Interview with Dr Judy Morgan: How Food Therapy Can Be Used to Heal Your Pet
Although less known than its cousins–herbal medicine and acupuncture—food therapy is also an integral part of Chinese medicine.
In the West, more and more veterinarians are now using food therapy to help treat a number of conditions. According to Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT (who is certified in Acupuncture and food therapy and is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and Botanical Veterinary Medical Association), food therapy can be an invaluable tool, regardless of whether you use it alone or together with traditional veterinary medicine.
We talked to Dr. Morgan to find out more about food therapy, how it works and how it can help your pet.
THK: What is food therapy and how can it be used to treat animals?
Dr Judy Morgan: Every food eaten will affect the body in many ways. The food will provide nutrients, but it will also provide warmth or cooling, will be drying or moisturizing, and will provide energy or calm.
The easiest example is watermelon on a hot day. The melon is full of moisture and helps cool the body. Goat, lamb, chicken and curry are eaten in many warm climates because they add heat to the body and cause people to sweat. Unfortunately, our pets cannot sweat, so feeding foods that are energetically warming will cause them to pant more to blow off the excess heat in the body.
However, animals that are cold and seeking warmth—like old, slow, weak dogs and cats that follow the sunny spots around the house, love to snuggle by the fire and burrow under blankets—will benefit from the warming properties of those foods.
Puppies that are overly energetic (think Jack Russell Terriers) who are fed proteins that are warming will be harder to train because they are hyper and have difficulty concentrating. I compare it to adding paper to fire; they are burning off excess energy. If we feed those hyper, overactive pets proteins and foods that are energetically cooling, we help them to focus and be more calm. Cooling proteins would be things like cold-water fish, rabbit, pork and duck.
Other foods can help drain fluid from the body (basically acting like a diuretic) and can be helpful when treating fluid in the chest or abdomen or edema anywhere in the body. Radishes, turnips, barley, asparagus, mushrooms and cranberry are great for draining Damp (fluid).
THK: You also use food therapy as part of cancer treatment. How can dietary changes help animals heal better?
Dr Judy Morgan: Cancer can basically be divided into two basic descriptions from a Chinese Medicine viewpoint: blood deficiency cancer and phlegm and blood stagnation cancer.
Cancer generally causes excess toxic heat in the body, so I will lean toward foods that are cooling. Pets with blood deficiency cancer will generally have dry, cracked tongues and dry, flaky skin. The foot pads will be dry and gray (healthy pads look like black patent leather). To treat blood deficiency, I add foods that are good blood tonics. These may include small, oily fish (sardines, anchovy, mackerel), whole eggs, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, parsley and collards, dates, beef and bone marrow.
To treat phlegm and blood stagnation cancers I add foods that get the blood moving and help dissolve phlegm. These may include turmeric, radish, seaweed, shiitake mushroom, apples, ginger, peppermint and citrus peel.
Studies have shown that cancer cells tend to use carbohydrates or fats over proteins as their preferred food source. Based on those studies, I recommend diets low in carbohydrates and fats, depending on the type of cancer that has been diagnosed. Because dry pet foods are very high in carbohydrates, I recommend not feeding those to pets with a cancer diagnosis. I really like Honest Kitchen Kindly base mix for my cancer patients because it makes life easy for the pet owners. The diet does not contain potatoes, but does contain the needed greens, vitamins and minerals. I determine the protein base needed for the individual pet and recommend added ingredients as needed.
THK: How do you choose the type of protein each pet needs?
Dr Judy Morgan: Again, I look at energy level of the pet and whether they need proteins that will be warming or cooling. For animals with a blood deficiency, I will use meats that are blood tonics, like beef or small, oily fish. For pets that have low energy and are cold (seeking sun, snuggle under blankets), I will use warming proteins like chicken, lamb, venison or goat. For pets that are hot, dry and panting (many pets with diabetes mellitus or Cushing’s disease fall into this category), I will use proteins that are cooling like grass-fed beef, pork, duck, rabbit or cold-water fish.
THK: Are there some health problems that respond particularly well to food therapy?
Dr Judy Morgan: Allergies are one of my favorite things to treat with food therapy. When pets are taken off low-quality, highly processed diets and moved to a diet specific for their condition (whether that is dry, flaky and itchy, or greasy, smelly and yeasty), they will show immediate improvement.
I often have to modify the diet quite a few times to get it perfect, but some improvement generally shows up quickly. I also like to treat pets with arthritis; most people assume arthritis is worse in cold, damp weather, but for some pets (and owners), it is actually worse in hot, dry weather. Food therapy can definitely help.
Endocrine diseases like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s and diabetes also respond well. I have had pets with significant liver disease turn around completely and have normal ultrasound reports after changing to a diet that feeds the liver and helps regeneration.
One of the “prescriptions” that I commonly use is easy puploaf. I use the Honest Kitchen base mix, Kindly or Preference, mixed with eggs and ground meat and organs. The ingredients are gently cooked as a meatloaf or in muffin pans to make puploaf or puppins. I know that’s not the way THK was designed to be used, but my clients love the ease of making and storing these meals and they know they are getting needed vitamins and minerals without having to start from scratch. It could also be served raw, but some patients and some owners do not like raw food.
THK: How important is food to help improve health, strengthen the immune system and overall keep pets healthy?
Dr Judy Morgan: Food is EVERYTHING. For years I have stood on the platform of “Food is the foundation of life” and I firmly believe that holds true for our pets. Once I became aware of alternative treatment methods available for my patients, I also discovered that alternative food choices would help them live longer, healthier lives. I can achieve better health for all my patients by using food as treatment for illness; at least 75 percent of those patients will not require medications. By starting these dogs out on “the right paw,” they will avoid many of the health issues associated with long term use of processed kibble and canned pet foods that contain poor quality ingredients.
Allergies, ear infections, inflammatory bowel disease and liver and kidney disease can commonly be linked to problems with diet. Many large pet food companies use ingredients like animal digest and meat and bone meal, along with high quantities of carbohydrates and fillers which do not provide optimum nutrition. Canned pet food commonly contains carrageenan, which can lead to inflammatory diseases, especially IBD.
Many endocrine diseases seen in our pets can be linked to stresses on the immune system and feeding of meats laden with growth hormones and antibiotics. Stresses on the immune system can include poor quality diet, over-vaccination and overuse of antibiotics and medications. The majority of immune system cells are found within the digestive tract. If the gut isn’t happy, the pet will be ill. Beneficial bacterial flora in the bowel produce vitamins the body needs, as well as helping suppress overgrowth of harmful bacteria. By feeding a healthy, species-appropriate diet, the body will be better able to fight off attacks against the immune system. I also recommend daily probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet to support immune system health and decrease inflammation.
My book, “From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing,” goes into many specific disease problems and has recommendations for foods to add to the diet to help treat each condition. Using The Honest Kitchen as a base and adding ingredients based on food therapy is an easy way for folks to get started treating their pets if they don’t have access to a holistic veterinarian.