"How do you know your dog is getting the right proteins, vitamins and minerals?" Most people who are feeding home-prepared, real, human-grade food to our dogs are asked this question quite often. The first answer, of course, is explaining how you have researched canine diet and consulted canine food specialists. And, if that's not enough, tell them to look, smell, listen and feel your dog; check him out.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there is the "Concept of Integrity." The Chinese considered the body, human or canine, an integrated whole. Thus, if one part of the body were suffering, evidence of this suffering would appear in other parts of the body. For instance, if a dog were not receiving adequate nourishment than he probably would be rather thin, he may be poorly muscled, his eyes could seem dull, and he could be lethargic. These are rather obvious signs of either a dog not being fed the food his body needs or not being able to metabolize or utilize the food.
Anything inside is bound to manifest outwardly. Outward manifestations and their locality may reveal the condition of the internal organs; in this way, the location of the illness will be known.
"Treatise on the Original Organs" From Miraculous Pivot (Chinese Medicine text, 475-221 B.C.)
Given the concept of integrity, what is happening internally can be detected by collecting information presented externally, TCM practitioners use an ancient assessment tool called "The Four Examinations" to ascertain the health of an animal. These Four Examinations are a method of gathering enough "data" about the animal's condition to make a proper assessment and design a treatment plan. At the time when the basic concepts and techniques used in TCM were developed, practitioners had to rely on their senses to be able to discern and distinguish indications of ill health. The Four Examinations are:
- Listening / Smelling
- History / Inquiry
- Physical Palpation
The practitioner's observation skills had to become extremely keen. While looking at the dog the practitioner is asking questions such as:
- What is the general attitude and conformation of this dog?
- Does this dog's coat and skin look healthy and similar to other dogs of this type?
- Is his weight appropriate for his size, breed, or mix?
- Are his gums and teeth clean and healthy?
- Are his eyes bright and attentive?
- Does this dog's energy appear vital?
- Are his nails strong and healthy looking?
- What color is his tongue?
- And, many other questions concerning the dog's appearance.
Visual assessment is always first because there are so many cues a practitioner can pick up by just looking at the dog. Say you see a dog whose coat is glowing and smooth, when his guardian says his name he jumps to his feet and his bright eyes shine with eager anticipation awaiting his guardian's next move. Most likely this is a healthy, vital animal. Now, you see another dog, you can count every rib, his coat looks thin and patchy, he has lost his hair on his rub spots, his eyes are dull, and he appears to be unable to respond to you. This dog is not well and these are clear indications of it. Observation is key to identifying internal imbalances.
The second examination is Listening and Smelling. There are a number of explanations for why the ancient Chinese combined listening and smelling, it is reasonable and easier to simply accept that they are considered a single examination. Most dog people can immediately tell if a dog is barking because they are excited and barking for joy or when the dog is defensive and anxious. When dogs are hurt or sick their vocalizations range from heart-rending yelps to weak sighs and moans. A happy, well-fed dog who metabolizes his food will sound like a healthy, energetic fellow.
If a dog's coat were to emanate a heavy, damp, musky, sweet odor, the TCM practitioner would check for other indications that the Stomach/Spleen organ systems were not functioning properly. Smells, by their nature, are often indicative of some type of heat condition. A heavy, sweet odor is associated with Stomach/Spleen organ systems in TCM. How the dog smells provides very important information Chinese Medicine.
History / Inquiry, the third examination, is very different in Chinese Medicine than in current, conventional, western medicine. The Chinese were more interested in understanding the lifestyle of the animal. Aside from an extreme trauma, TCM practitioners believe that the long-term, daily habits of the animal have a greater influence on the dog's current condition than just a narrow view of a medical history. Lifestyle will certainly have a bearing on how well the dog will recover from an illness. The practitioner asks questions such as:
- During which season is your dog most energetic?
- What time of the day does he enjoy most?
- When does he eat and what does he eat?
- Does the dog live in the city or country?
- How much exercise does he have daily and weekly?
In addition to these questions, the practitioner will gather the conventional medical history such as: current complaint, past injuries, illnesses and medical procedures, current medications and supplements and anything else relative to the current condition. If a Labrador were obese and the guardian reports that the dog eats one cup twice a day of commercial, grocery-store kibble, then it is clear that this dog is having difficulty managing weight and utilizing his food properly. The quality of the food is part of the problem, but lack of exercise can contribute to the dog's obesity, along with other lifestyle issues that have taken their toll on this animal's internal health.
Physical Palpation is the fourth and last of The Four Examinations. There are many assessment techniques the practitioner can use while performing the physical. Many practitioners use pulses, which is a highly skilled art. Most practitioners use certain sets of acupressure points that provide assessment information. The TCM practitioner can simply feel the dog's muscles to learn a lot about how the dog's body is making use of his food. If the dog's muscles are well toned, full, and nicely balanced bilaterally then the Stomach and Spleen organ systems are most likely doing their job. These two organ systems are responsible for breaking down food substances into nutrients and transporting the refined nutrients to the Lung and Heart organs systems so that they can be circulated through the blood which, in turn, nourishes the muscles. All of the internal organ systems are highly interdependent from a TCM perspective.
Back to the original question: "How do you know your dog is getting the right proteins, vitamins and minerals?" Check them out at least once a month. Look at them very critically both standing still and in motion, write down what you observe so that you will have a baseline of information. Listen to them, listen to their gut sounds, and write down what you hear. Smell their coat, breath, ears and if there is strong smell of any kind, write it down. What is the nature of your dog's life style? His medical history is important - keep a record of his visits to the veterinarian. Touch your dog all over: are there some parts of his body that are colder or hotter? How do his muscles feel? Overall, does he appear strong and vibrant?
Make your own assessment. If you have any doubts or even a minor concern about your dog's health, even if is not time for his annual veterinary check-up, please have a wholistic veterinarian check him. If you are feeding real, home-prepared meats, fish, blending in ground fresh vegetables and other supplements recommended by canine food specialists and your dog looks and acts like the healthy and bright eyed, you know he is getting the right stuff.
By Amy Snow & Nancy Zidonis Tradtional Chinese Medicine Practitioners & Instructors of Animal
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