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Below is an adapted excerpt from Chinese Herbal Formulas for Veterinarians (Beebe, Chen, Chen & Salewski)

As veterinary medicine has advanced and become more specialized, domestic species, especially companion animals, have enjoyed longer, healthier lives. At the same time, pets have moved from the backyard to the bedroom, from pleasure to performance, becoming less livestock and more family member.

This transition has created a more sophisticated pet owner, willing to explore every avenue to keep their companions in the best health possible. At the same time, as antibiotic resistance crops up and demand for organic foodstuffs rise, production veterinary medicine is also searching

for alternatives. It is somewhat ironic that as more and more animals undergo MRI and joint replacement one of the oldest systems of medicine is experiencing resurgence in popularity. Chinese Herbal Formulas for Veterinarians is an adaptation of Chinese Herbal Formulas and Applications, the comprehensive text on the subject by doctors John K. and Tina T. Chen. In this text the authors have chosen to include many formulas likely to be used in clinical veterinary practice; Chinese Herbal Formulas for Veterinarians is intended as both a reference and educational guide. 

Effective treatment can only follow proper application of theory, and it is assumed that practitioners using this text have a strong foundation in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The importance of this cannot be overstated. Because Chinese theory relies on universal truths, like the laws of physics, non-human species can be diagnosed and treated using the same model of disease. Proper treatment relies on correct interpretation of an individual’s pattern, rather than the allopathic label put on the condition. For example, an aged, thin German Shepherd and an exuberant three-year old Labrador may both present with hip dysplasia. These individuals, suffering from the same affliction by Western medical standards, harbor different clinical manifestations by Chinese tenets and will be treated differently with both acupuncture and herbal formulas. For those who are new to these concepts, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (Xie and Preast) and Chinese Herbology and Pharmacology (Chen and Chen) are strongly recommended before using this book in practice.

As the Chinese developed the complex system of medicine we refer to as traditional Chinese medicine, there is evidence that the treatment of animals progressed alongside. One can imagine the value of animals in an agricultural society: they were sustenance, wealth, transportation, labor, and, in the case of horses, engines of war.

The “father of Chinese veterinary medicine”, Sun Yang, lived during the Spring and Autumn Warring States period (403-221 B.C.), and for many centuries much progress was made in veterinary medicine. However, it was in the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.) that advancement of veterinary medicine flourished. During this time, military requirements for healthy horses


necessitated the development of a school of veterinary medicine. Though it is likely that many human texts such as the Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor’s Yellow Classic) were referenced by veterinarians, during the Tang dynasty works such as Chi Ma Niu To Lu Ching (Various Treatises on the Treatment of Horses, Cattle, Camels, and Donkeys) and Si Mu An Ji Ji (A Collection of Ways to Relieve Suffering in Horses) provided differential diagnosis specific to veterinary patients.

The Ming dynasty saw the first detailed text on equine acupuncture and herbal medicine, Yuan Heng Liao Ma Ji, published in 1608. From this time on many texts discussing veterinary applications of Chinese medicine were published, though all focused on agricultural species. During the Ching Dynasty (1644-1912) swine disease was rampant, leading to the publication ofZhu Jing Da Quan (A Complete Collection of Pig Diseases) in 1900, which contained over sixty complete prescriptions. In the 20th century, as western veterinarians became interested in the traditional Chinese system, both human and veterinary texts were used to apply the different methodologies of traditional medicine—acupuncture herbal formulas, tuina, and food therapy (feng shui has, understandably, not been widely incorporated)—to clinical practice. Today, the division remains much the same. Chinese veterinarians, to this point, focus on agricultural species production medicine and the control of epidemic and zoonotic disease, while their Western counterparts tend to treat individual patients belonging to species that would be labeled as companions.

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine commonly uses acupuncture, tuina (massage), food therapy, and herbal medicine to effect change in patients. Like the underlying theoretical principles, treatment follows the balance of yin and yang; heat is treated with cold, stagnation with movement, and leakage with binding, and so on. In acute conditions treatment is often focused on the symptom, or manifestation. This is especially the case in young animals with strong constitutions that have acute bouts of diarrhea, vomiting, trauma, toxic ingestion, or bleeding. As animals age, symptoms are often secondary to primary, or root, patterns of deficiency and it is often more advisable to treat the underlying deficiency pattern first. In tonifying the underlying deficiency, the manifestation is tangentially attacked. For instance, if cold has invaded due to a Kidney yang deficiency, tonifying the Kidney will warm the body and disperse the cold. This makes it vitally important for practitioners to have the necessary skills to determine whether a patient has an excess or deficient pattern. Many practitioners will take a middle path, that is, treating both root and manifestation simultaneously, which can be very effective in bi zheng (painful obstruction) cases, where patients with deficiencies of blood and/or qi are invaded by wind, cold, and damp. Once the correct pattern of disease is identified, treatment with appropriate acupuncture points and herbal formulas can begin.

Throughout the long history of traditional Chinese medicine many different approaches have been taken in the attempt to classify formulas. Initially both theory and formulas were rather simplified and were grouped into broad and very limited descriptive categories. It was not until 1682 that Wang Ang described 22 categories in his work Yi Fang Ji Jie (Analytical Collection of Medical Formulas). Wang divided formulas based on their primary action, etiology of the disease, and specific branches of medicine, like obstetrics and gynecology. Variations of this comprehensive system are still used today in many texts, including this one.

Formula construction is a complex business. Fortunately, there are hundreds of formulas put together of the centuries by masters of the art for treating common patterns seen in practice. However, many practitioners may choose to combine formulas or modify an existing formula in order to treat an individual animal. Knowing how and why formulas are put together is very important in these situations.

Formulas are built through a metaphorical hierarchy based on a model first described in the Huang Di Nei Jing and are balanced to enhance the strengths and minimize the complications of its individual components. There are four components to a formula: the chief herb (jun yao), deputy herb (chen yao), assistant herb (zuo yao), and envoy herb (shi yao). The chief herb is indispensable to the formula; its action is directed against and has the strongest effect on the principal imbalance or invasive pathogen in the disease pattern. The deputy herb aids the chief in its fight against the primary concern, but is also the main ingredient against any secondary issues. Assistant herbs, like most assistants, often have multiple duties. They reinforce the chief or deputy by dealing with less important issues; they curb any toxic properties of the chief and deputy; and, in more complex formulas, can have the opposite effect of the chief. This helps in cooling formulas, for instance, by having a warming assistant herb that can help keep too much cold from disrupting the whole system. An envoy herb, sometimes called a directing herb, focuses the action of a formula on a specific Channel, Organ, or region of the body and also works to harmonize the entire formula. Not every formula will employ each category and some will have more than one from each. For example, diseases of a rather simple etiology may only require a chief and two deputies, while complex diseases may require multiple assistant and envoy herbs.

When formulas are modified, it is usually with small changes to minor ingredients to fine tune the action, either by increasing the dose of an herb, adding another deputy, assistant, or envoy, or replacing one of the non-chief herbs with another without changing the overall purpose of the formula. For example Jiang Can (Bombyx Batryticatus) may be added to a formula such as Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin for greater control of seizures in epilepsy cases, or Yan Hu Suo (Rhizoma Corydalis) can be added in higher doses to Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang to improve pain management in colic cases. Additionally, formulas can change by altering all but the chief herb in order to get the purpose of the formula to change. Only practitioners very experienced in constructing formulas should attempt this method or construct new formulas from scratch.