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Food Therapy for Dogs and Cats


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) identifies many external and internal causes of disease, and factors such as diet, lifestyle, environment, behaviour and emotional state have traditionally been recognised as having a direct effect on health. Traditional Chinese Food Therapy has developed as an integral aspect of this, and just as TCM uses a largely energetic metaphor for describing disease processes in the body, so too it recognises the energetic properties and healing qualities of foods.

During any disease process a range of conventional and complementary approaches may be needed. Food therapy is a gentle and sustainable method for supporting the individual and at the same time working to limit the effects of disease. I use food therapy in my practice as a support to acupuncture treatment and herbal medicine. Many animals will benefit from a diet prescribed using the principles of Food Therapy.

Cat in Foliage

Foods have properties much like Chinese herbal medicines although they are less potent in their effects. These qualities include those such as warming or cooling, strengthening or dispersing, and drying or moistening. Some foods are more Yin in quality, being cooling and moistening, while Yang foods are warming and energising. Foods may be warm, cool or neutral and at the same time will be empty or full in nature. Some foods tend to make us feel full while others can promote elimination, and this has a direct effect on our energy levels.

The quality of food in TCM relates also to its flavour. The five essential flavours recognised are sweet, pungent, salty, sour and bitter. Each of these flavours supports a particular organ in TCM. Often we (and our animals) will experience a desire for a particular flavour when we need support for a particular organ in the body. This can be a pointer in diagnosis and can also be used in treatment. Changes in your animal’s food preferences can indicate a lot about their health and what they need in their diet. Once an imbalance is corrected the craving will usually disappear.

It is important that food is selected to complement the constitution of an individual, as well as to support the treatment of a disease process. The constitution is that which we inherit from our parents, and largely determines how well we will cope with disease. The food that we (and our animals) eat gives us energy for metabolism and specific nutrients for vital body processes. This can be a major support to our constitution, especially at demanding times.

Bela the Dog

Food therapy tailors the diet to the time of life and lifestyle of an individual. As our dogs and cats age their vital organ functions can lose vitality and they will need support in particular areas. Food therapy will recognise and address this. At the same time the lifestyle and activity levels of these individuals must be taken into account. Balancing food with activity levels is an important way of maintaining harmony between an animal and the external environment.

Overeating leading to weight gain and poor exercise tolerance becomes a vicious circle and is extremely detrimental to health. Unwelcome weight gain is a very common problem among domestic dogs and cats, and can sometimes be challenging to rectify. Food therapy can tailor a diet to make weight loss easier, by selecting food for particular qualities as well as by reducing its quantity.

Providing seasonal food where possible is a time-honoured method for promoting harmony between our environment and ourselves. Each season is complemented by particular food qualities. During summer we can digest raw and cooler foods without losing body heat, and spices can help us to sweat and cool off. In winter salty and warming foods will be easier to digest, and it is best to cook foods for longer.

How we prepare food will modify its effect in the body. Raw food will be more cooling (and cooked food more warming) although the inherent nature of a particular food remains present. For example, lamb is a warming, sweet flavoured meat even when eaten raw, and cooking will further increase its warming quality. The method of cooking we use will also affect the nature of food. Dry commercial diets are generally very heating due to the extensive cooking process.

I use food therapy in my practice to complement each patient’s constitution and to support other therapies in relation to disease processes. I find it particularly helpful in older animals, in animals with chronic diseases, in cases of organ failure and for cancer patients. Please contact me to find out more or to discuss a particular problem.

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