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Feeding Your Pet from the Perspective of Chinese Medicine

Photo of home prepared food made in accordance to Chinese medicine cooling principles

This article originally appeared as Using Warming, Cooling, or Neutral Food Energy to Promote Your Pet's Health and Nutrition on Since the onset of my veterinary career, I’ve had a strong interest in how the foods our pets consume contribute to an overall state of wellness or illness. Learning how to apply this interest to my patients took many years of post-veterinary school practice, continuing education, and an ongoing belief in the inherent nutritional benefits of whole foods. During veterinary school, students’ brains are heavily saturated with a variety of academic information. As graduation date nears, a general sense of insecurity develops about making the appropriate professional choices to best serve our patients. As a result, common sense notions about the value of looking more discerningly at the ingredients formulating a pet’s diet are often overlooked. Pertaining to cats and dogs, veterinary students are taught from the seemingly exclusive practice of matching illness with an appropriate prescription canned or dry food aimed at controlling or resolving a particular condition. New veterinarians emerge into the vast abyss of a burgeoning career with little practical ability to discern "right from wrong" when making choices in recommending food for our patients. Within the first few years of veterinary practice, I realized that I could help my patients eat in a more healthful way than the typical pet does. This stems, in part, from the foundations of my personal nutrition being whole-food based. My education through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) further exposed me to the role food energy plays in overall health. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM, and its counterpart TCVM, where ‘V’ equals Veterinary), there are heating (Yang), cooling (Yin), and neutral food sources capable of creating a commensurate response in the body. The examples I feel best clarify this phenomena pertain to extremes of the Yang and Yin spectrum. Cayenne (red) or chili pepper demonstrates its Yang properties by causing a warming sensation when consumed or coming in contact with the skin or mucous membranes. Conversely, cucumber personifies Yin qualities by creating a cooling and moistening effect. Your pet’s health may benefit from the use of Chinese medicine food energy theory, but determining what combinations of warming, cooling, or neutral foods best serve your pet’s needs should be done by a veterinarian trained in and actively practicing this style of food therapy. In working up my veterinary patients, I reference the food energy chart provided by the Chi Institute. Warming (Yang) Foods
  • Meat and Dairy - chicken, lamb, venison,
  • Vegetable and Fruit - apricot, blackberry, cherry, ginger, papaya, peach, red/chili pepper, plum, pumpkin, squash
  • Grain, Bean, and Other - oats, quinoa, white rice, pepper, nutmeg, tumeric
Cooling (Yin) Foods
  • Meat and Dairy - duck, egg, rabbit, most shellfish, turkey, yogurt
  • Vegetable and Fruit - alfalfa, apple, banana, blueberry, broccoli, celery, cucumber, eggplant, kiwi, mango, mushroom, pear, persimmon, spinach, strawberry, tomato, watermelon
  • Grain, Bean, and Other - barley, brown rice, buckwheat, most fish oil, flax (seed, oil), green tea, honey, millet, mint, soybean, tofu
Neutral Foods
  • Meat and Dairy - beef, bison, catfish, mackerel, milk, pork, salmon, sardines, tripe, trout, tuna
  • Vegetable and Fruit - asparagus, beet, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, date, fig, lychee, pineapple, potato (white and sweet), radish, yam
  • Grains, Beans, and Other - most beans, corn, peas (green)
Besides the inherent energetic properties of the above foods, we also must recognize how the format in which our nutrients consumed has a warming or cooling effect. Dry food is considered Yang, while moist food is Yin. To delve further into this equation, we can evaluate food’s components to gauge how Yang or Yin is the dry or canned food we feed our pets. Is your pet’s salmon and sweet potato based dry food "cool enough" to benefit a dog in need of a Yin boost to quiet down the fire of a Yang disease condition? Unfortunately, there is no "Yang/Yin-o-meter" to make such an assessment. How to use Chinese medicine food energy to treat common pet conditions will be the basis of a follow-up article, so check back with me on for more holistic pet food chatter. Thank you for reading my article. To receive my next article via email, sign up by following this link. Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by friending Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook. Copyright of this article (2012) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.
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