Tag Archives: chinese herbal medicine

Food Therapy in Traditional Chinese Medicine

 Hippocrates said — “Let food be thy medicine & let thy medicine be food”.

One of the five major branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine is Food Therapy. The other branches are acupuncture, exercise, Tui-Na massage and herbal therapy.  Food therapy is based on the theory that different types of food can be used as treatment for various medical conditions. There is a large variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and herbs that can be beneficial in healing different ailments.

Food therapy is a great idea for clients that want to feed their pets home-made food, are already preparing home-made diets for their pets or are interested in supplementing whole foods to dry commercial diets.

Food Therapy is based on two fundamental principles: “Food Energetics” and “Pattern Differentiation.” Let’s discuss these two principles in added detail.

Food Energetics

This principle refers to the effect food has on multiple processes of the body, particularly the digestive, metabolic, and physiological systems. Each food has what is called a “Xing,” which is essentially the “temperature” of the item. This temperature refers to the particular food’s overall effect on the dog’s metabolism.

In the West, food is most often described by its contents and ingredients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. In the East, however, food is described by the effect it has on the body when consumed, particularly the “temperature” of the food. The temperatures of food are hot, warm, neutral, cool, or cold. Chili peppers, for example, are considered hot, heating up our bodies when eaten, while watermelon is considered cooling. You may notice that you prefer to eat rich broth soups in the winter, whereas in the summer, you may find a strong preference for salads. Without knowing it, you have been using the basic principle of Food Therapy for your own health!

Types of food are also classified by their “Flavor.” In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are over five flavors that have distinct actions within the body. These flavors include salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and pungent. For example, the Sour flavor is paralleled with the Wood Phase which focuses on the Liver and Gallbladder. The Bitter flavor is correlated with the Fire Phase, affecting the Heart and Small Intestine. Each flavor has a particular quality, ranging from draining to detoxifying.

Lastly, foods may have a particular action within the body, either directly affecting a meridian or an organ.

Pattern Differentiation/Bian Zheng

The second principle in Food Therapy is one of the most important parts of Traditional Chinese Medicine — Pattern Differentiation/Bian Zheng. This principle distinguishes patterns of disharmony within individual dogs. The patterns of disharmony are numerous, often including theories such as Yin/Yang (cold, hot), Location/Jiao (upper, middle and lower Jiao), Five elements Theory (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood), Eight Principles (yin/yang, hot/cold, interior/exterior, excess/deficiency), and six Pathogenic Factors (wind, cold, damp, heat, summer heat, dryness). When a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine practitioner diagnoses any of the above patterns, the treatment is generally the inverse of the diagnosis, therefore balancing the body and restoring health. These patterns and principles can be quite complicated and would each deserve a blog on their own. For the purpose of this food blog we will not go into great details about each. Here is a simplistic chart of the 5 elements and what is associated with them based on TCM concept.



Food Combinations

Once Food Energetics and Pattern Differentiation have been evaluated, a practitioner will choose a food combination for your dog. Combinations include multiple types of food as well as culinary herbs designed to balance the dog’s physical and physiological imbalances.

Food Properties

— Tonic-type foods

These are best used to strengthen body function, and are particularly helpful for dogs with chronic issues. These foods maintain and improve available energy within the body. Tonic-type foods include beef, chicken, date, fig, ham, lentil, molasses, oats, sweet potato, and squash.

— Blood tonic foods

These types of foods are best used to improve the quality of immediate nourishment for your dog’s body. Blood tonic foods include apricot, beef, bone marrow, chicken egg, dark leafy greens, liver, oyster, nettle, parsley, sardine, and spinach.

— Yin tonic foods

These foods maintain and improve subtle body nourishment, as well as overall soothing of the body with cooling properties. Yin tonic foods include apple, asparagus, cheese, duck, honey, mango, milk, peas, pineapple, pork, rabbit, tofu, and yam.

— Yang tonic foods

These types of foods help to maintain and improve the animal’s ability to generate warmth and stimulate many system functions. Yang tonic foods include basil, cinnamon bark, clove, fennel seed, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, kidney, lamb, rosemary, shrimp, and walnut.

It’s important to remember that food is medicine. Sometimes we rely too much on drugs, supplements, and vitamins, forgetting that food can not only be a supplement to our health, but can also heal us.

If you’re interested in learning more about Food Therapy, consult a Traditional Veterinary Chinese Medicine practitioner in your area. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complex form of medicine and best left to a professional for diagnosis.

I am certified by the Chi Institute as a Chinese Veterinary Food Therapist (CVFT) and you can contact me for a food therapy consult. Please be advised that an initial exam is required to perform a full Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis in order to better assess the TCM pattern that is present in your pet.

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)


Ferguson, Bruce. Introduction to Food Therapy in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings. 2008.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for pets!

Chinese Herbal medicine’s goal is to try and restore balance of energy (Qi), body and spirit to your pet in order to maintain its health. Unlike conventional medicine who’s goal is to treat a specific problem or disease, Chinese Herbal medicine tries to approach diseases in a more holistic way.


Herbs, unlike conventional drugs, have different modes of actions. For example, antibiotics usually have one specific goal, to kill bacteria. Herbs may have different types of actions at the same time. So, an herb, unlike a conventional drug is made up of different constituents so it could have an antibacterial effect to kill bacteria. But, at the same time, it may have an adaptogen affect in order to allow the body to adapt to stress. Most often your veterinarian will pick an herbal formula that fits your pet’s presenting Chinese Medical Pattern which he or she will assess after making an exam, taking an history, assessing the symptoms and using tongue and pulse analysis.

Herbs like conventional drugs may have side-effects and some may be toxic. Therefore it is always important to consult with a veterinarian trained in herbs. Side-effects like diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia are uncommon but can happen. Usually, these side-effects are self-limiting and calling your veterinarian if any of these or other side-effects happen is suggested. Your veterinarian may have you lower the dosage, discontinue administration of the herbs for a short time or change the herbal formula completely. Always consult your veterinarian before making any changes to the dose prescribed. Sometimes, the initial dosage given to your pet will be lower then the normal recommended dose, but this is done in order to make sure that your pet tolerates it in order to avoid possible digestive side-effects. Our recommendation is to always follow the directions written on the prescription labels by your veterinarians.

There are different type of herbal preparations, some come in liquid form like tinctures, some can be given as teas, some come in tea pill form and capsules or even pill form like conventional drugs. Because there have been issues with contamination of herbal products in the past and  because there is a lack of safety regulations in Canada, we advise you to use only products bought from a veterinarian professional. Be wary of on-line cheap products, because quality and safety are not assured.

Dr Cindy Lizotte is a member of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association (VBMA). As a member of the VBMA, she shares their views and believes that in the interests of safety that any herbs should always be prescribed by a qualified practitioner. Furthermore, we at Integrative Veterinary Care, try to always source our herbs and natural products from companies listed on the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) website in order to insure quality control and the safety of the products we sell. It is not a requirement by Canadian laws, but as we care for the safety of the clients and pets we serve, we try to adhere to highest possible standards of quality for the product lines we carry.

To administer the herbs, you can try to hide them in your pet’s favorite treat or mix them in with soft food. Some people hide the pills in cheese, peanut butter (tiny amount), sweet potatoes and other types foods.  In some cases, adding some water or heating up the food may help mask any herbal smell. Some clients prefer to simply open the pet’s mouth and insert the pills in the back of their throat. In case of liquid tinctures, you can buy empty capsules and fill them up with the liquid and administer the capsule hidden in food. Each pet is different and different tricks maybe tried to see which one works best for you.

We should see an improvement in your pet’s health within two weeks of starting the herbs. Some herbs are more for long term use and may take longer to promote health. For long standing problems, expect it to take more time to improve health. For acute problems, expect faster relief for your pet. Re-establishing your pet’s health in a case of a chronic problem will require patience and it may take adjustments in dosage or formulation of the herbs. Rome was not built overnight and in chronic situation, it will take time, so patience is required.

Usually, your veterinarian will suggest a recheck with your animal in two weeks after starting the herbs. If as a client you have any questions, feel free to email-us and we will do our best to assist you.

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)