The health benefits of Chinese medicine food therapy for animals are long-lasting and vitally important to recovering from illness. Many senior and ill animals noticeably respond to an addition of a whole-food diet. Such a diet, based on Chinese medicine therapy, can be the foundation for any health regimen. Just as acupuncture and herbal therapy are used in diagnosis and treatment to correct particular organ system and chi (energy) imbalances, food therapy can be used as well. Food is the cornerstone of an animal’s health in any medical system. Similar to other Eastern systems of health and healing, Chinese food therapy is prescribed based on what an animal’s constitution might benefit from in conjunction with what is appropriate for the season or time of year.
One of the most important considerations in food therapy is that food be from clean sources. The food could be organic or natural and can include many foods that are grown locally. Fresh food by definition is not processed and hasn’t been frozen or stored for a long period of time. Additionally, there is always the controversy of cooked versus raw food.
The choice of which is more appropriate can depend on several things, including the time of year, the health, constitution and age of the animal. Serving cooked food is most important in the colder months. A younger or very healthy animal can more easily digest raw foods. An older, senior or ill animal may need cooked food because its digestive system may not be able to process or utilize raw food.
In the winter months cooked foods may include root vegetables, warmer meats, darker greens and, depending on the animal, warmer grains. A bone broth is helpful to senior animals and those with arthritis. In the spring, darker greens, warm meats and lighter and fewer grains are good. In the summertime, lighter greens, fruits, fewer grains and cooler meats such as fish or turkey are helpful to dispel excess heat. In the late summer and fall, fruits, root vegetables and alliums in small amounts are generally fine for dogs. Cats are sensitive to alliums such as garlic and green onions. Any individual animal can have its own sensitivities and allergies, so it is best to try new foods in small amounts.
Added hydration in our dry New Mexico climate can be key to health and is important in many inflammation-related problems. Meat or veggie broth is a good constant for conditions such as arthritis, kidney disease, aging issues and skin disorders. Soups and stews are a good way to add all the relative ingredients and provide hydration at the same time. Baking of meats is fine but can cause excessive nutritional loss with vegetables. Steaming retains the most nutritional value over baking or boiling and is great for meats, vegetables and fruit.
The benefits of making the meals yourself include the value of the intention and care put into the food you make for your pets. This can’t be duplicated by large manufacturers or even large-scale kitchens. For those with less time, you can keep the meal simple, adding just a couple of ingredients. Simple recipes include a bone broth, sweet potatoes or another root vegetable and one green vegetable. It can be served by itself or added to high-grade canned food or kibble to increase palatability and nutritional value. A high-grade animal nutritional supplement can also be added to ensure that all nutritional needs are being met.
The rewards of adding whole fresh foods to your pet’s diet are numerous. Most pets appreciate and thrive on a traditional Chinese-medicine food therapy-based diet.
Audrey Shannon, D.V.M., offers animal acupuncture as well as food and herbal therapy for pets. 505.820.2617