The full force of summertime is upon us here in the Rogue Valley. It’s something that folks who’ve lived here for many years are well acquainted with, but even old-timers will tell you that this is an exceptionally hot, dry summer. In many respects, these conditions directly impact our daily lives and the animals unde
r our care. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can offer practical ways for us to keep our animals comfortable and healthy in extreme weather conditions.
The most basic concept in TCM is the ever-evolving balance between Yin and Yang, the two opposing principles in nature. Yang is hot, active, dry and bright; Yin is cool, calm, moist and dark. Too much Yang? You need more Yin. And vice versa. The two opposites need to be in balance with each other. But right now, at least climate-wise, we’re experiencing total Yang. Individuals who are already shifted a bit toward the Yang side of things will be more adversely affected by our hot, dry weather. So, for example, an Arabian mare with a hot, “fiery” disposition would be more likely to become agitated and restless in hot weather than a laid back Warmblood. An elderly cat with poor kidney function and a lack of Yin could easily become dehydrated and possibly constipated in the heat.
Not only can TCM explain why some individuals are prone to problems at certain times of the year, it also gives practical advice on helping our animals thrive during extreme weather conditions. One of the most important concepts to understand is the energetic nature of different foods. Almost anyone would agree that watermelon and cucumbers sound much more appealing right now than say, a pot roast. This is because our bodies are naturally attracted to foods that cool us in the summer and warm us in the winter. There are biochemical and physiological reasons for this, but ancient Chinese physicians ascribed energetic properties to foods. Ginger, black pepper and meats, for example, are Warming, whereas most vegetables are considered to be Cooling.
For an individual to stay healthy, it’s best to consume foods appropriate to the season. Animals do this naturally in the wild, and it’s important for our domesticated animals as well. If your Golden Retriever is prone to hot spots right now, you’d want to avoid feeding her chicken and lamb, which are considered “hot” meats. Salmon (as long as it’s cooked for dogs) and Turkey aren’t as warming, would be better choices. Adding some puréed leafy green veggies to the meal can have a nice cooling effect. Go slow though – sudden diet changes can cause digestive upset in some animals. Feeding watermelon rinds to horses, goats and llamas helps keep them cool too. (Our chickens love watermelon on a hot day!)
Herbs can also be beneficial in coping with summer heat. Lemon balm (a very happy “weed” in our yard) is a cooling, calming (Yin) herb that can be made into a tea and added to your pet’s food, or even chopped and added directly to a dog or horse’s meal. Catnip and other mint-family plants have similar effects. Parsley and basil are packed with cooling, detoxifying nutrients and make nice additions too.