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TCVM – preventive seasonal medicine for pets

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In Chinese medicine, the seasons are associated with different bodily organs, ages and personalities. Encouraging your clients to come in for a seasonal “tune-up” is a good way to prevent future illness in their pets. Sending out wellness reminders with tips regarding seasonal medicine can help clients realize that you are committed to their animals’ health, and not merely treating ailments. Discussing the foods that correspond with each season is another way to promote your patients’ health, while encouraging clients to feed a variety of fresh foods.

Winter 

Winter, the coldest season, is associated with the kidneys, bladder, hearing, water and old age. The water personality is careful, curious, self-contained, meditative, slow, consistent, and has a tendency to hide.

Those who 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 warmer is helpful for Water personality animals in the winter, as well as for most older or cold animals even at other times of the year.

Kidney yang deficient animals, who may have a cold back, possibly early morning diarrhea and a sinking hind end, benefit from cooked food rather than raw, as raw feeding requires more energy to digest. Eggs contain qi (strengthening) and yin (cooling). Since eggs are the beginning of life, they also strengthen kidney jing, or life force, which comes from egg and sperm, and decreases with age.

It is important to also nourish kidney yin, as all animals need the balance of yin and yang (qi plus warmth). Animals with kidney disease or bladder damp heat (blood, crystals or bacteria in the urine) are often very thirsty, may seek cool areas and may 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 an animal is not old or a water personality, all animals can benefit from slight feeding changes in winter.

For an animal with a cold back or cold hind end, moxa treatment can be very helpful. Moxa, or compressed mugwort, is lit and moved over the cold areas (but not touched to the skin). Smokeless moxa keeps odor away, but regular moxa seems stronger in my experience. If you are using this in a clinical setting, be sure to warn those around that it smells a bit like marijuana. This video provides a demonstration: https://youtu.be/bb7aQTibVTQ

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. Watch this video for a demonstration: https://youtu.be/qs4_z7BBwIg.

Spring

Springtime is wood season, and associated with youth, the liver and gallbladder (even in those animals without a gallbladder). The Wood personality is decisive, assertive, confident, athletic and wants to be alpha. These animals can be prone to irritability, ear problems, conjunctivitis, a purple color to the tongue (excluding Chows and Chow mixes of course), nail and foot problems; and tendon and ligament issues.

To prevent these problems in young Wood personality animals (and all animals in the springtime), feeding cooked or pureed dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, chard, spinach or broccoli is very helpful. Older animals 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 or meat or onion-free broth can make them very palatable for finicky pets.

Carnivores also benefit from eating liver. Those with sensitive gastrointestinal tracts can handle freeze-dried liver better than freshly cooked. Animals who run warm should have beef or bison liver, while heat seeking animals can handle chicken liver.

Wood animals like to work hard and need both mental and physical exercise. Food dispensing toys can help when weather is too hot for physical exertion. Wood animals enjoy difficult competitive exercise, such as agility, lure coursing, endurance competition and racing, and tend to do well as they have the will to succeed.

Springtime is also the time of “wind”, which can be 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 liver points such as liver 3 (on top of the hind foot between the second and third metatarsal bones) and blood points can help decrease “wind” issues. The empty cases of cicadas can also help. Children often love searching for these and adding them to their dog’s food.

Summer

Summer is associated with the Fire personality, adolescence, the tongue, the heart and pericardium, small intestine and the Triple Heater, which doesn’t fit 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 animals 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. Determine diagnostics needed (such as an echocardiogram) with a Chinese pulse examination and a very thorough physical. Treatment with food therapy, acupuncture and herbal medicine, along with any conventional medicine needed, can also help. It may give a clue to which cats may have a propensity to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy before saddle thrombus or sudden death occur, so prevention can begin.

To correctly assess the tongue, the animal must show it freely, without having the mouth opened externally. Often when a person sticks out their tongue, the animal will do the same. Watching closely to catch a glimpse can be done but it can be tricky! If necessary, peek through the lips between the teeth to see the general tongue color, shape and moisture.

Shen disturbance can be helped with Chinese herbal medicine (often a heart yin tonic) and non-Chinese medicine adjuncts such as Rescue Remedy for pets given orally or rubbed on the hairless parts of ears several times a day. This is especially important in the instance of fireworks and thunderstorms.

Late summer

Late summer is associated with the Earth personality, adulthood, Damp Heat and the gastrointestinal system, called the Spleen and Stomach in Chinese medicine. Earth personality animals are laid back, mellow, round and large, sociable and sympathetic. To help a weak gastrointestinal system in an Earth personality animal, 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 Dampness and are good as long as the animal is not too hot. Limbs should be cool from the carpus distal and the tibiotarsal joint distal in all animals, the ears should be warm towards the head and cool at the tips, the nose should be cool and moist in dogs and cats and the paw pads should be soft and pliable in a healthy animal. If these areas are hot, too moist or dry, use foods to correct the imbalance. The tongue in an animal with Damp may be thick and even have tooth impressions, giving another clue as to which foods to feed.

Earth personalities are prone to worry, so Rescue Remedy for pets, pheromone-based products such as Dog Appeasing Pheromone, and Feliway can be helpful. Strengthening the gastrointestinal tract with Chinese herbal medicine (spleen qi tonics) and probiotics can also help ease worry.

Autumn

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 haircoat 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, helping prevent respiratory allergies. Yin deficient (or hot dry) coughs are more common at night, and the animal may have a red tongue and warm dry nose.  If the cough is weak or in the daytime, walnuts can help strengthen lung qi. Sardines help prevent constipation with their unique blend of yin and blood, which are, respectively, Cool and Moist, and Warm and Moist. Feeding lung also helps the lung, and if the large intestine is weak, such 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.

Understanding the seasonality of Chinese medicine, the personalities that go with the seasons and seasonal foods that are helpful to add can help animals be healthier all year long. Of course, each individual animal can be much more complicated. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine Volume 1 by Huisheng Xie and Vanessa Preast is a good place to start for a more thorough understanding of this ancient medicine.

Dr. Jody Bearman graduated from the the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 1992. Wanting to help animals that couldn’t be diagnosed or treated with Western medicine, and those that developed severe side effects from Western medicine, she became a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist in 2005, is also a certified Veterinary Chinese Herbalist, practices Tui-na (Chinese massage and physical therapy) and food therapy, and has instructed at the Chi Institute. Dr. Bearman became certified in veterinary spinal manipulation therapy in 2014, and is a member of the College of Animal Chiropractors. She trained in homeopathy and is a member of the AVH. She has a three-veterinarian integrative practice in Madison, Wisconsin.