Everything You Need to Know About Chiropractic Care for Pets and Animals

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KKDP_Move Better_2022-24

Animals need chiropractic treatments too! Chiropractic care offers a less invasive approach to your pet’s well being; improving their longevity and quality of life. Just like us humans, animals come into contact and interact with stressors within their environments on a daily basis. Whether they are a working animal, agility athlete, loveable fur companion, or reaching the last years of their life – chiropractic care can assist in keeping them feeling good and able bodied. 

Animal Chiropractic Should be the First Resort

I often see patients as a last resort after they have tried other traditional forms of medicine, when those attempts have failed or fallen short, and owners are left feeling frustrated and hopeless. Not to knock traditional forms of medicine as there is certainly a time and place for those modalities, but those modalities often come at a high cost. Just to set up an exam and run diagnostic testing comes with a hefty price tag, let alone the costs of medications and/or therapies and surgeries to treat your animal’s complaints. Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid going down that rabbit hole altogether or avoid an unnecessary surgery? Or god forbid having to make the decision to put down your beloved companion if you cannot afford the medical bills for such procedures. There has got to be a better way right? The answer is yes, and that is where these alternative therapies come into play. (check out our blog Animal Chiropractor vs. Veterinarian: What’s the difference?” for more information). 

Just like I approach taking care of my human patients by starting out with the least invasive treatments first, I like to approach animal chiropractic care in the same way. In my personal experience, I would confidently say over 90% of the time the conditions my patients have presented with have been musculoskeletal in nature. This simply means that the majority of the symptoms that walk into my office are being caused by some sort of dysfunction in the joint and/or soft tissue of the body, leading to a dysfunction in the nervous system (which affects everything). These symptoms can present in a variety of forms, including classic signs of discomfort or behavioral changes. Now, from my pool of patients that means that roughly 90% could have avoided unnecessary trips to a veterinarian’s office, saving them significant time and money. 

If we looked at chiropractic care (and other forms of alternative healthcare in general) as a first resort to rule out other more serious complications, think of not only how much of a headache you would relieve yourself of but also how much your animals would appreciate you for it. 

What signs to watch for?

All animals can benefit from chiropractic care, as it helps to facilitate their body in healing and achieving a balance of systems (also known as homeostasis). But not all animals will present with an obvious sign of pain or discomfort. Although it would be nice if animals could speak directly to us and tell us what they are experiencing, they do communicate with us in different ways often through their behavior, we just need to pay attention. Here are some common things to watch for when your furry pal may be a great candidate for chiropractic care: 

  • Decreased desire to play or interact with humans or other animals
  • Struggling to use stairs, or jump in car or up on couch/bed
  • Slower on walks, or not wanting to walk as far
  • More aggressive towards humans or other animals
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Excessive shaking of head, constant ear problems, allergies
  • Decreased performance (in agility and working animals)
  • Signs of stiffness or difficulty in transitional movements (sitting, standing, lying down)
  • Limping, stumbling, or dragging toes
  • Problems eating
  • Incontinence or irregular bowel movements
  • Decreased wind capacity
  • Problems eating
  • Excessively chewing or rubbing hind end or feet
  • Avoiding lifting or wagging tail, holding tail to one side
  • Refusal to pick up correct lead, gait abnormalities
  • Diagnosed conditions such as osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease

What does a typical treatment and treatment plan look like?

At an initial visit, an extensive health history and exam will be done. This is the opportunity for the owner(s) to present what concerns they have and what signs and symptoms they have been seeing. This is also the time where I as the physician will be watching the animal and how they are moving and behaving. I will be watching their gait patterns, checking for neuro deficits and analyzing muscle tonicity, as well as palpating through their spine and extremities looking for dysfunctions in motion and areas of discomfort. 

It is crucial I take my time with the animal in order to build a positive rapport with them. I want to make sure they feel safe and as comfortable as possible, so that I can build their trust to allow me to work with my hands on them. If you have had chiropractic care yourself you know there may be areas of tenderness that can be uncomfortable to touch before working through that cause of discomfort, therefore I try to create the best experience for my animal patients so that they understand I am helping them. 

Once the animal has been examined, treatment will consist of providing muscle release techniques to any areas of tension that need to be stretched and released followed by manual adjustments to restricted joint segments. The goal here is to stimulate the areas of the body that have a dysfunction and need a neural reset to restore their proper function. This not only impacts the joints and surrounding soft tissues, but the internal systems as well that connect into those same neural pathways. (i.e. we often see animals that have been struggling with slow or infrequent bowel movements, who have a healthy bowel movement within an hour after treatment because we have affected the communication to that area of the body helping to restore function.)

Throughout the visit we focus on educating the owner(s) on our findings, as well as going over any recommendations for rehabilitative exercises, supplements, outside referrals to other physicians, what signs and outcomes to watch for, etc. Then we will set up a treatment plan based on the individual’s conditions. Generally, we will start a care plan with visits closer together (i.e. weekly) and then extend out further as the patient improves. If the patient is not experiencing the results we hope to see within the first 3 visits, we will refer out for further diagnosting testing (which may include imaging and/or blood labs). We also highly encourage wellness plans for working animals and older animals, to keep them feeling good and decreasing their risk of injury. 

How do they respond?

As stated earlier I have found roughly 90% of the time the animals that I work with, regardless of their symptom presentation, tend to have underlying musculoskeletal conditions and respond significantly well to chiropractic care. Oftentimes, the issues that brought them into the clinic resolves entirely within 3-4 treatments (depending on the complexity of the condition). If this is not the case, they are quickly referred out for additional diagnostic studies with a veterinarian where we look for causes coming from internal systems. 

Our goal is not to discount the services of a veterinarian, but rather to help pinpoint the cause of the condition by ruling out musculoskeletal involvement. It is also important to understand in the 10% of cases that do have other internal conditions causing their symptoms, that chiropractic care is not harmful to them and helps to keep the rest of their body functioning well. My strongest advice here is to make sure you are seeking out an AVCA certified animal chiropractor who is trained to check for any contraindications to chiropractic care before treatment is rendered. 

After going through a chiropractic treatment plan and seeing the dramatic improvements, owners are always saying “I wish I would have tried this sooner”. So do your animals a favor and get them in to see a certified animal chiropractor to help facilitate them in feeling their best!


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