Should You Feed Your Dog a “Hot” Protein? Or a “Cold” One?

Traditional Chinese Medicine considers proteins “hot” or “cold.” Find out which might help with your dog’s health issues.

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Ever play that game “Hot and Cold?” The one that involves hunting for a hidden trinket or treasure while others helpfully holler “warmer” or “colder” based upon your proximity to it? During my early skirmishes with chronic canine skin allergies, it felt like I was playing that game. I tried all sorts of remedies — prescriptions, shampoos, ointments, supplements — with the hope that I was getting closer to the key that would unlock the cure.

So it seemed kind of ironic when I met with a veterinary nutritionist who immediately asked, “What type of proteins have you been feeding — hot or cold?”

I wasn’t even sure what she meant. Something about microwaving, maybe? Thankfully, she explained that she was referencing a key principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). After a few office visits, we finally did manage to identify a protein variety that helped calm my dog’s incessant itchiness.

I myself am not a veterinarian. But thanks to a good amount of consultation with nutritionists and holistic vets over the years, I do understand way more than I once did about hot/cold protein principles. So I wanted to share some of those insights here to help clarify the general concept.

It’s my own personal belief that food really does form the foundation of a vibrant life. We certainly can’t prevent every injury and ailment, but a clean, pure diet serves as a supportive building block for general wellness. And unfortunately, I’ve noticed that many commercial pet foods settle for cost-saving shortcuts, including fillers and iffy ingredients that can interfere with the health of our pets.

Protein is especially crucial for canine well-being, and human-grade proteins are often the highest-quality choice. But did you ever consider that some proteins may be more optimal than others? This is a key tenet of TCM, which is based upon the idea of balance — specifically Yin to Yang.

According to TCM theory, an excess of Yin (cold) can manifest as weakness and sluggishness, while an excess of Yang (hot) can manifest as irritability, dehydration, skin irritation, and/or digestive upset. TCM maintains that a dog who is “hot” will often be warm to the touch and may pant even while resting. This canine may seem restless, constantly seeking out cool places. The eyes and/or skin may exhibit redness and irritation. TCM would characterize highly reactive or anxious canines, and those affected by chronic allergies, as “hot” dogs.

Duck meat by Shutterstock.
Duck meat, a cooling meat, by Shutterstock.

Conversely, TCM would define a “cold” dog as one who may show signs of general fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, and/or sluggishness. According to TCM, these dogs tend to seek out warm spaces. They may exhibit urinary and/or fecal incontinence, joint pain that intensifies in cold weather, or stiffness that worsens with rest. If you lay your hand on a “cold” dog, you may notice that the back, limbs, and/or ears feel chilled to the touch.

Chinese theory maintains that every food has intrinsic properties that can help balance bodily energy. So dogs who tend toward an overbalance of “hot” energy should consume cooling foods, while those who tend to be cold in nature should consume warming foods. Sound kinda weird? Think about how our Western culture often tends to eat in a seasonal manner. On a sweltering summer day, we’re less likely to make a bubbling pot of stew. During a subzero snap, we’re less likely to eat popsicles. We generally prefer to consume cooling foods in hot weather and warming foods in cold weather.

TCM contends that feeding a “hot” dog warming proteins is like throwing gasoline on a raging fire. Conversely, “cold” dogs who consume these warming proteins can even out their energy balance, thereby alleviating some of their symptoms.

I’d been feeding my itchy pups a “low allergen” diet that included lamb. Then I learned that TCM categorizes lamb as one of the hottest proteins. The nutritionist had us gradually shift to a steady diet of more cooling proteins that, in combination with several other lifestyle measures, began to calm those symptoms over time.

So which proteins are considered “warming,” according to TCM? Lamb, venison, and chicken fall into this category — along with non-meat diet options such as sweet potatoes, squash, and oats. When it comes to “cooling” proteins, the list includes duck and rabbit along with non-meat options like apples, bananas, and spinach.

Interestingly, my own holistic vet classifies turkey as a cooling protein, but apparently others consider it neutral. Which, in fact, brings up the matter of “neutral” proteins. According to TCM, these proteins are appropriate for any pooch. They can also help dilute/mitigate the effects of “hot” or “cold” foods present in your pet’s current diet. My vet lists beef, salmon, and tuna as neutral proteins. Other neutral non-meat foods include cheese, peas, carrots, and green beans.

Remember, however, that these categorizations represent a single theoretical perspective. Beef, for example, may be considered a neutral protein according to TCM, but one of my current pups breaks out in a rash when I feed it — so I don’t. I think it’s valuable to be aware of paradigms like TCM, but I also think we need to follow our own common-sense conclusions and work with trusted animal healthcare professionals to find effective remedies. Ultimately, a “big picture” approach equips us with the insights we need to make informed choices about the foods we’re feeding our pets.

Top photo: Lab-Greyhound mix by Shutterstock.

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Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

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