In Chinese medicine, treating young children is sometimes referred to as the treatment of mutes.  This points to the fact that young children are unable to communicate their experience with words.  Practitioners have to rely on signs, most often with the help of the parents.  Does the child throw off their blankets at night or do they want more covers?  Are they clingy or resistant to being held?  Is their cry loud or whimpery?  Treating animals is much the same.  Though, as a practitioner, I try to hone my observation skills, like most practitioners, I also rely on the patient’s verbal articulation of their experience.  Treating beings who cannot express this way can be quite difficult.  This is why my confidence in treating animals is shaky.

A recent case in point:  My horse Jasper has had a chronic cough.  It was never a bad cough but enough that I noticed.  Over time I have tried moistening his hay in case it was caused by dust and I’ve tried several herbal formulas.  Admittedly, the formulas I chose were not well thought out.  It was more of a “maybe I’ll try this” approach.  I think this approach is common for practitioners when we don’t have a lot of confidence and part of the reason for this post is to encourage practitioners not to do this!  I tried Dr. Yu Guojun’s Jin Fei Cao San and a combination of Xiao Yao San and Er Chen Tang as recommended by a vet. She said she had had good results with this combination with coughing horses.  Bu Fei Tang was also recommended by another vet.  None of these helped.

As a side note, I did once treat and cure a horse of cough and asthma with Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Xia Xing Tang.  However, in spite of that horses profound inability to use words, I was able to diagnose this because this horse had a clear runny nasal discharge and was worse in the cold. My horse Jasper, on the other hand, has no other clear symptoms.

Here is the description of his case:

Jasper is a robust 11 year-old horse with shiny healthy fur and strong hooves.  He has a sweet, happy disposition, becoming very careful if he senses a beginner on his back and becoming playful if you are a better rider.  He has a dry chronic cough that is worse when he is ridden.  He gets short of breath, having to stop as we ride up hills.  He farts a lot, especially going up hills, which we joke about as his “jet engines.”  He’s the boss of the herd, intolerant of bullies and protective of vulnerable animals.  A beneficent ruler.

As you see, not a lot to go on!  I realized that my lack of confidence had me throwing formulas at him.  Somehow, I didn’t think I could figure it out.  In the last couple of months, he’s gotten worse and so I finally decided to face my insecurity and give it a try.

So, I sat down and gave it a good think in relation to my work with classical formulas.  Here is my thought process:

He’s a robust horse with many signs of health so not so deficient

Yet, it is chronic over several years so a bit deficient

I know irritable horses and he is not irritable so maybe not Shaoyang

This kind of ruling out diagnosis, based on very little information, led me to Gui Zhi Tang as a base.  I added Hou Po and Xing Ren for cough and panting as according the Zhang Zhongjing’s recommendation.  I thought Hou Po would also address the farting.  Double Bai Shao was used because he can have some coughing jags and I’ve found the Shao Yao Gan Cao Tang combo to be useful when a cough is someone spastic this way.  I added a relatively large amount of Mai Men Dong because the cough was dry.  A small amount of Ma Huang was in order to help expand his lungs, but only a little.  Finally some Wu Wei Zi because the cough was chronic, which can sort of blow out the delicate lung tissue and to balance the pungent warm out-thrusting herbs.

Jeez!  why did it take me so long to sit down and think this through?!!  Lack of confidence!!  Is this familiar to anyone?

He’s been on the herbs for a week now, 3 teaspoons of concentrated powder, twice a day.  I went out yesterday for a ride on Jasper.  We went “up the mountain.”  It was about 15 degrees F.   He didn’t cough once and could do long runs up the hills.  He farted just once.  We no longer hear him cough during barn chores.