There are some chiropractors who specialize in animal care. They often see horses, dogs, and cats. With animals being such an important part of so many people’s lives, an entire field of chiropractic care has been devoted to these special friends. Animals, like people, need to have a healthy neuro-musculo-skeletal system. Unfortunately, animals are unable to explain their symptoms beyond expressing pain, but a chiropractic professional who has been trained in healing animals will be able to figure out and treat what ails any species that their patient might be. Anything that interferes with proper nerve functioning will affect the overall health of the body. If the spine is misaligned, this can impact the nervous system. Like people, animals (such as dogs, cats, and horses) can have mobility issues, pain, tension, stiffness, and problems with their organs. In order to have a better immune system, alignment is also needed. Chiropractic care can help restore mobility, reduce pain, and help the nervous system to operate optimally. Animal chiropractic is a complementary, adjunct therapy to regular veterinary (medical) care.1
Special Training for Chiropractors
Animal chiropractic had actually been formalized as a practice in 1989 by Sharon Willoughby. Just like any specialization in the medical community, chiropractors need to be specially trained in chiropractic manipulation and adjustment of their different patients.2 There are now many post-graduate courses available for both chiropractors and veterinarians. The associations involved in these educations programs are the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) and the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA). Coursework involves classroom and laboratory classes, as well as home study. Certification is followed by clinical competency exams.3 The Animal Chiropractic Accreditation Commission (ACAC) offers accreditation to educational programs.4
Symptoms in Pets
There are a number of symptoms that the pet owner might notice that indicate their pet’s need for chiropractic care. Pet owners are the best people to note initial oddities in the animal’s behavior because they spend so much time with their pets. Dogs will often pant more than normal. They might sit or stand in positions that are awkward and abnormal. Pacing and difficulty with coordination are not uncommon. The pet’s gait could change, becoming more like “sidewinding”, “crabbing”, limping, or stumbling, in addition to the possibility that the pet could drag their foot or move their head or tail strangely. Dogs and cats that have been found to previously jump might refuse to jump or show signs of pain and weakness when performing regular physical exertion that they previously had no difficulty doing. Putting on a collar or harness may become difficult, as could lifting and carrying the pet by their torso. Of course, vocalization of pain like yelping, yowling, or even yelling are more obvious signs. While some of these symptoms become more common in older dogs and cats, these elderly pets are not exempt from receiving chiropractic care, which is gentle enough to be performed on even a newborn, human baby. Chiropractic care should be sought as soon as possible to prevent the pet from overexerting themselves or causing further injury by inadvertently compensating improperly. Animals are beings who live in the moment without much thought for the future, so they definitely would not know that limping or twisting in strange positions come with repercussions in the future.5
What Happens in Animal Chiropractic?
Chiropractors will examine the animal to see where there are movement restrictions. They will then help “restore proper movement of the affected joints”. As with people, chiropractors will use similar manipulations by applying a “high force low amplitude thrust” to help restore normal movement. Chiropractors do not use hammers/mallets on the animals. In the case of horses, for example, they will not treat large areas of the animal at a time. They will treat “individual motion units of the horse, one at a time”.6 There have not been many formal studies of the efficacy of animal chiropractic; however, survey studies have shown it to be effective in race horses. Anecdotal and small studies have suggested that “chiropractic manipulation might increase pain thresholds in healthy horses”. With proper training, chiropractic can be safe for animals, provided that there is not excessive force or the use of inappropriate techniques.7 Some of the conditions that are treated include pain in the leg, tail, neck, or back, muscle spasms, jaw issues, sport injuries, and bowel and bladder problems. Geriatric animals, those who have had trauma or surgery, and chronic health problems are all conditions that are addressed in animal chiropractic.8 Chiropractors aim to resolve “subluxations” (changes in alignment) so that the nerves are not hindered and so that the holistic body systems work optimally. Practitioners are trained to use the gentlest techniques possible to achieve these goals.9