If I were to choose an element in the five element system that is vital for balancing health, water would be my choice. Water comprises about 60% of the physical body and most of the earth’s surface. The yin organ of the water element, as you might guess, is the kidney. Kidney energy is responsible for both prenatal and postnatal development, so any birth defects or developmental problems such as hip dysplasia in dogs, is the result of imbalanced kidney energy (kidney jing).
The Chinese metaphorically describe the kidney fire (yang) as the pilot light that keeps us alive. When we, or our pets, die, the kidney fire has “gone out.” Obviously, we need to keep our water element in balance.
Kidney, as you can imagine, is responsible for water regulation. It helps recycle pure water in the body and eliminates impure water through the urinary bladder, which is the yang component of the water element. Any disease of the kidney or urinary bladder is due to imbalance of the water element.
Since water is pure yin, when kidney is out of balance, the body does not have the ability to utilize the moisture required and dryness and heat results. Water is mother to wood, a very yang dominant element, and when water is deficient, it cannot supply the balancing moisture that wood requires and symptoms associated with liver imbalance occurs. In pets, this could be agitation, heat-related symptoms such as ear infections, excessive panting, skin problems and seizures.
Winter is the time of the water element, where nature slows down and moves deep into the earth for contemplation. The seeds that are in the soil gather their vital information in order to bring forth the new growth for the upcoming spring. It is not surprising that water element individuals make great mothers, as they have strong tendencies for nurturing. Most brood mares that are used for breeding have strong water element tendencies. Anatomically, they are big-boned and have wide hips, perfect for having their babies.
Fear is the emotion associated with water. When water is balanced, fear tendencies can teach the water individual to be careful (particularly with their babies) of surprises, but when water is out of balance, fear can be detrimental and be an object that blocks change that is needed. Pets that show fearful behavior are imbalanced water individuals. The Cocker Spaniel that squats and dribbles urine when you reach to pet her or the cat that runs and hides under the bed when guests come to visit, are likely water individuals that have become imbalanced.
The kidneys are not only responsible for water regulation and release of body impurities, they are also responsible for bone, joints and the nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Pet’s with arthritis have kidney imbalance and when the holistic practitioner works with these animals, not only should she be dealing with the pain, but also working with restoring kidney balance. As pets get older, the kidney yin diminishes and the joints get stiff due to loss of fluid (synovial fluid) in the joint capsule, skin starts to dry and get fine flakes and the hearing starts to fail. The ears are the external manifestation for kidney, so it is no surprise that deafness is a symptoms of kidney imbalance.
One of the most common problems we see with young dogs is urinary incontinence. Conventional vets will tell you it is likely due to estrogen deficiency, due to spaying, which is a factor. But, not all spayed dogs develop urinary incontinence. Only about 5% do. From a Chinese medicine perspective, urinary incontinence is due to a kidney energy deficiency and strengthening kidney qi will often resolve the problem and avoid using potentially harmful drugs for the rest of the dog’s life. These dogs, if not addressed, will likely develop urinary or kidney problems later in life if this deficient pattern is not addressed.
If we are to keep our pets healthy, it is vital to keep the water element strong and in balance. Prolonged stress on the water element can often lead to life-threatening diseases, such as kidney failure. It is obvious that keeping the pet hydrated, to support water element is critical. Feeding a dehydrated diet, such as dry kibble, is terribly harmful to water. Kibble has about 8% water in its content, whereas fresh food is about 85% moisture. Feeding kibble creates a dehydrated state for the pet and over the years, the kidney is forced to work overtime to maintain moisture required for vital function, which leads to kidney disease and failure. This is one of the major reasons that one-third of all cats die from kidney disease.
Urinary tract disease is also very common in the dog and cat. Many cats and dogs fight recurring urinary tract infections, crystals or bladder stones throughout their lives. The conventional method for treatment is to use antibiotics for infection and to surgically remove urinary bladder stones. These are obvious symptoms of water element imbalance. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, all of these problems are due to too much dampness and heat in the lower burner (bladder). These are easily treated with Chinese herbs to restore balance in the lower burner, but preventing this problem is as easy as feeding an appropriate diet. I have worked with many cats with recurring urinary tract problems, that were completely resolved when the diet was changed to an appropriate diet consisting of a balanced, non-processed diet using wholesome food.
If we want our pets to live out their life expectancy, it is imperative that we support the water element by providing the water that is required to support the kidneys and urinary bladder. This is done primarily via the diet. Keep these pets indoor during the winter, out of the cold, which stresses kidney. Maintain a safe, non-stressful environment to avoid fearful situations. Do not stress the kidneys by using chemicals that need to be eliminated by the kidneys such as pesticides in flea and tick products and do not allow over-vaccinating the pet as this has been linked to kidney disease as well.
Next time, we will discuss the wood element, the child of water. Until then, leave a comment and tell me about your water element pet.