Natural Approaches for Treating Cancer in Pets - Chinese Medicine and Whole Foods for Energy

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Written by:
Published: January 22, 2016
Natural Approaches for Treating Cancer in Pets - Chinese Medicine and Whole Foods for Energy

When treating my dog Cardiff’s cancer and addressing his day-to-day wellness, I take a multimodal approach where I combine different perspectives in veterinary medicine.

My primary perspective is Western (conventional), as I have always been fascinated by what are perceived to be miracles occurring through the use of common treatments like medications and surgery. As I believe the body can also be gently persuaded to improve itself when unwell, I also follow an Eastern perspective (complementary and alternative, or CAM).

Part of my CAM approach includes the use of “food energies” to manage or prevent disease. This perspective wasn’t taught to me in my years of veterinary school at The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine; I learned it during my Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA) training with the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS).

Although I’ve always followed a whole food diet for myself and have witnessed most humans and companion canines and felines being generally healthier while eating non-processed foods, I never considered the effect food energy has on the body until my IVAS training. Now I actively incorporate food energy principles into my veterinary practice and as part of Cardiff’s cancer treatment.

Chinese Medicine Food Energy for Cancer Patients

According to Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) theory, cancer is a disease of excess (cells dividing rapidly) and yang (masculine, uplifting energy), which creates heat (inflammation) that occurs from an internal source (abnormal cellular genetic material).

Food energies can be used to calm down the heat and inflammation created by cancer’s out-of-control cellular division. For my patients, I focus on feeding protein, vegetable, and grain sources that are known to have a cooling (Yin) effect, or those that are neutral (neither heating nor cooling) in their energetics.

I don’t suggest kibble based diets (commercially-available dry pet food) for my canine and feline patients, even if they don’t have cancer. Kibble is made by extrusion, which is the process of taking a moist, paste-like mixture and cooking it with high-heat (over 425 F), which denatures proteins and deactivates enzymes that are vital to the digestive process. As a result, kibble is radically different from the format in which nature intends for dogs and cats to eat.

From the TCVM perspective, kibble adds more heat (Yang) to the body, as digestive juices and pancreatic enzymes must be secreted to moisturize the dry nuggets so they can be broken down and digested.

Moist foods are inherently better for the body (any body) as they do not require as much of the body’s moisture to facilitate digestion.

However, I don’t recommending feeding even moistened kibble for my patients, as the format is still inherently Yang due to the extrusion process. Plus, the addition of water to kibble can promote the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella, etc.) and the production of mold-based toxins (aflatoxin, vomitoxin, etc.) that could be present in an “unlucky” bag of kibble.

Cooling, Neutral, and Warming Food Sources, According to TCVM

One of the simplest ways to understand TCVM food energies is to consider how your body responds to eating certain foods. Ginger and cayenne pepper have a warming effect that causes you to vasodilate (the blood vessels open up), which leads to you feeling flush and your nose (and possibly eyes) running. Cucumber and high-moisture vegetables have a cooling effect that helps to reduce inflammation and improve the appearance of those dark, under-eye circles.

When it comes to deciding the ingredients in our pets’ daily meals, we want to primarily focus on the cooling, neutral, and warming qualities of proteins, vegetables, grains, and fruits.

Cooling food sources include:


Turkey, duck, goose, quail, rabbit, fish (salmon, tuna, other), yogurt, and others. Some Chinese medicine charts include turkey as a heating protein source. The chart I was taught to use from the Chi Institute considers turkey to be cooling.



Spinach, broccoli, mushroom, cucumber, celery, and others.



Barley, wheat and wheat bran, buckwheat, wild rice, and others.



Apple, banana, melon, watermelon, cantaloupe, blackberry, cherry, blueberry, raspberry, pear, and others.


Neutral food sources neither create heating nor cooling effects, are appropriate for cancer patients, and include:


Beef, pork, chicken eggs, beef liver, pork liver, and others.



Cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, green bean, peas, potato (Russet white, etc.), and others.



Corn, white and brown rice, rye, and others.

Warming food sources have the potential to create heat inside in the body and include:


Chicken, lamb, venison, and others. Of course, I’d prefer my patients to eat a freshly cooked piece of chicken instead of a fish-based kibble, despite the potential for chicken to have a warming effect.



Sweet potato, squash, pumpkin, and others. Although these veggies are considered warming, I still suggest feeding them to my cancer patients due to their high nutrient, fiber, and anti-oxidant qualities.



Oats, sorghum, and others.

Other basic tips on TCVM food energies according to the Chi Institute are:

“Fast growing food (lettuce) tends to be cooler than a plant that takes longer to grow (root vegetables)”


“Foods with higher water content tend to be cooling”


“Longer and slower cooking methods (roast or stew) produce more warming effects than quicker methods”

How Can You Incorporate TCVM Food Energy Principles Into Your Pet’s Diet?

Before embarking on using cooling, neutral, or warming food energies into your pet’s diet, consult with a veterinarian who has been schooled in TCVM. One can be found via the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association (AHVMA) or IVAS.

For Cardiff, my main approach is to have his food be moist, human-grade (that’s a whole other topic I’ll cover in 2016), cooked, and primarily include cooling to neutral food energies. Yet, if he’s interested in sharing some of my organic, freshly-cooked lamb chop because it’s one of the foods that appeals to him post-chemotherapy, I’m certainly going to offer him a warming protein source instead of focusing on what’s exclusively cooling or neutral.

The key is practicing moderation and having diversity in the nutrients that make up the ingredients in our pets’ meals.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Yin Yang Dog and Cat

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