Five element theory for dogs

It can be difficult to get an anxious or overexcited pooch to chill out. Here’s how a wellness approach based on five element theory can help.

Does your dog desperately scratch the door to pieces whenever you go out? Does he cower and shake with every clap of thunder? Every dog carries his own set of personality traits – likes, dislikes, wants and fears. But certain dogs carry more fear and tend to be anxious, easily excited and sometimes just a bundle of nerves.

The first and most important thing to look at when dealing with an overexcited dog is the environment in which he lives. This is huge! For example, a border collie will be much more content spending his days running around a farm than cooped up in a crate or small apartment. Try to create the least stressful environment for your dog, making sure he has access to plenty of fresh air and exercise.

After assessing the environmental situation, you must next identify what is causing the anxiety. Is he a clingy dog suffering from separation anxiety? Does he have a phobia of thunder or other loud noises? Maybe he even gets aggressive when he is afraid.

Five element theory

From a Chinese perspective, assessing a nervous dog is based on the five element theory. The five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water. In a holistic sense, each has specific organs associated with it. To accent the yin and yang of each element, there is typically a solid and hollow organ associated with each. For example, water is associated with the kidney (solid) and the bladder (hollow). Holistic veterinarians believe each living being has a certain set of personality traits that match each element. The type of element associated with each dog correlates with its disharmonies.

Holistic vets theorize that canine anxiety is tied between water (kidney) and fire (heart). The anxiety is believed to be caused by the kidneys not controlling the heart shen (the heart’s ability to be settled in the world). The kidneys (associated with water), start to deplete and cannot control heart energy flow (associated with fire). Essentially, the water element is not able to regulate the strong fire that burns in overexcited dogs.

Interestingly, canine anxiety is seen to get worse with age, just as kidney energy is usually the first to deplete in older dogs. As the kidney depletes, the water qi (energy) depletes and cannot control the heart fire. So dogs that were a bit clingy and shy as youngsters may develop extreme anxiety and fear later in life.

Food energetics

The first thing to assess when trying to calm an anxious dog is diet. Dogs were originally scavenger carnivores, so skeletal and organ meat should constitute the majority of their meals. It is also important for them to get some cooked veggies to help break down cellulose in their bodies, as well as fruits for a vitamin and mineral source. Grains should make up the smallest part of the diet, although a small quantity of cooked grains is beneficial.

Fire dogs tend to respond well to neutral or cooling foods, while warm foods tend to exasperate exciting situations.

Neutral foods will neither increase nor decrease qi in your dog. Beneficial neutral foods include beef, pork, goose and especially salmon. Potatoes, cheese, milk, white rice and corn are also healthy neutral foods to add to the meat portion.

Cooling foods are really beneficial for dogs that are always a little tense and warm to the touch. Beneficial cooling meats include duck, rabbit, whitefish, cod and scallop. Fruits and veggies, especially avocados and apples, are especially helpful for dogs that need cooling foods. Barley and sesame seeds are good additions to a cooling diet.

When developing the correct diet for a fire dog, avoid lamb and venison. These are considered the hottest of all foods.

Herbs to the rescue

In addition to a balanced diet appropriate for a fire dog, a daily herbal supplement can help tone down anxiety. It is important to find a supplement that helps calm dogs responding to environmentally-induced stress, or stress brought on by a change in routine.

Rehmannia root and asparagus tuber have a cooling effect and are used in Chinese theory to help maintain kidney yin. Kidney health, as discussed earlier, is especially important for the anxious dog because the kidney helps balance heart shen.

Jujube seed, along with schisandra fruit, calm heart shen. Jujube seed also has a reputation for calming stress in the body, along with biota seed which is used to calm the spirit.

Ginseng is used to promote yin energy (associated with water) and remove excess yang (associated with fire) to calm the body.

Valerian is one herb that has quick-acting effects and is quite strong. It acts as a mild herbal sedative and is the sort of herb you would use on July 4 for the firework-aroused dog. Oral administration will take approximately two to four hours to reach concentrations within the blood stream.

Remember, a calmer dog means a calmer you!


Dr. Chris Bessent, owner and operator of Herbsmith, practices holistic veterinary medicine in Wisconsin. Herbsmith manufactures premium quality supplements for dogs and cats. Utilizing proven scientific research and years of veterinary experience, they provide innovative natural solutions for the health and wellness of animals so they live their best lives, longer. Herbsmith is a proud member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).