How often do you speak of the joy your companion animal has given you? Or boast of their commitment to you during tough times? In Traditional Chinese Medicine, joy is the emotion of the heart. For those of us with pets we understand that connection. We understand that once these companions enter our lives our hearts are imprinted with their pawprints. We recognize the joy they bring into our lives and the gifts they give us – laughter that is induced from a puppy antic or the wise purr of a senior feline. But with the stress in our daily lives and the demands we often place on these nurturers, do we consider the emotional weight of our actions. Have we considered the implications on their health and behavior?

TCM wisdom teaches us that our compassion to identify with nature and humanity emanates from the heart and allows us to express our inner strength. But for the heart to respond compassionately when called upon it must be peaceful and protected from agitation and unrest. With stress, emotional trauma or overwhelming healing work the heart can become fatigued, kindling a deficiency. In humans this deficiency can be seen as forgetfulness, irritation, and restlessness. Think about your ability to be compassionate when everything adds to more tension. You’re tired, you’re overwhelmed – there is an overdraft of your emotional bank, a deficiency impeding the heart bank from responding to joy, peace, and compassion. Not until you can rest and replenish, can your “bank” respond appropriately.

While we may not know whether animals experience forgetfulness, we do see them experience agitation and restlessness. Stress or depression in the household and chronic illness are major conditions that draw on our pet’s heart bank with them constantly trying to respond to our emotional needs. Unfortunately, we may not recognize the need or are too sporadic with credits to our pets’ heart banks and over time a lack of joy or deficiency is created. Traditional Chinese Medicine explains that if left untreated this deficiency can evolve into an excess making the heart “overheated” and leaving the bank balance in the red. In humans, an overheated or overactive heart manifests into excessive talking, aberrant behavior, disjointed thinking, to more serious illnesses such as epilepsy. In animals we may see excessive barking, fear, aggression, anxiety, behavioral disturbances, as well as epilepsy.

Treatments for these deficiencies and excesses are based on the severity and complexity of the disturbances. If recognized early, diet changes, playtime and exercise can gently nourish the heart and remedy the imbalance. More serious imbalances can benefit from the many holistic therapies available such as herbal therapies, acupuncture, homeopathy, and supplements. Even when these disturbances have progressed to life-threatening illnesses, holistic therapies can complement conventional medical care to support and restore.

So the next time you find yourself expressing the joy your pet has brought to your life, grasp the opportunity to give in return. Share your time and yourself, and you just might receive a bonus with the replenishment of your own heart bank. Follow your dog’s lead on your next walk. Stretch out with your cats during their afternoon nap. Try agility so you and your dog can enjoy competition camaraderie. Or discover the contentment of making a homemade diet for your cat. In these moments, you will find en-joyment and just possibly the good fortune to prevent the heart from over-ruling by inviting and spreading joy with peace and compassion.

© Terri Symonds Grow 2017, Revised 2023

Terri Grow writes and speaks on pet health and welfare, working with veterinarians, trainers, shelters and manufacturers to empower canine and feline health through diets, herbal therapies, supplements and environmental adjustments.