Feeding Dogs and Cats for Optimum Health
by Kelly Cady-Sowers
We are what we eat and so are our pets. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), food is viewed as “medicine” and is used to nourish and harmonize the body, mind and spirit. All foods have distinct energetic and characteristic properties that either help balance the body and make us healthier, or create imbalances that can lead to illness.
In Western culture, the emphasis is placed on the composition of food (protein, fat, calories, vitamins, minerals, etc.) to determine whether it is nutritious and therefore, beneficial. The TCM approach is much different, determining whether a food is beneficial by the effect it has on the body. Foods are described by qualities such as temperature, flavor and action. TCM determines the unique energy and characteristic properties of each food, such as hot/cold, sweet/bitter/salty, and how the food acts in the body.
Just like humans, dogs and cats are unique individuals and there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for nutrition. Feeding our four-legged family members foods their bodies crave can lead to healing, improved health, and longer lives.
What Does It All Mean?
In TCM, foods are normally categorized as having warming, cooling or neutral properties. Within these categories, there are foods that drain dampness, add moisture, tonify the blood and life-force (Qi), resolve stagnation, transform energy blockages, or provide other healthy effects on the body.
Providing a dog or cat foods with the appropriate characteristics helps to create a balanced, healthy individual. For example, a dog with hot spots that seep moisture indicates the dog has too much heat and dampness. Feeding him foods with cooling properties (such as salmon or duck) and drying characteristics (such as alfalfa, barley and celery) can help balance these conditions and lessen, or even eliminate, the issue over time.
TCM food energetics can get very specific and confusing. Consulting with a holistic veterinarian, who is certified in food therapy, is the ideal scenario to determine the best recipes for a pet. However, there are some very basic guidelines to follow that help determine which foods pets need the most.
If a pet is heat-seeking – always lays in the sun (indoors or outdoors), has arthritis made better by heat, has coldness to ears, nose and back, or poor appetite, that pet may benefit from “warming” foods like chicken, lamb and venison.
If a pet seeks cool places (like laying on tile floors), pants a lot, is extremely high-energy, hyperactive or restless, or has allergies that give off heat (including hot spots), that pet may benefit from “cooling” foods like duck, many types of fish, and turkey.
Neutral foods such as beef, bison and pork, are beneficial to most pets, especially those with dry, flaky coats or cracked paw pads.
Food therapies are most commonly applied to skin problems, digestive problems, and respiratory problems. In severe, long standing problems, a home-prepared diet is used to better control the type and quality of the ingredients.
Not Just Protein
While high-quality proteins play a crucial role in the health of a dog or cat, fruits and vegetables, healthy grains, dairy, and herbs/spices also have specific effects on balancing the body. Not only is the quality of the meals important, but attention should also be paid to treats and supplements – basically anything that goes into the body, because everything has an effect.
One of my own family members is an 8-year-old Shepherd/Terrier mix who has always suffered from seasonal allergies. After taking a good look at his symptoms and behavior (warm, inflamed ears, hot spots, always lying on the tile in the bathroom, easily overheated), we switched his diet to all “cooling” foods (turkey, fish, duck, broccoli, honey, flax seed oil, kelp, blueberries and apples). His allergies have been minimal the last four years, and he has not had a single hot spot.
Weighing the Options
Cooking for a pet can seem like a daunting task, but there are companies that already offer this service. Check out fresh, locally prepared meal formulas, some of which are sold at local farmers’ markets or by home delivery throughout areas of Central Ohio.
There are also books that discuss TCM Food Therapy in depth, and list the energetic properties of many whole foods. Helpful references such as Energetics of Food, by Stephen Gagne, and Helping Ourselves, A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics, by Daverick Leggett, provide insight to this approach.
Taking into consideration the effects of the food our pets consume is an easy way to help our four-legged family members eat their way to a better-balanced body, mind and spirit, and provide them a longer, healthier life!
Kelly Cady-Sowers is the owner of Duke’s Natural Products for Pets, Ltd., and is the nutritional advisor for GoldenLife Dog Food, LLC. GoldenLife Dog Food offers handcrafted, fresh meals that are developed according to the principles of a home-cooked diet.