In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the different seasons are associated with specific personalities, bodily organs, ages, and foods. By understanding these factors, you can use seasonal medicine and nutrition to keep him balanced and healthy.
If you’re familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine, you may know that the seasons of the year are associated with different personalities, organs and ages, in both people and pets. A variety of foods also correspond with each season, and you can use these foods at certain times of the year to promote your dog’s health (it’s best to seek the guidance of a holistic or integrative veterinarian who is experienced in Traditional Chinsese Veterinary Medicine). Take a walk through the year and learn how you can boost your dog’s well-being using a TCVM perspective.
Springtime is Wood season, and is associated with youth, as well as the liver and gallbladder (even in those without a gallbladder). The Wood personality is decisive, assertive, confident, athletic and wants to be the alpha. Wood dogs can be prone to irritability, ear problems, conjunctivitis, a purple color to the tongue (excluding Chows and Chow mixes), nail and foot problems, and tendon and ligament issues.
Springtime is Wood season, and is associated with youth, as well as the liver and gallbladder.
To prevent these problems in young Wood personality dogs — and all dogs in the springtime — cooked or pureed dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, chard, spinach or broccoli are very helpful. Older dogs or those with weak intestinal tracts do better with cooked greens, whereas young strong animals can handle pureed raw greens. Mixing greens with scrambled eggs, meat or an onion-free broth can make them very palatable to finicky dogs.
These dogs also benefit from eating liver. Those with sensitive gastrointestinal tracts can handle freeze-dried better than freshly-cooked liver. Dogs who run Warm in TCVM terms should have beef or bison liver, while heat-seeking animals can handle chicken liver.
Wood dogs like to work hard and need both mental and physical exercise. Food-dispensing toys can help when the weather isn’t suitable for outdoor exertion. Wood dogs enjoy difficult competitive exercises, such as agility, lure coursing, endurance competition and racing. They tend to do well because they have the will to succeed.
In TCVM, springtime is also the time of Wind, internal or external. Internal wind manifests in the form of seizures, and external wind as itchiness. Dark green vegetables help decrease the risk of both ailments. Acupuncture or acupressure of the liver points, such as Liver 3 (on top of the hind foot between the second and third metatarsal bones), can help decrease Wind issues.
Summer is associated with the Fire personality, and with adolescence, the tongue, the heart and pericardium, small intestine and the Triple Heater, which isn’t an exact anatomical organ but is somewhat similar to the thyroid. The Fire personality is outgoing, talkative, friendly and likes to be the center of attention.
In the heat of summer, Fire problems such as Shen disturbance, which can be seen as noise phobia or other abnormal behaviors, are more likely to occur. To cool Fire dogs or any other hot animals in summer, feed cooling foods such as watermelon, celery (which also drains Damp, helping hot animals with diarrhea or moist dermatitis), greens as mentioned above, brown rice, millet, turkey, rabbit (which is also strengthening), clams, cod and other whitefish. Feeding heart is also helpful. A cooling bed or fan is a great adjunct in hot weather.
Since the tongue is the sense organ of the Fire element, heart disease and Shen disturbance can sometimes be suspected by a red and/or bell-shaped tip to the tongue. Diagnosis can be done with conventional means, such as an echocardiogram and a thorough physical, along with a Chinese pulse examination. Treatment with food therapy, acupuncture and herbal medicine, along with any conventional medicine, can help.
To correctly assess the tongue, the dog must show it freely, without having the mouth opened externally. Often, when a person sticks out his/her tongue, the dog will do the same. If necessary, peek through the lips between the dog’s teeth to see the general tongue color, shape and moisture level.
Shen disturbance can be helped with Chinese herbal medicine (often a Heart Yin tonic) and non-Chinese medicine adjuncts such as Rescue Remedy given orally or rubbed on the hairless parts of ears several times a day. This is especially important during fireworks and thunderstorms.
Late summer is connected with the Earth personality, as well as adulthood, Damp Heat and the gastrointestinal system (called the Spleen and Stomach in Chinese medicine). Earth personality dogs are laid back, mellow, round and large, sociable and sympathetic.
To help a weak gastrointestinal system in an Earth personality dog, well-cooked quinoa, sweet potato, pumpkin or squash are strengthening, along with beef, bison, rabbit and tripe. Damp-draining foods for those with loose stool or moist dermatitis include celery (which is also cooling), mushrooms and turnips. Avoid dampening foods such as watermelon, pork and salmon, as these worsen moist dermatitis and diarrhea.
Hot spices such as garlic and ginger can help prevent Damp and are good as long as the dog is not too hot. In a healthy dog, the ears should be warm towards the head and cool at the tips, the nose should be cool and moist, and the paw pads should be soft and pliable. If these areas are hot, too moist or too dry, you can use foods to correct the imbalance. The tongue in an animal with Damp may be thick and can even show tooth impressions.
Hot spices such as garlic and ginger can help prevent Damp and are good as long as the dog is not too hot.
Earth personalities are prone to worry, so Rescue Remedy can be helpful. Strengthening the gastrointestinal tract with Chinese herbal medicine (Spleen Qi tonics) and probiotics can also help ease the animal’s worry.
Autumn, with its cool and often dry weather, is associated with middle age, Metal personalities, and the lung and large intestine, which are prone to drying out and causing cough and constipation. The skin and coat may also be dry and coarse. Metal personalities are aloof, love order and obey the rules.
To moisten the respiratory tract and prevent cough, pears and honey are excellent foods — especially local honey, as it contains small amounts of local allergens and helps prevent respiratory allergies. Yin-deficient (or Hot Dry) coughs are more common at night, and the dog may have a red tongue and a warm dry nose. If the cough is weak or occurs in the daytime, walnuts can help strengthen Lung Qi. Sardines help prevent constipation with their unique blend of Yin and Blood, which are Cool and Moist, and Warm and Moist, respectively. Feeding lung also helps the dog’s lungs, and if the large intestine is weak, as in constipation, strengthening foods such as pumpkin, sweet potato and winter squash are helpful. Other moistening foods that help the lung, large intestine, skin and coat are eggs, duck, barley, tofu and rice.
Winter, the coldest season, is associated with the kidneys, bladder, hearing, the Water element, and old age. The Water personality is careful, curious, self-contained, meditative, slow, consistent, and has a tendency to hide.
Dogs that are old, cold and have a Water personality will benefit from eating warming foods such as lamb, venison, chicken, garlic, buckwheat, eggs, ginger and cinnamon. Warming all food to room temperature or above is helpful for Water personality dogs in the winter — as well as for most older or cold animals, even at other times of the year.
Kidney Yang-deficient dogs, who may have cold backs, possible early morning diarrhea and sinking hind ends, benefit from cooked food rather than raw, since raw foods require more energy to digest. Eggs contain Qi (strengthening) and Yin (cooling), and also strengthen the kidneys’ Jing (life force), which decreases with age.
It is important to also nourish kidney Yin. All animals need a balance of Yin and Yang (Qi plus Warmth). Dogs with kidney disease or bladder Damp Heat (blood, crystals or bacteria in the urine) are often very thirsty, may seek cool areas and have a red dry tongue, often indicating Yin deficiency. Some foods that nourish Kidney Yin are duck, pork, kidney, tofu, eggs, asparagus, cabbage, apples, barley, black beans and honey. Even if a dog is not old or of a Water personality, he can benefit from slight feeding changes in the winter.
For an animal with a cold back or cold hind end, Moxa treatment is a Chinese therapy that can be very helpful. Moxa, or compressed mugwort, is lit and moved over the cold areas on the body (but not touched to the skin). Again, work with a veterinarian who is well-versed in TCVM.
Massage can also strengthen the back and organs. Nie-fa, or skin rolling, can be done on the sides of the spine from head to tail. This loosens the fascia, allowing more free movement of the spine and supporting the immune system. You can see a Nei-fa demonstration at youtu.be/qs4_z7BBwIg, but it’s best to have this done by a professional.
Understanding the seasonality of Chinese medicine, the personalities that go with the seasons, and the foods that are helpful to add during these periods, can help dogs stay healthier all year round.