TCVM eases separation anxiety

Separation anxiety in dogs can manifest in many ways – from non-stop barking and howling to destructive behavior. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine offers some effective natural solutions.

 Separation anxiety is among the most common behavioral problems in dogs. It’s not surprising when you think about it. As pack animals, dogs thrive on human connection. Many canines hate being left alone so much that they become distressed and anxious, and may act out by barking or crying all day, tearing up furniture in the house, and even harming themselves in an attempt to escape.

Luckily, there are many natural ways to address separation anxiety, ranging from lifestyle changes and behavior modification (see page xx for some suggestions) to natural remedies such as flower essences and supplements. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is another effective way to address a dog’s separation anxiety.

Chinese food therapy is a good starting point

When treating separation anxiety with a TCVM approach, holistic veterinarian Dr. Judy Morgan recommends the addition of foods that nourish the Heart Blood and Heart Yin. You can help nourish the Heart Shen of a dog (see below for an explanation of Shen) by giving him a wholesome species-appropriate diet full of fresh foods.

  • For dogs with a Shen disturbance, a cooling diet that contains duck, rabbit or cod can be very beneficial.
  • A neutral diet such as beef or pork can also help.
  • Energetically-warming proteins such as lamb, chicken or venison can actually make your dog more anxious and reactive.
  • Other foods that help balance your dog’s Shen include sardines, sweet potatoes, eggs, seaweed, kelp, apples, clams and spinach.

For dogs with a Shen disturbance, a cooling diet that contains duck, rabbit or cod can be very beneficial.

TCVM for separation anxiety

Acupuncture eases anxiety

“When we are faced with anxiety issues, such as separation anxiety, our TCVM treatment and acupuncture are structured in such a way as to rebalance the Heart system,” says veterinarian Dr. Mary L. Cardeccia. “Specific acupuncture points to help with this may include those behind the ears or around the ‘wrists’ as well as along the back or inside the hind legs. Often, there have been other underlying imbalances that eventually led to Shen Disturbance, so treatment may include other acupuncture points or herbals to address the imbalance.”

Chinese herbs may help

Dr. Michel Selmer, a certified TCVM practitioner, uses herbal remedies as part of the treatment plan for a dog with separation anxiety. “Herbal remedies in Chinese medicine differ from herbal supplements used in Western medicine. For instance, a common Western remedy for separation anxiety may include supplements such as valerian root or hemp oil to provide a general sense of calming for your dog.

“With Chinese herbal therapies, your dog would be prescribed herbals designed to specifically treat the Chinese Pattern Diagnosis revealed by the examination. A formula to nourish Heart Yin and Blood, calm Shen, soothe Liver Qi, clear Heat, resolve Stagnation may be employed. Herbal formulas that may be used for dogs with a Heart Yin and/or Blood deficiency may involve Shen Calmer; for dogs with Liver Qi Stagnation, a formula named Liver Happy may be used.”

Tui-Na can be part of treatment

Dr. Selmer also utilizes Tui-Na to address separation anxiety. “Tui-Na is a hands-on manipulation technique that, generally, has a calming effect on the body,” he explains. “It uses similar principles to acupuncture by helping move Qi and strengthen internal organs. Specific points or areas of the body are manipulated using techniques such as pressing, kneading or rolling.

“Tui-Na is a hands-on manipulation technique that has a calming effect on the body.”

“Techniques like Rou-fa (rotary kneading) can help unblock Qi and Blood. Mo-Fa (touching skin and muscle) is a technique that regulates Qi, while Moo-fa (daubing or massage) calms the spirit and is very useful for Shen disturbances.”

Most dogs really enjoy Tui-Na, Dr. Selmer says, adding that with the guidance of  a certified TCVM practitioner, you can learn how to perform Tui-Na on your own dog. By doing so, you will not only treat his separation anxiety, but also help strengthen his trust and confidence, which is one of the key elements in treating separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety and Shen

“From a TCVM perspective, the Heart controls the Mind, or Shen,” says Dr. Morgan. “Clinical signs of panic reflect Heart instabilities, most commonly Heart Blood or Heart Yin Deficiency. A third Heart instability to consider would be Heart Fire. These dogs have strong personalities, are restless, and engage in hyperactive behaviors like barking or tail chasing.”

“Shen loosely translates to Spirit or Mind, and refers to the outward appearance of the vital activities of the whole body,” adds Dr. Cardeccia. “Shen rules mental activities, memory and sleep. Yet it is housed in the Heart, and requires nourishment from the Heart Yin and Blood to remain healthy.”

Dr. Selmer continues: “Because separation anxiety is an emotional and behavioral problem we associate with the Shen, the ‘where’ becomes the Heart and the ‘what’ is the Yin and/or Blood Deficiency.”

“If the dog is showing signs of heat (panting, increased thirst and urination, seeking cool areas, etc.) and has a red dry tongue with deficient pulses on the left, we would assign the ‘what’ to a Yin Deficiency,” Dr. Selmer explains. “Conversely,  if the dog has a pale dry tongue with deficient pulses on the left, large flake dandruff and cracked nails or rough paw pads, we would assign the ‘what’ to a Blood Deficiency. This is why it is so important to work with a TCVM practitioner for proper diagnosis.”

Look at the whole dog

When helping a dog with any form of anxiety, it’s important to address the dog as a whole while assisting him to find his balance. For a dog with separation anxiety, one way to do this is by addressing his Shen Disturbances using TCVM therapies, as described by the three veterinarians quoted in this article, along with a behavior modification program. It’s harder to change a behavior rooted in anxiety if the dog is out of balance and cannot be calmed, or does not have the inner ability to relax or cope with his surroundings.

Separation anxiety is not a behavior that can be cured quickly, but with TCVM and behavior modification, along with time and patience, it can be done.


Tonya Wilhelm is a dog training and cat care specialist who has traveled the US promoting positive ways of preventing and managing behavior issues with a holistic approach. Named one of the top ten dog trainers in the US, she has helped thousands build happy relationships with their dogs with humane, positive training methods. She wrote Proactive Puppy Care, and other books. Tonya offers group and private dog training classes, provides training and behavior services via phone and online, and does workshops at pet expos (