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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Valentine's Day conjures up the classic image of a smooth bordered, crimson heart emblazoned on every piece of holiday paraphernalia. As I work in a blood and guts laden profession, my view of the heart is more aligned with the organ’s appearance inside the body, which is drastically different from the gore-free Valentine’s heart.

As a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA), the heart has an even deeper meaning in my Chinese medicine practice, which shares both similarities to and differences from conventional medicine.

From the viewpoint of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), the heart governs behavior (Shen), blood, and blood vessels. Maladies affecting the heart can lead to behavior problems (Shen disturbance), reduced red blood cell production (anemia), or diminished blood flow to the body's organ systems (hypotension).

The TCVM heart correlates well to the western perspective, as lack of blood leads to insufficient tissue oxygenation. Diminished oxygen levels result in cellular damage, reduction of toxin removal, and various other physiologic problems.

The TCVM reference to the heart can be to the organ or the meridian. A meridian is a line of energy coursing from a starting to finishing point along the body. There are fourteen meridians running along the inside/bottom and outside/top of the body. The heart meridian runs from the inside of the armpit to the inside of the fifth (outermost) digit’s nail bed on both the right and left front limbs. Applying pressure (acupressure) to or needling acupuncture points along the heart meridian affects the flow of energy along the fourteen meridians and in the body’s organ systems.

There are two important points, termed the Association (Shu) Point for the Heart (HT), along the spine that correlate with the heart’s health.

The HT Shu is termed Bladder (BL) 15 and is located on the right and left sides of the spine at the level of the fifth thoracic vertebra (T5), situated just behind the shoulder blades. These points are sensitive if there is an underlying problem with the heart organ, an obstruction along the heart meridian (limb swelling, wrist or elbow arthritis, etc), or an abnormality with the intervertebral discs, spine, facets (joints attaching individual vertebra), muscles, or connective tissue at this site. If you press your fingers into your pet’s BL 15 and discomfort is elicited, then the potential exists for disease in any of the above locations.

Paired with HT Shu is HT Mu (Alarm Point), located on the underside of the chest, directly below the heart, on the midline of the sternum (breastbone). The HT Mu is also known as Conception Vessel (CV) 14. Like the HT Shu point (BL 15, as above), sensitivity at this point can indicate problems with the heart's function.

The tongue also yields additional information about heart health, as it is a big muscle that receives significant blood volume at each cardiac contraction. The tongue’s color, size, shape, moisture, and coating are all relevant. According to Dr Stefanie Scheff (Five Paws Veterinary Acupuncture and Wellness), "When the cleft at the tip the tongue is apparent, there may be a correlation with underlying behavior problems, such as anxiety (Shen Disturbance)."

Nice pink Tongues:

pink tongue, acupressure for pets, acupuncture for pets, heart health for dogs, tongue health

Cardff shows a small tongue, which is indicative of heart blood deficiency during his recovery from Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA)

Riley has a cleft in his tongue, which correlates with an underlying illness that affects his overall health and disturbs his Shen

How does all this complex Chinese medicine relate to your pet? Let’s explore the common canine condition of separation anxiety. Excess heart energy or improper transference of energy along the meridians negatively affects Shen (behavior) and manifests as aggression, restlessness, destructive habits, panting, redness to the skin, and other signs.

Pet owners play a vital role in promoting heart health and reducing anxiety by providing appropriate exercise, mental stimulation, and environmental enrichment. Additionally, food energy can contribute to an anxious state. Commercially available dry pet foods are devoid of their natural moisture and can add heat by requiring the body to secrete moisture during the digestive process. Besides anxiety, heat accumulation contributes to allergies (skin and digestive), seizure activity, immune mediated diseases, cancer, and other serious conditions.

On innumerable occasions, I have seen pets with anxiety and clinical signs of heat-associated health conditions improve when fed a diet composed of a "cooling" blend of whole-food based proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Yang (heating), Yin (cooling), and neutral foods are topics that will require a follow up article in which I can better clarify their role in managing pet anxiety and other veterinary medical conditions.

Thank you for reading my view on Chinese medicine’s perspective of the heart. Have a healthy and safe Valentine’s Day by taking time to exercise — and keeping that box of chocolates far away from your canine’s curious mouth.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

*Some links to cool heart and acupuncture related photos:

Elephant Journal

Taking Care Wellness

West Boulevard Veterinary Clinic (for Canine Meridians)

Image: Jagodka / via Shutterstock

Comments  10

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  • Tongues
    02/14/2012 07:09am

    I'd not given any thought to the tongue being a diagnostic tool, but that makes perfect sense.

    I'll be anxious to check out the photo links after work tonight.

    Thanks for a fascinating post, Dr. Mahaney.

  • 02/16/2012 07:02pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    I always find the appearance of the tongue so fascinating.
    The tongue is truly a window into the health of the heart and other internal organs.
    Make sure you frequently look at your pet's tongues (and your own) and note any paleness, small size, thick coating, bad smell, etc. Address these (or other changes) right away with your veterinarian!
    Dr PM

  • 02/16/2012 07:19pm

    Let's talk gums!

    My vet is very faithful about checking the inside of the mouth during an exam. However, a couple of my kitties have black gums.

    One has a little bit of chronic stomatitis in the back of his mouth and it appears as a small area of pink polka dots. The rest of the inside of his mouth (other than his tongue) is black.

    If he were to have a neck lesion, would it also appear pink so it would be easily recognized?

  • 02/25/2012 01:09am

    Aaah yes, the gums talk.
    Dark pigmented gums certainly provides a diagnostic challenge to the examining veterinarian.
    Cats having feline odontoclastic lesions ("neck" or cervical lesion) often have a visible small area of gingival hyperplasia or gingivitis at the site of the lesion. This is not always the case, but I have seen it many times in clinical practice and further evaluation should be done under anesthesia (along with X-rays of the tooth).
    This may be what your veterinarian is seeing, but it's hard to tell without examining the site myself.
    Hmmm.....photo?
    Dr PM

  • 02/25/2012 01:42pm

    So far, so good. The vet is very careful about checking teeth and gums with checkups which happen every 5 months. He keeps a very close eye on Owen's stomatitis since Owen if FIV+ (as well as having HOCM).

    Picture it: Flashlight in one hand, camera in the other and a cat posing with mouth wide open. Somehow I doubt I could get Owen to say "Ahhhhh" for the camera.

    If he ever does, though, I'll be sure to email you a picture!

  • 02/27/2012 01:14pm

    Since Owen is FIV pos, keeping his oral cavity as healthy as possible is certainly a priority to keep the rest of his innards working optimally.
    I hope that his stomatitis is staying under control and his immune system is thriving.
    Dr PM

  • 02/27/2012 07:10pm

    Thanks so much.

    Owen seems to be doing exceedingly well and is a happy guy.

    His stomatitis got a little better with antibiotics back when he first came to live with me. However, he's always had a small area in the back of his mouth that just won't heal. Luckily, it doesn't seem to bother him at all.

    I try to watch him very closely to be sure he continues to do well. Every 5 months he gets a full checkup with a full blood panel and blood pressure. He goes to the cardiologist (HOCM) every 8 to 9 months even though the cardiologist suggested a yearly checkup.

    Of course, if Owen even meows funny, he'll go to the doctor.

    If I could just get him to floss.....



  • 02/29/2012 03:00pm

    Glad to hear that Owen is doing well.
    Are you taking any measures to strengthen his immune system?
    I like Omega Fatty Acids, Standard Process Feline Whole Body/Immune System Support, natural antioxidants (from berries, Resvantage Feline, etc) as a means of supporting immune health.
    Dr PM

  • hot and cold
    02/17/2012 10:02am

    I have seen Chinese doctors work in China town here in NY.My uncle went to one for digestion problem and just by looking and different things on my uncle the doctor was able to diagnose the problems (which were exactly the same results from diagnostic tests he had done in his regular doctors office) He gave him prescription for some herbs and it helped my uncle a lot.

    I have a friend that has a Rotti, this dog kept bloating, even after the operation. My friend took her dog to a doctor that studies Chinese medicine, particularly the yang and yin of food.
    She had worked with other vets and nothing was helping.
    Anyway she followed this yin yang diet and now the dog has no more bloating problems. I know some doctors at the NY animal hospital that are beginning to study yin and yang as it relates to diet. It really works.

  • 02/25/2012 01:11am

    Thank you for your input regarding your experiences with Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) and your Rottweiler. I also see so many positive digestive responses to Chinese medicine food energy (in whole food, minimal processed, ideally human grade form) in both dogs and cats.
    I hope that your pet continues to do well with this approach.
    Please return for more of my Daily Vet posts (and petMD news).
    Thank you,
    Dr PM
    www.PatrickMahaney.com
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

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