Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.
As a holistic veterinarian with a special interest in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) Food Therapy, I have spent the past two decades designing diets and studying the effects of food on my patients. Every food we eat ourselves or feed to our furry kids has effects on the body that can be seen and felt. As an example, when we are cold, we gravitate toward warm chicken noodle soup. Not only is the temperature of the food warm, but the energetics of the ingredients help warm the body from within. When we are hot or trying to cool our mouths after eating spicy food, we gravitate toward dairy products such as milk or ice cream, which are cold in temperature but also energetically cooling.
Effects of food can be divided into multiple categories, including warming or cooling energetics, foods that help move energy and resolve stagnation, foods that drain damp, foods that dissolve phlegm, and foods that help build blood. The properties of food apply across all species and can affect changes in behavior as well as health status.
Many pets suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases, which are becoming more common due to overuse of vaccinations, chemical parasite preventatives and processed food consumption. Examples of inflammatory diseases include arthritis, diabetes, Cushings disease, hypothyroidism, allergies and cancer. Inflammation causes heat. Since our pets cannot sweat, heat is dispersed through excessive panting and increased water consumption. These animals seek out cool tile to lie on and love to spend time outside in the winter.
Cooling food ingredients can be added to the diet to decrease symptoms. Cooling proteins include cold-water fish, pork, turkey, rabbit, alligator and duck. Cooling grains include millet, barley, brown rice and buckwheat. Changing the diet of a pet that suffers from excess heat and inflammation to a food containing these ingredients can improve symptoms in most cases.
On the other hand, some pets struggle with cold symptoms. These animals like to snuggle under the covers, seek out the sunny spots to sleep in the house or yard, and may be seen curled in tight balls. Pets with late stage hypothyroidism or older, thin pets commonly suffer from being too cold. Foods with warming energy will benefit these dogs and cats. Chicken, lamb, venison and goat are energetically warming meats, while oats, sorghum, and white rice are warming grains. Choosing foods with these ingredients will add warmth to increase comfort for these animals.
Unfortunately, we are seeing more pets with tumors, lumps, bumps and nodules. These are all considered areas of stagnation from a TCVM perspective. Food can be used to help resolve stagnation and soften nodules or masses. While the lumps may not completely disappear, I have seen pretty amazing results in this area. Carrots, hawthorn, mustard greens, orange peel, parsley, radish, asparagus, vinegar, ginger, and watercress are common ingredients used for this purpose. Herbal formulas often contain concentrated powders using these herbs.
Changing weather commonly brings winter colds and upper respiratory infections for pets and pet owners alike. Food can be used to dissolve mucus, which is a form of phlegm. Another form of phlegm is fatty deposits. Foods that help dissolve phlegm include almonds, apples, clams, ginger, lemon peel, pears, peppermint, radish and thyme. Apples and pears can be fed as special treats or these ingredients can be added to meals in small amounts as fresh food or tea made with the herbs and lemon peel.
Diseases that result in fluid accumulation in the body, such as heart or liver failure with fluid buildup in the chest, abdomen or legs, can be addressed with foods that drain damp. Alfalfa, barley, celery, lemon, mushrooms (I like Shiitake best for this), radish, dandelion greens and turnips will help rid the body of excess fluid.
These are only a few examples of how food affects the body and helps heal my patients. Simple changes such as buying a prepared food made with a different protein may offer enough improvement for many pets. For those with extreme or long-standing symptoms, the diet change may need to be more dramatic, possibly including preparation of specially-designed meals. For those wanting to make pet food at home, please consult a veterinary nutritionist or food therapist to ensure proper nutrient balance for your pets.