Causes of Disease

By Cyrie Barnes

Many many years ago, the ancient Chinese developed a 'theory' about the causes of disease. With some slight modification, the causes as outlined then still seem to be the primary causes of imbalance today. Not surprisingly, they are the same for people as they are for animals.

Movement and the Free Flow of Energy

Disease begins when energy becomes stagnant. Movement allows the free flow of energy and the constant possibility of healing.

Essentially, the notion is that there are internal as well as external factors. The disease process begins when some aspect of the living being becomes internally or externally invaded causing the energy to be disrupted and eventually stagnant. The cause of this inability to move can be physical, as in a life-threatening blizzard, or emotional, as with the bitterness that comes with longtime anger. Either of these situations can prevent movement, and as life is constant movement, and change is ever-present, remaining too long in any position can lead to imbalance.

The effect of change in the environment of a healthy animal is to shift the animal slightly off center. The healthy animal will then correct itself, thus creating more movement. It is this movement that allows the free flow of energy and the constant possibility of healing.

We all understand this concept in our own life, yet probably don't articulate it as energetic shifts. Here is an example. When an animal is exposed to excessive heat, it will sweat to cool itself and regain its equilibrium. As we know, if it is unable to sweat, or is deprived of water for long periods of time, it can suffer heatstroke or dehydration. Again, it is the inherent ability to respond to a stimulus that allows equilibrium to be maintained.

External and Internal Stress Factors

According to the ancient texts the external conditions that lead to distress include heat, cold, damp, dry, pollution, and catastrophic natural occurrences. The internal disruptions include either an excess or a lack of any of the primary emotions. There may be too much or too little anger, one may be stuck in sadness or may laugh inappropriately; there may be a lack or an excess of sympathy, one could become stuck in grief or disallow the experience; or one may have excessive fear, or the complete lack of fear.

These concepts are not part of our 'disease' vocabulary, and as I write them I think that while they are an unusual way to describe this process, they are at the core of understanding health from the dynamic energetic paradigm.

One would think that animals would be primarily affected by the external extremes that cause disease, and indeed these are particularly important to the larger animals that spend their lives outdoors. Companion animals are usually protected from harsh weather, but they are often the victims of environmental stressors that tell of the increasing pollution of the planet. However, the animals that are brought to me for treatment are more often showing symptoms that indicate excessive internal, emotional stress. You may well wonder why.

Emotional Stress

Like most of us, our companion pets are sheltered from the weather and from the hardships that might shorten the life of a wild animal. There is adequate food, water, heat and air conditioning. However, these artificial environments that house animals and their companions do not have sufficient filtration for the emotional excesses in the household. The animals are not able to clear themselves of this stress by coming and going at will, getting sufficient exercise, or being able to act like an animal (i.e., digging, running, rolling in muck, foraging for food, or hunting). Therefore the animals will often exhibit illness that is the result of an imbalanced emotional climate in the home.

As I have mentioned earlier in this chapter, sudden acute symptoms may occur when there is a dramatic incident with the companion. In a home where drama is the norm, the animal can become overloaded with the excess emotions, and will often exhibit ongoing behavioral problems.


This is why it is important to remove animals from the room if there is an argument or intense emotion. I was made acutely aware of this when I brought one of my Jack Russells to my practice. Scooter was nine months old at the time. As I was leaving the house to go to my office, I found him choking on something that he had been chewing. I was hesitant to leave him alone for the day, so I took him to the office with me.

Everyone loves Scooter — he is cute, he is little, he is friendly and eager. He bounds across the room and jumps onto a lap before you realize that he is in the room, and he does not bark (at least not in the office). As the day went on and I saw and treated my patients, I realized what a toll this was having on Scooter.

Being very young, he did not know how to protect himself from picking up the energy of my patients. They sat with Scooter on their lap, rubbing his fur and telling me what was uncomfortable about their life, and the poor puppy became very uncomfortable and lethargic as the day went on. As soon as I realized what had happened, I took him outside and ran him around a field, allowing him to chase sticks, dig, and cavort, until his energy was cleansed and restored.

Now I rarely allow my animals to enter my practice area when there are patients scheduled. They are such eager caretakers; it usually exhausts them to entertain people who come with high levels of need.

An animal who has been living in close proximity to a person, and who has been affected by the emotional energy in the home, will often have symptoms that indicate that it is making its own transition back to health.

The stages of recovery are somewhat predictable. Let's look at an example. The hypothetical owner of an animal is grieving the loss of a parent. The sponged up grief may be present in the animal's behavior at first. There may be lethargy, no interest in playing, or lack of appetite. As the animal starts to come back into balance, and the life force is restored to fullness, what was stagnant may resolve as a temporary physical manifestation. There may be loss of hair, or a sudden rash. Once the energy has been dispersed the physical symptoms will also clear, and the animal will be 'its old self' again.

This article is a selected excerpt, Section 4, "Causes of Disease", from the book Animals In Their Element by Cyrie Barnes, Lic. Ac.

About the author:

Cyrie Barnes is a Licensed Acupuncturist, having been a human acupuncturist since 1978 and treating animals with Chinese medicine since 1981. In 1997 she became the first acupuncturist certified to treat animals in the US. Cyrie teaches a graduate program on animal acupuncture for acupuncture practitioners and veterinarians, and is a faculty member of the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Maryland. She has been a cornerstone for, and a great supporter of, the advancement of alternative medicine for animals. Cyrie lives in Sonoma County, California with her family and their four dogs and four horses.