Pet Corner: Chinese Herbs for Healthy Dogs

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"Properly trained, a man can be a dog's best friend." —Corey Ford
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"Properly trained, a man can be a dog's best friend." —Corey Ford

The principles of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) focus on resolving the root of a problem, or the disharmony within a dog’s body that causes its symptoms. This resolution then naturally relieves symptoms and prevents more serious problems later on from an unresolved disharmony. For example, practitioners of Chinese medicine see canine anxiety–thunder phobia or fear of loud noises, fear, aggression, and separation anxiety–as symptoms reflecting a disturbance in the dog’s heart shen.

Holistic veterinarian Christine Bessent of Herbsmith, Inc., in Hartland, Wisconsin, describes heart shen as the ability to feel relaxed in a new environment and to settle in; animals with poor heart shen have trouble relaxing. Calming your dog’s anxiety with tranquilizers, while giving you some peace, will not resolve the underlying disharmony causing the dog’s symptoms, and left unchecked, this disharmony can lead to more serious problems. The proper Chinese herbal formula goes straight to the dog’s heart shen problem and begins to work immediately from the inside out. The symptoms clear when the root cause resolves.

What About Allergies?

Holistic vet Phil Hightman treats dogs with allergies year-round in Jacksonville, Florida. “The so-called allergy season in Florida depends on the animal, the degree of canine sensitivity to a particular allergen, and the different pollinating periods of our plants,” he explains. Hightman also teaches at the Chi Institute, and he’s sold on Chinese herbs for allergies and other health issues in the animals he treats.

How do these herbs work to clear allergies? According to TCVM, when a dog has a healthy liver, it works as a pump to provide the smooth flow of qi (pronounced “chee” and sometimes spelled “chi”), or life energy, throughout the animal’s body. A hyspersensitive reaction to an allergen–food, contact or inhalant–causes stagnation of the normal flow of qi, which results in an overheating in the dog’s body. Heat or inflammation can move to any number of places, and in the allergic dog, the heat moves to its skin. The dog’s red and hot skin meets with its normally cool body core temperature and creates a “wind” that increases sensitivity to the external environment and manifests as itchy skin.

Further, according to TCVM, a healthy animal has a perfect balance of two forces in its body–yin (fluids) and yang (heat). Liver qi stagnation and allergic reactions turn up the yang, which burns off the yin. This imbalance creates an accumulation of phlegm causing a foul odor and a greasy, gooey feel to a dog’s coat. “First you need to turn down that heat, and then replenish the fluids,” Bessent says, and a proper Chinese herbal formula will do both.

Trauma: The Short and Long of It

TCVM recognizes two types of trauma: immediate or acute, and long-term or chronic. When a dog injures himself on agility equipment or collides with another dog on the trail, he suffers immediate tissue damage or bruising (blood stasis or blockage) at the point of his injury. This is an acute trauma. The dog will limp and guard the area, and your immediate response might be to treat his swelling and pain with anti-inflammatories and painkillers so that everyone can feel better.

But Bessent explains how inflammation performs the important work of cleaning up an injury–it removes damaged tissue along with any stagnant blood and brings healthy blood cells back to the area. When we treat only the pain and swelling of acute trauma, we may hinder the dog’s natural healing process, and we may also fail to treat any underlying effects of the injury. We could discover six months, or even years, later that the injured shoulder never completely healed, and by then we’re dealing with a chronic trauma–arthritis, bursitis or tendonitis. Why did this happen?

At the time of injury, if blood stasis (blockage) interfered with the important smooth and even flow of qi through that area, and we attended only to the blood stasis with pain medication while ignoring the qi stasis, that blockage of life force could cause long-term pain, or chronic trauma. The proper combination of herbal formulas resolves both blood and qi stasis.

Immune System Support

At the root of all health is a strong wei qi, or immune system. Opportunistic bacteria and viruses invade an animal’s body only because they can, when the dog’s immune system function is low. Chinese herbs can support immunity and enable the dog to fight off viruses and bacteria on its own.

In our search for the latest and best methods to support our dogs’ health, we see some new products come and go, the fads of the moment. Chinese herbs for dogs are not new, and they’re not fads–an entire region of the world’s people and animals has thrived on them for thousands of years with documented results. So if you haven’t tried Chinese herbs for your dog, they beg your attention.

Chinese herbal formulas are available at well-stocked herb and health-food stores, and through acupuncturists and holistic veterinarians. If you’d like to try Chinese herbs for your dog, we recommend you visit a practitioner first for tips on dosage and specific formulas. To find a TCVM practitioner, use the search feature on the Chi Institute’s website at

Jean Scherwenka loves dogs and writing. Her work has been published in
Animal Wellness and Fetch Magazine.

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