heads”.
Given this diagnosis, I knew Dexter needed the best nutrition and supplements to keep him in the best health possible. I got help from Dr. Judy Morgan, who is a Certified Veterinary Food Therapist through the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Morgan was developing pet food webinars for the public, and they were just what I needed to get the ball rolling. I was excited to finally have the tools to create a nutritionally balanced diet for my dog, and intrigued by Dr. Morgan’s use of TCVM in preparing meals. I wanted to learn more, so I could customize Dexter’s meals to meet his health needs and personality, so I set up a phone consultation to discuss his treatment plan.
Dr. Morgan told me that Dexter is an Earth dog. In TCM and TCVM, the five element theory forms the framework for understanding and treating the body. The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. They are all aspects of Qi (life force energy, or chi) and relate to how we are all connected with each other and the earth we live on. We are all represented by a particular element depending on our characteristics, personality and health.
Working from a knowledge of Dexter’s medical condition, which leads to a build-up of spinal fluid, and the fact that he’s an Earth dog, Dr. Morgan recommended a treatment plan that used foods to drain his Damp, move his Qi, and resolve stagnation for overall health. Foods that offer all three of these properties include beef, chicken, garlic, ginger, heart, liver, steel cut oats, parsley, pumpkin, rabbit, radishes, brown rice, shrimp, squash and sweet potatoes. When I was preparing Dexter’s meals, I made sure they included a lot of these ingredients. In the winter months, I chose the foods that were also warming – chicken, garlic, ginger, oats, pumpkin, shrimp, squash and sweet potatoes.
The results were nothing less than miraculous! Dexter returned to his playful, active and mischievous self, and has been feeling great ever since. I have even been able to reduce his pain meds. Dexter’s TCVM-based diet has been one of the best add-ons to his overall treatment plan, and has yielded the biggest leap forward in his well-being.
After seeing how food can affect a dog’s health and behavior, I started using food therapy with my own clients (I’m a dog trainer). When a dog is out of balance emotionally, food can be used to help rebalance his emotional and mental health. In fact, food therapy has been one of my favorite additions to my training program. Food really is the foundation of life.