Chiropractic care can complement traditional medicine as a non-invasive, drug-free treatment option to improve a pet’s mobility and decrease their pain. The term chiropractic comes from the Greek words cheir, meaning hand, and praktos, meaning done (i.e., done by hand). In 1895, Daniel David Palmer from Davenport, Iowa, performed the first chiropractic adjustment in the United States, and in 1897, he established the world’s first chiropractic school. Palmer included animals among his patients to help prove that chiropractic manipulation provided benefits beyond a placebo effect. Our Caldwell Animal Hospital team is happy to offer this beneficial service for pets, and addresses common questions we receive about the therapy.

What is chiropractic care for pets?

Chiropractic care for pets involves diagnosing and treating vertebral subluxation complexes (VSCs) and dysfunctional joints in the spine and extremities. VSCs have five recognized components:

  • Spinal kinesiopathology — The vertebral bones are designed to move while protecting the spinal cord and nerve roots. Physical injury and stress can cause a vertebral segment to be stuck in an abnormal position, hindering a pet’s ability to turn and bend. 
  • Neuropathophysiology — When spinal function is abnormal, nerve tissue can be pinched, twisted, or stretched, causing irritation and pain in a pet’s neck, back, or limbs.
  • Myopathology — The spine’s supporting musculature also is affected by subluxations. Muscles can weaken or atrophy when nerve impulses are constrained, or they can become tight and spasm when overstimulation occurs. Fibrotic scar tissue can develop, changing the affected muscle’s elasticity. 
  • Histopathology — The surrounding soft tissues are affected as well. Ligaments can stretch or tear, and the intervertebral discs can bulge, herniate, or degenerate.
  • Pathophysiology — In response to joint malfunction or trauma, a pet’s body responds by slowly depositing calcium to stabilize the area. This calcium builds up, forming bone spurs and other abnormal bony growths. This process has three stages:
    • Stage 1 — The spinal curve is lost, and reduced range of motion occurs.
    • Stage 2 — The disc narrows, and bone spur formation occurs.
    • Stage 3 — The joint becomes immobile, and, eventually, bone fusion occurs.

Pet chiropractors use small, gentle movements to stretch the joint capsule and ligaments, repositioning the vertebrae to their normal position. Once the vertebral subluxation is corrected, normal movement, position, and nerve function are restored. Repeated adjustments will be necessary if the spinal problems are long-standing.

What conditions in pets can chiropractic care treat?

Chiropractic adjustment is most helpful for pets affected by a biomechanical or neurological problem. Conditions include:

  • Chronic musculoskeletal conditions — Regular chiropractic adjustments can improve mobility and reduce pain in pets affected by arthritis.
  • Acute tension or stiffness — Correcting a VSC can relieve strain on muscles.
  • Separation anxiety — Chiropractic treatments can relieve stress and cause a pet to feel more relaxed.
  • Incontinence — Chiropractic adjustments help the nerves from the lower back through the sacrum to function better, causing the bladder to function more normally.
  • Muscle spasms and nerve problems — Correcting a VSC can prevent muscles from being overstimulated and can correct issues causing nerve irritation.
  • Lick granulomas — Studies have shown that pets affected by lick granulomas can be treated successfully using chiropractic treatment.
  • Joint pathologies — Pets affected by issues such as hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament rupture can benefit from chiropractic care. The adjustments help control pain and improve range of motion.

What should I expect when my pet receives chiropractic care?

At your pet’s first visit, our veterinary professionals will perform a thorough physical exam. Your pet’s anatomy and gait will be assessed by watching how they stand and walk. Your pet will be palpated for tender areas and evaluated for asymmetry. X-rays are also helpful when assessing your pet for a chiropractic session. To perform the adjustments, our veterinary professional will palpate your pet’s joints and exert a gentle, precise thrust when correction is needed. A pop or crack may be heard when a joint is released. An area that is misaligned may cause pain when adjusted, but most pets are compliant for the procedure and seem to feel better once the treatment is finished. Pets are not sedated for adjustment because they lose their ability to resist palpation and manipulation, resulting in the possibility that their spine could be overcorrected and injured. Most pets require more than one appointment for adjustment, and some pets, such as those affected by arthritis, require ongoing sessions to maintain their quality of life. Some pets may feel sleepy after a chiropractic session, and mild soreness for one to two days is possible. Most pets appear to feel better after an adjustment.

Chiropractic care is not a replacement for traditional medicine, but the technique can be an excellent complementary therapy to decrease the need for drug use and increase pain control. If you think your pet would benefit from a chiropractic adjustment, do not hesitate to contact our team at Caldwell Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.