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A Brief History of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine


With the proliferation of interest in alternative traditional medical treatments for humans, it’s only natural that there would be the same interest in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine. After all, modern veterinary practices rely a lot on surgery and pharmaceuticals – and allopathic medicine draws much criticism for this same reliance. Traditional medical systems, such as Chinese medicine, might still work for a number of conditions but it’s really important to distinguish between traditional practices and the modern treatments that offer no real basis in the systems that they claim to be a part of. Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine is no different in this regard, because while there is plenty of evidence that veterinary medicine has been practiced in China for hundreds of years – including manuscripts – there is little relation between this and the modern practitioners of “Traditional” Chinese Veterinary Medicine.

What is Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine as Practiced Today?

Today’s TCVM treatments focus on all sorts of animals, from dogs and cats to horses. There’s a focus on balancing yin and yang in the body, which is in line with Daoist metaphysics but has less of a connection to how animals were treated historically. Nevertheless, there is the idea that when treating an animal, it’s important to look at the larger picture – which is something that allopathic veterinary medicine can fail to do – so there’s definitely an appeal on these grounds. Essentially, there are five prevalent practices from traditional Chinese medicine which make it into TCVM – acupuncture, herbal medicines, food therapy, tui-na (which is a traditional form of massage), and exercise. The practice used to treat animals is dependent on the type and severity of the unbalance. Diseases that have just started to appear or may not be as severe may be treated with only a few of the practices being put into place, such as herbal medicine and diet changes. Long term problems however may require all of the practices to be beneficial for the animal.


The placement of needles in specific points helps stimulate the nervous and cardiovascular systems and restore proper circulation throughout. Acupuncture can be used to alleviate obstructions in the flow of vital substances, treat skin conditions, behavioral issues, and inflammatory bowel disease, but it is most commonly used to treat pain and arthritis.

Herbal Medicine

Each herb combined into prescribed medicines is carefully selected for a different purpose. Formulas can consist of only 3-4 herbs, or more than 20 if needed. Since there are thousands of different combinations that can be made, slight differences in formulas can be made to treat different symptoms and diseases. Herbal medicines do not work like pharmaceutical ones, which have strong and quick effects on the body. Instead, they treat the body in a more gentle and gradual pace, but the end goal is always to restore balance in the body and fix the underlying problem so symptoms go away on their own.

Food Therapy

With some issues found in animals, practitioners may find it best to prescribe certain foods meant to treat the underlying imbalance. This works similarly to herbal medicines as each food item has a specific action intended. Some may cool or warm, while others capture and remove toxins from the body. This is a gentle form of therapy and can be used daily. For conditions that aren’t too severe, diet changes may be effective enough as a stand alone treatment.


Tui-Na, which translates to “push and pull”, involves massage techniques used to stimulate and soothe the body. By using a series of movements and manipulations, practitioners can stimulate the flow of vital substances, just as the way acupuncture needles can. Treatments can be used over the entire body, or smaller special units can be used specifically at acupoints. This technique is great for very young or older patients because of how gentle it can be.


Some practitioners may recommend exercises such as Tai chi or Qigong. These exercises are meant to move the body and also stimulate the mind. Taking dogs on a slow methodical walk daily is an important part of treating arthritis in canines. Swimming and gentle stretching exercises may also be used in rehabilitation.

Popular Treatments Today have Little Relation to Historical Practices

Traditionally, veterinary medicine in China focused on large animals such as horses and oxen, because these were valuable as draft animals and would have been considered a valuable investment; small animals are hardly covered in any of the extant manuscripts on veterinary medicine from China.

Horses and other draft animals were treated in China, though the extant manuscripts describe vastly different things from what most vets practicing TCVM today would do. Veterinary treatments always looked to solve the immediate problem rather than focusing on the balance of yin and yang in a dog or a buffalo, and while the Chinese treated animals it’s important to remember that they regarded them as things. While it’s true that the holistic approach had some relevance for people, the fact is that historical evidence doesn’t support the same claims for animals.

Traditional Chinese Medicine has a long history in China, and for a while was the only option for treating diseases. This philosophy has withstood the trials of time, and will continue to offer effective treatment options for many years to come. To learn more about how TCVM can help heal your animal in a more natural way, contact Wimberley Complementary Pet Care, PLLC.