Valentine's Day conjures up the classic image of a smooth bordered, crimson heart emblazoned on every piece of holiday paraphernalia. As I work in a blood and guts laden profession, my view of the heart is more aligned with the organ’s appearance inside the body, which is drastically different from the gore-free Valentine’s heart.
As a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA), the heart has an even deeper meaning in my Chinese medicine practice, which shares both similarities to and differences from conventional medicine.
From the viewpoint of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), the heart governs behavior (Shen), blood, and blood vessels. Maladies affecting the heart can lead to behavior problems (Shen disturbance), reduced red blood cell production (anemia), or diminished blood flow to the body's organ systems (hypotension).
The TCVM heart correlates well to the western perspective, as lack of blood leads to insufficient tissue oxygenation. Diminished oxygen levels result in cellular damage, reduction of toxin removal, and various other physiologic problems.
The TCVM reference to the heart can be to the organ or the meridian. A meridian is a line of energy coursing from a starting to finishing point along the body. There are fourteen meridians running along the inside/bottom and outside/top of the body. The heart meridian runs from the inside of the armpit to the inside of the fifth (outermost) digit’s nail bed on both the right and left front limbs. Applying pressure (acupressure) to or needling acupuncture points along the heart meridian affects the flow of energy along the fourteen meridians and in the body’s organ systems.
There are two important points, termed the Association (Shu) Point for the Heart (HT), along the spine that correlate with the heart’s health.
The HT Shu is termed Bladder (BL) 15 and is located on the right and left sides of the spine at the level of the fifth thoracic vertebra (T5), situated just behind the shoulder blades. These points are sensitive if there is an underlying problem with the heart organ, an obstruction along the heart meridian (limb swelling, wrist or elbow arthritis, etc), or an abnormality with the intervertebral discs, spine, facets (joints attaching individual vertebra), muscles, or connective tissue at this site. If you press your fingers into your pet’s BL 15 and discomfort is elicited, then the potential exists for disease in any of the above locations.
Paired with HT Shu is HT Mu (Alarm Point), located on the underside of the chest, directly below the heart, on the midline of the sternum (breastbone). The HT Mu is also known as Conception Vessel (CV) 14. Like the HT Shu point (BL 15, as above), sensitivity at this point can indicate problems with the heart's function.
The tongue also yields additional information about heart health, as it is a big muscle that receives significant blood volume at each cardiac contraction. The tongue’s color, size, shape, moisture, and coating are all relevant. According to Dr Stefanie Scheff (Five Paws Veterinary Acupuncture and Wellness), "When the cleft at the tip the tongue is apparent, there may be a correlation with underlying behavior problems, such as anxiety (Shen Disturbance)."
Nice pink Tongues:
Cardff shows a small tongue, which is indicative of heart blood deficiency during his recovery from Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA)
Riley has a cleft in his tongue, which correlates with an underlying illness that affects his overall health and disturbs his Shen
How does all this complex Chinese medicine relate to your pet? Let’s explore the common canine condition of separation anxiety. Excess heart energy or improper transference of energy along the meridians negatively affects Shen (behavior) and manifests as aggression, restlessness, destructive habits, panting, redness to the skin, and other signs.
Pet owners play a vital role in promoting heart health and reducing anxiety by providing appropriate exercise, mental stimulation, and environmental enrichment. Additionally, food energy can contribute to an anxious state. Commercially available dry pet foods are devoid of their natural moisture and can add heat by requiring the body to secrete moisture during the digestive process. Besides anxiety, heat accumulation contributes to allergies (skin and digestive), seizure activity, immune mediated diseases, cancer, and other serious conditions.
On innumerable occasions, I have seen pets with anxiety and clinical signs of heat-associated health conditions improve when fed a diet composed of a "cooling" blend of whole-food based proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Yang (heating), Yin (cooling), and neutral foods are topics that will require a follow up article in which I can better clarify their role in managing pet anxiety and other veterinary medical conditions.
Thank you for reading my view on Chinese medicine’s perspective of the heart. Have a healthy and safe Valentine’s Day by taking time to exercise — and keeping that box of chocolates far away from your canine’s curious mouth.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
*Some links to cool heart and acupuncture related photos:
West Boulevard Veterinary Clinic (for Canine Meridians)