Chinese Herbs for Dogs & Cats

Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs fall within the broader heading of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM has been used for thousands of years to understand and support health, and today is becoming more popular as people realize the powerful yet gentle ways of TCM support.

Both acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used effectively to help maintain health in dogs and cats. Many holistic veterinarians offer acupuncture as a treatment modality in their practice. Chinese herbal remedies are also widely used for pets in the holistic veterinary community, including many that are formulated specifically for pets. Following is an overview of the basic principles behind TCM.

How Do Chinese Herbs Work?

Here are a few basic principles that are helpful to understand when using Chinese herbs:

Chi or Qi

Pronounced "chee", is the fundamental life force energy. Chi flows through the body through 12 primary channels called "meridians." All beings start out with a certain amount of Chi and obtain Chi by breathing it in from the air and deriving it from food and drink.


Pronounced "yong", it represents the duality or opposite nature of all things and is a common symbol of a white drop with a black dot and a black drop with a white dot in a circle. The dots remind us that there is a little bit of both in everything.


Representing water, it is considered feminine, cool, downward, and dark.


Representing fire and the opposite to yin, considered masculine, hot, upward, and bright.

Yin and Yang are interdependent; health depends on maintaining a balance of both. An imbalance may be either excessive or deficient.

The Five Elements

This describes five natural phases of transformation: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Each element has certain characteristics and governs certain organs and tissues. These phases constantly interact by creating and controlling to maintain balance. When they are out of balance, health issues can result. Issues are characterized by which elements (organ system or tissue) is disturbed, and in what direction (Yin or Yang, excess or deficiency). It’s a bit like “Rock-Paper-Scissors”—Fire creates Earth (ashes); Water controls Fire.


There are many ways that the five elements can be categorized; here are just a few:


Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood


Summer, Late Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring


Red, Yellow, White, Blue, Green


Joy, Worry, Grief, Fear, Anger


Tongue, Mouth, Nose, Ears, Eyes


Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium, Triple Heater; Spleen & Stomach; Lung & Large Intestine; Kidney & Bladder; Liver & Gall Bladder

Six External Factors

These can invade the body and cause disease. These are wind, cold, (dry) heat, dampness, dryness, and (humid) heat. Arthritis is an example of a wind condition, while asthma indicates dryness.


Chinese Herbal Ingredients

Traditional Chinese Medicine uses a number of ingredients to support your pet's health. Although this list is not exhaustive, here are some of the more popular ingredients, the specific principals they support, and the health support they offer.

Popular Ingredients

  • Ganoderma (Reishi mushroom): helps support a healthy immune system
  • Tremella (Wood Ear mushroom): helps maintain lungs, skin, and immune system
  • Poria sclerotium (Indian bread mushroom): helps support the digestive system
  • Polyporus sclerotium (Umbellate Pore Fungus): helps support a healthy inflammation response and maintain liver health
  • Huo Xiang (Patchouli bark): helps support overall gastrointestinal health
  • Hou Po (Magnolia bark): helps support overall gastrointestinal health
  • Fu Ling (Poria mushroom): helps maintain healthy bowel function
  • Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes root): helps support digestive health
  • Shen Qu (Fermented Yeast, Wormwood and Knotweed): helps support digestive health
  • Gu Ya (Rice sprout): helps support digestion of starchy foods
  • Bai Zhi (Angelica root): helps support overall appetite and digestive health
  • Da Zao (Jujube fruit): helps support digestive and liver function
  • Gan Cao (Licorice root): helps maintain liver function and supports overall gastrointestinal health


Chinese herbs and Traditional Chinese Medicine are a well-established system with many complexities. If you're interested in pursuing this for your pet, it's recommended you reach out to an acupuncturist or TCM pet specialist.

If you're interested in supporting your pet's health with Chinese herbs, there are a number of commercially available formulas, that help support a number of bodily systems, including: gastrointestinal health, emotional support, urinary support, immune health maintenance, vision support, discomfort and joint health, skin and coat support, and more.

Additional Resources