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 modality  in their practice. Chinese herbal methods 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; in other words, 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 trouble can result. Health matters 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

According to TCM, these six external factors 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 can  offer.

Popular Ingredients

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

Next Steps

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, normal emotional responses, urinary support, immune health maintenance, vision support, joint health, skin and coat support, and more.

Additional Resources