Integrative Pet Vet column: Autumn is a season of transition that can affect pets |

Integrative Pet Vet column: Autumn is a season of transition that can affect pets

Dr. Ron Carsten

Autumn is a season of transition. A transition from the heat of summer to the cold of winter.  Healing methods like traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) describe the potential impacts that temperature changes have on health. They use descriptive terminology to communicate observations of physical changes. These physical changes are indicative of the quality of health and give guidance for supportive and therapeutic care. An example of how cold affects our pet companions is a dog with osteoarthritis. Cold often increases the joint pain. With exposure to cold they may experience generalized weakness and fatigue. In addition, they may be more stiff after lying and attempt to avoid going out into the cold. Interestingly, TCM relates how cold affects the body to how we experience cold. Cold causes contraction and stagnation. Think of how cold affects water changing it from a liquid to a solid (ice) when it becomes cold enough.

While we cannot control the outside temperature, we can control the home environment, exposure to outside temperatures, and what we feed our pets. Foods are thought to have properties that make them warming, neutral, or cooling. Pets consuming meat daily tend to be less affected by cold because animal protein is overall considered warming. Of course this is a generalization because some meat sources are considered to be more warming or more cooling in relative terms. For example, chicken, lamb, and salmon are considered warming while beef, pork and whitefish are considered neutral.

Feeding raw foods or adding fresh vegetables and fruit to pet’s meals has become more common. However, raw food that is fed cold is considered potentially a problem because it brings cold into the interior of the body. Warming the food before feeding can be important especially as we enter the cold months of winter. Some foods benefit from lightly steaming while others need more heat to adequately warm them. As with the meat, vegetables and fruits are also considered to have properties of warming, neutral or cooling. This property is a different issue than the physical temperature of the food. For example, rice, oats, pumpkin, and winter squash are considered warming. Apples, carrots, corn, and green beans are thought to be neutral.

Herbs are also valuable components of a support plan for managing optimal health. They can be used to warm the body when it is appropriate. Some herbs are warming while others are neutral or cooling. These distinctions can be important from a therapeutic aspect because from a TCM perspective, too much internal heat can be damaging just as too much cold. This makes it critical to have a clear understanding of the pet’s needs and the properties of the herb. Herbs that are often used for their healing benefits that are also considered warming include ginger, turmeric, cayenne, and cinnamon. Ginger and turmeric are known to have anti-inflammatory characteristics that make them valuable for helping with conditions like osteoarthritis.

A practical approach to helping our pet companions navigate the transition from summer through fall and into winter include providing an appropriately dry, warmed environment. Not spending too much time in the outdoor cold, wet, and wind is also important. Always provide fresh water that is not too cold. Warming foods before feeding is valuable. Selecting herbs that are appropriate for the pet’s condition can add an important component of support. 

Keep in mind that the comments contained here give a very general overview of a TCM concept. TCM can be used as a guide for health assessment and ways to provide health support. This means that it is critical to carefully evaluate the pet’s individual needs so that the proper herb is selected and it is used for the appropriate time at the optimal dose. This is potentially a situation where too much of a good thing is a problem. In other words too much warming can be a problem.

If you have questions about helping your pet journey through the season changes, contact your veterinarian. 

Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.

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