Emotional Symptoms & Their Treatment with Traditional Chinese Medicine
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2005
Cheryl Schwartz, DVM
Alameda, CA, USA

Animals have a highly developed emotional energy sphere. They seem to accept their intuitive powers without constantly analyzing them mentally. In their daily lives they are almost always in the present time, spending less time brooding about the future or the past than we humans do. When animals are having difficulties, they express themselves in a variety of actions: emotionally, behaviorally and physically. We, as holistic veterinarians with knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine and its relationship between organ systems and emotions, have the opportunity to interpret the actions of our patients and to assist in restoring balance and harmony.

In my experience, emotional causes and symptoms of our patients' problems fall into four categories: (1) physical discomfort or pain; (2) a disharmony in one of the vital essences, especially Qi, Blood and Shen; (3) an expression of a former trauma that has been only partially resolved and (4) an expression of their human or animal companion's disorder.

Before looking at case studies, let's take a look at these categories more closely. Physical discomfort is understandably a cause for irritability and protective mechanisms. Normal veterinary medicine explores the obvious problems such as sprains, strains, cystitis, cardiac, hepatic or renal disorders. For a more subtle understanding of pain or discomfort, it is always good TCM practice to check for sensitivity along all of the meridian pathways, especially the Du, Ren Urinary Bladder and Gall Bladder channels. Use a light touch or check for temperature changes on the body's surface or approximately 3 cm above it with your palm facing the body surface. Often the animal will anticipate the discomfort and communicate this when you enter the problem area.

Disharmony of a Vital Essence may manifest with emotional symptoms as a result of Qi, Blood or Shen disturbance. Disharmony resulting from stagnation of Qi, with its zones of temporary excess, create pain, possible irritability or protectiveness surrounding it. Excessive panting, yawning or stretching may arise. The dog who is tired at home, showing little interest in his surroundings, and who immediately perks up to run around with his friends in the park, is showing signs of stagnation of Qi. The cat who wants you to pet him and then suddenly, having had enough, turns around and bites or hisses is showing symptoms of a stagnation of Qi. In some cases, Qi stagnation may arise from an actual excess condition which can lead to abrupt aggressive disorders and Shen disturbance. Sudden Rage syndrome is an example of this type of excess condition arising with heat and Qi stagnation.

Deficiency of Qi , on the other hand, shows up as weakness. The animal may seem uninterested in anything, even eating. The human companion may bring the patient in for a blood test to determine if anything is amiss because the dog doesn't even come to the door to greet them anymore.

Blood deficiency usually manifests in the Liver or Heart, creating emotional and physical symptoms. The Liver is the storehouse of Blood and is responsible for smoothly moving the circulation. The Po of the Liver is what the Chinese actually refer to as the soul and in cases of Blood deficiency, the Po is unsettled and the individual has a difficult time resting, especially at night. This gives rise to restlessness, constant changing of position, crying out, panting, excessive dreaming and generally many of the syndromes we experience with our senior patients. Please recall how closely the Qi and Blood are related and that an imbalance with one leads to an imbalance of the other. Thus signs of Qi deficiency with stagnation may be mixed with the Blood Deficiency.

When the Heart Blood is deficient, problems of actual shen disturbance may be seen. This includes mental confusion, a dazed look, mini stroke like episodes, vestibular syndrome, excessive circling and inappropriate vocalization.

In senior cats it is interesting to check hearing loss as part of inappropriate vocalization, as sometimes the cat seems to speak louder in an attempt to hear herself. Recall that it is the Kidney and Small Intestine who are responsible for hearing in TCM. The Small Intestine's role is to separate the pure from the impure sounds, and sometimes when a dog is confused about a command or hesitates to respond to her human's call from across the road, it is a function of the Small Intestine being out of balance. This disharmony may arise as a result of blood deficiency from its partner, the Heart.

Physical traumatic incidents occurring with our animal friends leave scars not only in the skin, muscle or bone, but also on an emotional and mental level. It has been my experience that animals will retain a memory of the incident in their bodies. I first experienced this when treating bite wounds. Although the physical wound would heal successfully, the animal seemed to remain protective, fearful, or aggressive whenever another individual would approach that area. In fact, a special vulnerability seemed to be created in that space, so that whenever another episode would occur, this would be the area targeted. I found that adding Flower Essences to my treatment protocol to address the emotion occurring during the incident would greatly enhance the patient's recovery.

The emotions addressed usually included fear, aggression, anger or disbelief. The Flower essences included Rock Rose and Mimulus for fear, Oregon Grape for aggressive tendencies and "expecting to be hated by others", Fuchsia for anger that needs to be released, Beech for irritability and excessive judgment of others, Mullein for making moral choices, Pink Yarrow for absorbing feelings of others, Rosemary for security in the body, and Cherry Plum for extreme tension and disbelief.1

In further exploration and research into energetic fields surrounding the body, I found that unexpressed emotional trauma seems to be linked with physical problems creating a muscle memory response. The physical symptom seems to affect the organ system or meridian associated with the emotion according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. An individual's constitution plays a key role in determining where the vulnerability will occur. It is necessary to acknowledge this emotional trauma in order to facilitate true healing.2

Lastly, I have found that the human animal bond plays a great role in emotional symptoms expressed by our patients. A close tie develops between persons and animals which allow the animal to express their human companion's condition. Animals in general have the intuitive ability and in some cases the desire to accept responsibility for their humans and assist them through troubled times. It is not uncommon to see Seeing Eye or Hearing Dogs work so hard for their humans that they develop arthritis of the lower back. According to Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D. PhD and medical intuitive, the lower back is an area relating to our motivational drive and relationships. This area reflects our boundaries or dependence/independence with others, our ability to "hold on or let go".3 Seeing Eye or Hearing dogs take on an enormous emotional, physical and mental responsibility, oftentimes paying for it with physical disorders.

Joyful people often have very, very happy dogs, while depressed humans often have animals who appear lethargic, sad or apathetic. Fearful people will have fearful animals or hostile ones where the animals act out counter-balancing mechanisms. The counter balancing emotions seem to be an expression of how the human would like to act if it were socially acceptable to do so. People seem to feel best with animals showing similar or counterpart traits as they themselves have. It is not accidental that animals and their people look alike.

If there is a multi animal household, of course, tribal patterns of behavior are set up. Inappropriate elimination, in-fighting, food or toy obsession, may be part of emotional symptoms displayed. Some animals would just rather be in single animal households.

With this being said, let us proceed to certain case studies.


Our patients attempt to communicate with us in health or imbalance. Emotional symptoms can cause a variety of physical ailments. Emotional symptoms can reflect physical problems or imbalances in Vital Essences. Emotional symptoms can also reflect a past trauma that has not fully healed either physically or emotionally. The strong tie of the Human-Animal bond links the human caretaker's imbalance with that of the animal. Recognizing the link between emotions, physical organs, TCM and animal-human bond can assist us as holistic veterinarians in the treatment of our patients.


1.  Kaminski, Patricia, Richard Katz. Flower Essence Repertory Earth Spirit Inc., Nevada City, CA USA 1996

2.  Schwartz, C. "Emotional Components of Physical Problems". Proceedings North American Veterinary Conference, AVAC. Orlando, FL USA 2003, also presented Internationaler Kongress Fur Ganzheitliche Tiermedizin, 2003, Erlangen Germany

3.  Schulz, Mona Lisa M.D. PhD Awakening Intuition Three Rivers Press, New York, N.Y. USA 1998 p123

4.  Hong-Yen Hsu PhD, Chau Shin Hsu. Commonly Used Chinese Herb Formulas with Illustrations Oriental Healing Arts Institute, Long Beach, CA. USA 1990 p 135

5.  Ellis Andrew Notes from South Mountain. Thin Moon Publishing, Berkeley CA USA 2003 p 23

6.  Wood Matthew The Book of Herbal Wisdom North Atlantic Books, Berkeley CA USA 1997, P 38

7.  Fratkin, Jake. Chinese Herbal Patent Formulas Shya Publications Boulder, CO. USA 1997\F

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Cheryl Schwartz, DVM