Food Therapy 

 Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food,” in 400 BC, indicating that for centuries people have realized nutrition was important to help prevent and cure disease. Food therapy is a component of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) that uses specific foods and herbs to treat pets based on genetic tendencies, age, species, environment, disease patterns, personality, and stress levels. Food therapy does not simply involve recommending generally healthy foods, but rather prescribing particular foods based on the pet’s individual needs. Food therapy selects and combines the appropriate foods for your four-legged friend to restore and maintain their balance and optimal health.

Food therapy goals for pets

Food therapy’s purpose is to determine each pet’s distinct patterns and suggest ingredients that can benefit their individual needs and constitution. Food therapy recipes can be classified as follows:

  • Health promotion and prevention — These diets are meant to improve health on an everyday basis and to prevent climate-related and seasonal problems.
  • Disease treatment — These diets are formulated to complement primary treatments for clinical conditions, such as skin problems, autoimmune disease, otitis, cancer, kidney and liver disease, and immunodeficiency.

Food therapy is not meant to replace traditional medicine but to enhance conventional and integrative therapies.

Food therapy philosophy for pets

Food therapy is based on TCVM’s Five Element Theory, which takes a holistic approach to pets’ health and healing by organizing the body into five functioning organ systems that correspond with natural elements. Each element has unique properties that influence the digestive system and overall health and wellness. Foods are classified as cooling or warming in each of the five elements, which include:

  • Water element — The water element governs the kidneys and bladder and includes foods that contain water to help cleanse and detoxify the body, flush out toxins, and hydrate cells. 
    • Warming water element foods include beef, lamb, chicken, and ginger.
    • Cooling water element foods include cucumber, watermelon, mung bean, and cabbage.
  • Wood element — The wood element governs the liver and gallbladder, which store and release bile to help break down fats.
    • Warming wood element foods include oatmeal, brown rice, millet, and honey.
    • Cooling wood element foods include celery, lettuce, broccoli, and sprouts.
  • Fire element — The fire element governs the small intestine and heart and includes hot or spicy foods that help increase circulation and metabolism.
    • Warming fire element foods include chili pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
    • Cooling fire element foods include watermelon, tomatoes, strawberries, and oranges.
  • Earth element — The earth element governs the spleen and stomach, which are responsible for food digestion. 
    • Warming earth element foods include sweet potatoes, yams, peanuts, and sesame seeds.
    • Cooling earth element foods include radishes, beets, and carrots.
  • Metal element — The metal element governs the lungs and colon, which help control breathing and body fluid and waste removal.
    • Warming metal element foods include pumpkin, squash, and ginger.
    • Cooling metal element foods include pears, apples, bananas, and papaya.


Flavors can influence food therapy for pets

Your pet can receive therapeutic benefits from different flavors, such as:

  • Bitter — Bitter foods cool down the body and direct energy downward, helping to reduce inflammation.
  • Sweet — Sweet foods nourish bodily fluids and aid digestion. Processed sugars create internal heat and inflammation and lead to conditions such as obesity and diabetes, while healthy sweet foods such as Chinese yams can help boost energy levels and aid digestion.
  • Spicy — Spicy foods can help with moving energy outward and with treatment of respiratory issues. 
  • Salty — Salty foods, which help cool the body and move energy inward, help improve thyroid function.
  • Sour — Sour foods can help with GI issues, such as diarrhea.


Seasonal influence on food therapy for pets

Food choices should be balanced and modified with the season, especially in northern climates with dramatic seasonal changes. Considerations include:

  • Spring and summer — Spring and summer foods should help your pet reduce and dispel heat and stay hydrated.
  • Fall and winter — Fall and winter foods should help keep your pet warm, but not stimulate inflammation.

Temperature and color can influence food therapy for pets

A food’s temperature and color can also influence their effect on the body. Specifics include:

  • Temperature — Warm foods help with digestion and circulation, while cool foods help calm the mind.
  • Color — Different-colored foods target specific body areas that need attention. For example, black foods, such as blackberries and black beans, can help with kidney issues; yellow foods, such as ginger, squash, and yams, can aid digestion; and leafy green foods can minimize liver problems.

Food therapy combined with other treatment modalities can enhance your pet’s overall treatment effectiveness and help ensure an optimal outcome. If you would like to learn more about food therapy and the Integrative Medicine services provided by Dr. Michel Selmer, contact Long Island Veterinary Specialists at (516) 501-1700, or visit us at