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Two Takes on Diagnosing Canine Anorexia: A Western View and TCVM Perspectives

In the lens of Western veterinary medicine, anorexia in dogs – that is, a loss of appetite leading to refusal or inability to eat – is usually considered a symptom rather than a condition itself. This loss of appetite can be a sign of various underlying health issues, ranging from gastrointestinal disorders, kidney disease, to emotional distress and more.

A comprehensive evaluation is often initiated to trace the root cause of anorexia. Vets typically conduct a detailed physical examination, delve into the dog’s medical history, and may order diagnostic tests such as blood tests, urinalysis, and fecal tests to identify potential infections or parasites. In some cases, imaging studies like X-rays or ultrasound may be performed to visualize the organs and identify any abnormalities, for instance, Chronic Kidney Disease.

Anorexia from the Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) View

Nothing replaces a hands-on examination from your Veterinarian. Here I hope to offer a different perspective.

In Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), anorexia is viewed somewhat differently. In TCVM, anorexia is viewed as one of several patterns, each with unique signs and symptoms.

Anorexia Due to Stomach Cold

This pattern is akin to our body shivering in the cold. The signs include loss of appetite; cold limbs and body, clear salivation; coarse or watery feces; too much fluid in the mouth; pale or greenish-yellow mouth and tongue; thin, white coating of the tongue; deep, slow pulse.

Treatment principles:
– Warm the Middle Burner and disperse Cold
– Strengthen the Spleen and Stomach

Anorexia Due to Stomach Heat

Imagine a hot, dry summer’s day, making you not want to eat. Signs here include Depression; lowered ears or head; partial or complete anorexia; dry feces; scanty dark urine, bright red tongue and mouth with dryness and bad smell; thick yellow tongue coating and surging rapid pulse.

Treatment principles:
– Clear Stomach Fire
– Nourish Yin
– Moisten Dryness

Anorexia Due to Overfeeding

Like us, dogs can feel overly full too. Signs include refusal to eat (full or complete anorexia), depression, reluctance to move, abdominal fullness, red, dry mouth or tongue with sour smell; thick, greasy coating on tongue; and surging, rapid pulse. Belongs to Excess Heat pattern.

Treatment principles:
– Eliminate food stasis
– Promote digestion

Anorexia Due to Spleen Deficiency

This pattern might be thought of as a power outage in a factory. The signs here are a picky eater, depression, emaciation, coarse coat, fluctuation peristatic sounds, possibly with loose stool, or small dry feces with undigested food, pale or greenish-yellow tongue; thready, weak pulse. Belongs to the Spleen Qi Deficiency Pattern.

Treatment principles:
– Strengthen the Spleen
– Tonify Qi

Diarrhea Due to Intestinal Cold

This pattern could be imagined as our intestines shivering from cold. The signs include sudden loose, watery stool with non-offensive odor, loud peristaltic sounds, cold body, and limbs, cold ears and nose; pale tongue and mouth with watery saliva; deep slow pulse. It belongs to the Stomach Cold pattern.

Treatment principles:
– Warm Middle Burner and disperse Cold
– Strengthen Spleen and Stomach and dry Dampness to remove water and stop diarrhea

Diarrhea Due to Spleen Deficiency

Once again, think of a factory running low on power. Signs here include prolonged diarrhea; gradual emaciation; harsh, dry coat; cold ears and nose; loud peristatic sounds; course, unformed feces or watery feces with undigested food; pale mouth adn tongue and deep thready, weak pulse. It belongs to the Spleen Qi Deficiency Pattern

Treatment principles:
– Strengthen the Spleen and dry Dampness to remove water and stop diarrhea

The Importance of the Spleen in TCVM

In TCVM, the Spleen is given immense importance and holds a central role in transforming food into Qi (life force) and Blood. When the Spleen is functioning optimally, the dog’s appetite is healthy, nutrient absorption is efficient, and the energy levels are high.

The correct food can help restore balance. For instance, dogs with Spleen deficiency may benefit from a diet that includes warming, easily digestible foods to support the Spleen’s function.

It is my observation that dogs can be healed through cooked food (since it’s easier to digest) vs. kibble or even raw. This won’t be a permanent diet, but rather one to help heal your dog so it no longer presents with symptoms related to anorexia.

The therapeutic diet will be different from the maintenance diet. For one on one assistance book a call with me below.

Do You Need a Dog Behaviorist?

At times, the mystery of a dog’s diminished appetite isn’t anything connected to any health issues, but instead, it’s due to their emotions. Here, the wisdom of a canine behaviorist isn’t just beneficial – it’s key. In these perplexing cases, their experience can help you navigate through your dog’s emotional hurdles and can help get your dog back to eating again.

Wrapping Up

In summary, while Western Veterinary Medicine seeks to address anorexia through diagnosis and treating the underlying conditions, TCVM attempts to discern the pattern of disharmony and then use food, herbs, and other treatments to restore balance.

Both perspectives are valid, and both aim to ensure the best health for your dog. Always consult with a vet or a TCVM vet, practitioner, or nutritionist to make informed decisions about your dog’s health.

As always, thank you for stopping by and I wish you and your dogs Good Health!


Schoen, A. M., & Wynn, S. G. (1998). Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Principles and Practice. Mosby.

Author Biography

Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.

She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.

She is available for one on one consultations. Additionally, you can find her sharing free content on Instagram.

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