Although less known than its cousins–herbal medicine and acupuncture—food therapy is also an integral part of Chinese medicine.
In the West, more and more veterinarians are now using food therapy to help treat a number of conditions. According to Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT (who is certified in Acupuncture and food therapy and is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and Botanical Veterinary Medical Association), food therapy can be an invaluable tool, regardless of whether you use it alone or together with traditional veterinary medicine.
We talked to Dr. Morgan to find out more about food therapy, how it works and how it can help your pet.
THK: What is food therapy and how can it be used to treat animals?
Dr Judy Morgan: Every food eaten will affect the body in many ways. The food will provide nutrients, but it will also provide warmth or cooling, will be drying or moisturizing, and will provide energy or calm.
The easiest example is watermelon on a hot day. The melon is full of moisture and helps cool the body. Goat, lamb, chicken and curry are eaten in many warm climates because they add heat to the body and cause people to sweat. Unfortunately, our pets cannot sweat, so feeding foods that are energetically warming will cause them to pant more to blow off the excess heat in the body.
However, animals that are cold and seeking warmth—like old, slow, weak dogs and cats that follow the sunny spots around the house, love to snuggle by the fire and burrow under blankets—will benefit from the warming properties of those foods.
Puppies that are overly energetic (think Jack Russell Terriers) who are fed proteins that are warming will be harder to train because they are hyper and have difficulty concentrating. I compare it to adding paper to fire; they are burning off excess energy. If we feed those hyper, overactive pets proteins and foods that are energetically cooling, we help them to focus and be more calm. Cooling proteins would be things like cold-water fish, rabbit, pork and duck.
Other foods can help drain fluid from the body (basically acting like a diuretic) and can be helpful when treating fluid in the chest or abdomen or edema anywhere in the body. Radishes, turnips, barley, asparagus, mushrooms and cranberry are great for draining Damp (fluid).
THK: You also use food therapy as part of cancer treatment. How can dietary changes help animals heal better?
Dr Judy Morgan: Cancer can basically be divided into two basic descriptions from a Chinese Medicine viewpoint: blood deficiency cancer and phlegm and blood stagnation cancer.
Cancer generally causes excess toxic heat in the body, so I will lean toward foods that are cooling. Pets with blood deficiency cancer will generally have dry, cracked tongues and dry, flaky skin. The foot pads will be dry and gray (healthy pads look like black patent leather). To treat blood deficiency, I add foods that are good blood tonics. These may include small, oily fish (sardines, anchovy, mackerel), whole eggs, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, parsley and collards, dates, beef and bone marrow.
To treat phlegm and blood stagnation cancers I add foods that get the blood moving and help dissolve phlegm. These may include turmeric, radish, seaweed, shiitake mushroom, apples, ginger, peppermint and citrus peel.
Studies have shown that cancer cells tend to use carbohydrates or fats over proteins as their preferred food source. Based on those studies, I recommend diets low in carbohydrates and fats, depending on the type of cancer that has been diagnosed. Because dry pet foods are very high in carbohydrates, I recommend not feeding those to pets with a cancer diagnosis. I really like Honest Kitchen Kindly base mix for my cancer patients because it makes life easy for the pet owners. The diet does not contain potatoes, but does contain the needed greens, vitamins and minerals. I determine the protein base needed for the individual pet and recommend added ingredients as needed.