When it comes to our pets, we all want them to live their best lives. This includes feeding a nutritious diet and preventing illness. Some pet parents have adopted food energetics as a way to optimize their pet’s health using food as medicine.
What is Food Energetics?
Food energetics is an element of Traditional Chinese Medicine that works from the belief that every food has an energy that affects the body in different ways. Foods can be hot, warm, neutral or cool. Each food will alter the energy of the body either creating heat or cooling it down.
This doesn’t necessarily mean raising or lowering the body temperature. For the sake of this article, when referring to hot or cold, it is in reference to the energy involved, not exclusively temperature. Different qualities are associated with hot or cold bodies such as allergies, skin condition, and even mental health.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a system of healthcare used in China for thousands of years. Unlike western medicine which generally focuses on treatment, TCM looks at the body as a whole and focuses more on prevention and balance within the body. TCM teaches that everything (food, people, animals, etc.) has a natural energy (Qi) and keeping that in balance is the key to good health.
According to TCM our bodies are always looking for a state of balance. Too much heat (Yang energy) or cold (Yin energy) will create a state of dis-ease, which left unbalanced can lead to disease.
How can we apply this to our dogs? By creating balance in their bodies with the food we feed, we can prevent many common ailments from manifesting in the first place. If medications and medical procedures can be avoided by utilizing food as medicine, it is worth it for many pet owners to explore this option.
Understanding Your Dog’s Natural Energy
The more you know about your dog the better you can care for them and their specific needs. This includes understanding their temperament, digestion, likes/dislikes, etc. Every dog is different. Spend some time watching your dog and making notes of anything you may notice like panting when it isn’t warm, itchy skin, a jumpy personality, eye gunk, slow digestion, or general lethargy. These can all be clues to your dog’s energetic balance. By recognizing the qualities of Yin and Yang within your dog you’ll be able to better understand their unique needs.
It’s usually easy to spot a dog who runs hot. While physical temperature often does feel warm, it really means they have an excess of hot, or Yang, energy. This energy is often described with words like active, fast, excess, dry, hyperactive, and inflammatory. These dogs are constantly looking for the coolest spot in the house or a shady place outside. They often suffer from allergies, hot spots, dry skin, or inflammation. They may drink excessively or pant when it doesn’t seem appropriate. They may frequently be nervous or restless. Their paws, ears, and skin also often feel warm to the touch.
To balance a dog with too much heat it is recommended to feed cooling or neutral foods. Warm foods should be fed in moderation and hot foods should be avoided. A list of suggested foods will be expanded on later in this article.
Cold, or Yin, energy is often described with words such as slow, quiet, damp, deficient and weak. Dogs with cold energies usually seek out the sunniest spots to sleep or prefer to be under the blankets snuggling. They often suffer from slow digestion, urinary issues or joint problems. Their nose, ears, paws and skin are often cool to the touch, even in warm weather. They also tend to be more slow moving, stiff, or lethargic, especially in the colder months.
Warm, or the occasional hot, foods should be fed to balance dogs with cold energy. This will boost their digestive “fire” and warm their energy.
If your dog doesn’t regularly exhibit any of these symptoms you have a neutral dog! They may occasionally show signs of having excess heat or cold, but they are generally not prone to one or the other. If your dog shows signs of an imbalance (allergies, slow digestion, etc.) adding foods with the opposite energy will help keep them balanced in their neutral state.
The Energetics of Food
Here are some examples of each energy so you can start to balance your dog’s diet. Keep in mind, these lists are not set in stone. Different schools of TCM include foods in different categories. For example, pork can be considered both neutral and cooling depending on the practitioner. It may take some experimenting to find what works for your dog. Foods have been categorized based on the observations of practitioners over time. They took into account how the body reacts after consuming each item as well as how it’s produced, the flavor, and organs affected. This is why you may see parts of an animal (organs, skin, etc.) in one category separate from the muscle meat.
There aren’t as many hot foods and they should always be fed in moderation, even to cold dogs. Some areas of TCM do not consider any meats hot. If these seem inflammatory for your dog, they should be considered hot and should be avoided or fed in moderation.
These foods are best for cold dogs or balanced with cooling foods for neutral dogs. In addition to lamb, goat, and venison which are often considered warm here are a few more options to choose from.
Neutral foods are great options for any dog and can all be fed as a regular part of the diet.
Cooling meats are best for warm/hot dogs or balancing with warm foods for a neutral dog.
As with anything in life, the key is balance. When experimenting with food energetics balance should always be your end goal. Your hot dog should not only eat cold foods and vice versa. This could lead to different imbalances. But if you notice your dog seems excessively hot or cold lately, adjusting the diet may be beneficial.
Another thing to consider is that variety is always beneficial. By providing a diverse diet you are ensuring your dog is receiving a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. This in itself will help to create balance within your dog’s body.
Unfortunately, there has been very little research done on food energetics and whether or not they affect the body as described. Especially within the United States. There are however many holistic vets that recommend food therapy as part of a whole wellness program for our dogs. You can look for holistic vets in your area that practice food therapy or are Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) certified. Dr. Ashley Geoghegan at Vet Naturally has a great blog about pet care from a TCVM approach.
This lack of research has not stopped many pet owners from adjusting their pet’s diet in accordance with their imbalances and seeing positive changes. As with many natural or alternative practices, most of the evidence is anecdotal. Many humans and dogs have seen improvements in overall health by utilizing TCM practices. In fact, if you’ve ever enjoyed the benefits of acupuncture, Tai Chi or herbal remedies (food therapy) you are one of them!
While there may not be any definitive proof to support the theory of food energetics, it’s a fairly easy change to make and you may see improvements in your dog’s overall wellbeing.
Getting Started with Food Therapy
The use of TCM and food therapy/energetics is more than just warming or cooling foods but it is a great starting point.
For the raw fed dog you can start by incorporating more foods from the appropriate category for your dog and avoid foods that work against their needs. You can also use fresh produce as treats or toppers if you currently don’t feed it.
For the kibble fed dog, adding fresh food is always beneficial! Kibble is essentially “dead” and very dry after the high heat of the extrusion process. As such, simply changing kibble proteins is unlikely to yield the results you’re hoping for. Fresh foods are alive and filled with nutrients! They also add much needed moisture to a dry diet. If a full raw diet isn’t an option at the moment fresh raw meat, veggies and the occasional fruit, can be used as toppers and treats. You can even replace one meal a day with fresh food. Real Dog Box treats and chews are single ingredient and lightly air dried. They can all be used as part of your dog’s daily meals and are a hassle free way to add fresh, energy appropriate food to your dog’s diet.