dog chiropractor

Should You Consider a Dog Chiropractor?

You may not firmly believe in alternative medicine owing to the fact that their therapeutic claims are never founded on sound scientific principles or at least have never been tested using highly empirical means of truth validation, but there are those who believe in such alternatives.

From acupuncture to acupressure and even chiropractic, there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well as issues that are never addressed. But if your pooch is already agonizing in pain and no ‘scientific’ medicine has ever given you the peace of mind you’re seeking relative to your dog’s comfort levels, then you might want to try these so-called natural, holistic, and alternative veterinary healthcare methodologies, too. And when it comes to problems in mobility, especially in relation to the alignment of the spine, then you might want to try dog chiropractic.

But, is it really worth it? To help you make a better decision, we’ll try to examine what canine chiropractic is, its indications, and quite a few other questions you might have in relation to bringing your pooch to a veterinary chiropractor.

Beagle dog lying on table

How Can Dog Chiropractic Help My Pet?

It’s all about maintaining the perfect alignment of the vertebrae or the backbone of your pooch. To understand how chiropractic can help your pet, it is critical to appreciate the anatomy of the dog vertebrae.

Technically, the backbone of a dog is pretty much similar to that of humans. It is still composed of several sections of individual vertebra that compose, from the base of the skull to the tip of the tail, of the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and caudal spine sections. In humans, we don’t have the caudal region, although the lowermost segment of our spinal cord is actually considered the cauda equina.

The cervical region contains 7 vertebrae starting with the Atlas at the base of the dog’s skull and supported by the Axis just below the Atlas. This is followed by the thoracic region, which actually corresponds to the upper body of the dog. This is composed of 13 vertebrae; humans only have 12.

After the thoracic region comes the lumbar region. This is composed of 7 large vertebrae; we only have 5. The sacrum is actually 5 different bones that have fused into one. The tail, or caudal, section is composed of 21 smaller vertebrae giving the dog a whopping 49 vertebrae or spinal bones from the base of the skull right down to the tip of the tail. Of course, if your dog doesn’t have a tail, then the number will be different. By contrast, humans only have 33 vertebrae.

Why is this important especially in dog chiropractic, you ask? Well, the main doctrine of chiropractic is in the management of subluxation, which is medically defined as the misalignment of the various bones or sections of the vertebrae. It is believed that the misalignment of the individual spinal bones in relation to one another is the principal cause of a variety of health conditions like back problems seen in dogs.

It makes sense, actually. It should be noted that the vertebrae is more than just a fundamental cluster of bones that support the body of your dog. It also houses the spinal cord as well as the various nerves that branch from it. Each nerve connects to a sensory organ and a motor unit to complete the cycle of sensorimotor integration. If the vertebrae are not properly aligned, then the entry and / or exit points of these nerves will be somehow affected, giving rise to health problems for your pooch.

This is the fundamental tenet of chiropractic. Through the use of careful manipulation of the various tissues surrounding, emanating from, and leading to the vertebrae, a dog chiropractor can correct various ailments that your dog may be afflicted with. Whether or not there really is an organic cause to the symptom of decreased mobility and dysfunction, the mere fact that manual manipulation of the spine can help relieve pressure off of these nerves, bring relaxation to connected muscles, and allow the body of your dog to heal itself completely.

At the very least, you can think of dog chiropractic as a more purposeful massage of your dog’s back, designed specifically to maintain spinal alignment. In hindsight, it has several features that are quite similar, at least in principle, to the practice of physical therapy as well as the ancient medical arts of acupuncture and acupressure. There are no side effects or adverse reactions to worry about. There are also no strict dosage guidelines you have to follow. You won’t even fight with your dog just to have it take its medication.

This makes dog chiropractic a highly viable alternative to western veterinary medicine.

What Health Conditions Can It Provide Help?

Since dog chiropractic is essentially the canine version of the human chiropractic alternative medicine, its indications are quite similar, too. Here is a tentative list of the various health conditions that it can help your dog with.

  • Subluxations: As we have already mentioned, subluxation is a condition whereby the spinal bones are not in their normal anatomical alignment. A variety of factors can play a role in the development of subluxations. Suffice it to say, the insult to the backbone is severe enough that it went out of its normal alignment.
  • Hip dysplasia: Canine hip dysplasia has a lot in common with the hip dysplasia found in human babies and young children. The major problem is in the hip socket that simply fails to form or develop normally, resulting in weakness or lameness of the hind legs. Also, arthritis is a common accompanying condition. While hip dysplasia in dogs is largely genetic, there are certain factors that can predispose a pooch to manifest the disease. The purposeful manipulation in chiropractic can help stimulate the continuing growth of the cartilage while also facilitating the reduction of tissue degeneration.
  • Injuries brought about by repetitive use: While everyone understands that repetitive use injuries are common among humans, dogs, too, are not immune to such conditions. Examples of such injuries are those related to the psoas muscle and adjoin tendons, bicipital tenosynovitis, supraspinatus avulsion, and brachii muscle rupture, among others. What chiropractic can do is to prevent the formation of fibrotic scar tissues as well as improve the overall functionality of the affected muscles and tendons.
  • Injuries to the neck and back: A slipped disk, muscle spasms, and a bad back are just some of the more common injuries to the neck and back of dogs. Others can include atlantoaxial luxation and diskospondylitis.
  • Lameness or weakness of the front legs: This can be brought about by various conditions. Chiropractic can help by improving the communication between the spinal column and the motor end plates located in the muscles of the front legs. While it takes a long time carefully manipulating these tissues, it does provide some improvement.
  • Recovery from surgery: Pain is one of the major issues after a surgical procedure. While it is not acupuncture, relaxing the muscles and connective tissues at the level of the spine can help block the transmission of some pain impulses to the dog’s brain. Also, it can help in maintaining the perfect alignment of the spine for more efficient lymphatic drainage.
  • Relief of pain and immobility associated with osteoarthritis: In the same manner as allowing for recovery from a surgical procedure, chiropractic can also be useful in the management of immobility and pain associated with canine osteoarthritis. One of the key activities is in the prevention of fibrotic changes to the joint capsule which can further aggravate the arthritic condition. At the same time, the growth of cartilage is stimulated to help supplant the cartilages that have been destroyed by osteoarthritis.
  • Stiffness: Chiropractic can help improve the flow of oxygen to the muscles of the dog’s limbs. This improvement in tissue oxygenation can help reduce the incidence and severity of muscle stiffness which is often seen in conditions where muscle cells have to use alternative energy sources in the absence of oxygen.
  • Urinary incontinence: The micturition or urination reflex is governed by the contraction and relaxation of the muscles of the urinary bladder. Incontinence occurs when the bladder muscles do not perform as expected, allowing urine to dribble out involuntarily. You can think of a dog that suddenly pees every time it sees you. The excitement is enough to cause it to go incontinent. However, this is just one type of urinary incontinence; there are plenty more. The aim of chiropractic is to reestablish better control of the urinary bladder muscle stretch reflex pathway so your dog will not be peeing uncontrollably.

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How Do I Know If My Pet Dog Needs a Chiropractor?

It is easy to say that all dogs are eligible for a consultation with a chiropractor. Unfortunately, there are health conditions that are beyond the scope of this branch of alternative veterinary medicine. However, seeking consult from a licensed dog chiropractor may seem prudent if you see or observe any of the following things in your dog.

  • Abnormal gait with clearly discernible very short strides
  • Abnormal posture sitting or standing; typically tilted to one side
  • Decreased mobility or is reluctant to move
  • Difficulty climbing up and down stairs
  • Difficulty moving with the front legs, as if they are too weak or are lame, in the absence of an identifiable injury
  • Difficulty standing up or lying down
  • Hunched back
  • Too hypersensitive to touch
  • Unable to jump even though it wants to
  • Walking limping or appears to drag its hind legs
  • Yelps whenever it is picked up around its upper torso

What Can I Expect from this Kind of Veterinary Practitioner?

Like all care givers, chiropractors adhere to a specific set of professional guidelines that govern their conduct as providers of alternative veterinary care. Once you visit a dog chiropractor, he will not automatically perform the spinal and tissue manipulations on your dog.

First, he will perform a very thorough and comprehensive assessment of your pooch. This is very important since it lays the foundation or the baseline upon which clinical progress can be evaluated against in the future. It is important that the assessment of your dog be performed hands-on at the clinic of the doggie chiropractor. He may need to look closer into any physical signs that may indicate a weakened limb, a tender leg, or even an arched appearance of the dog’s back.

If ever you do encounter a chiropractor who insists on performing an assessment through online methods or even over the phone, you can still allow such assessment to continue provided a separate hands-on comprehensive physical examination and health history assessment is conducted once you bring your pet to his clinic.

The dog chiropractor should always get in touch with your dog’s veterinarian to establish other health assessment information that may be invaluable to the overall treatment. Things like medical history, vaccinations, x-ray findings, current or previous medications, and even surgical interventions will all have to be considered by the dog chiropractor in the formulation of a more accurate diagnosis for your pooch.

Once the chiropractor has a good grasp of what is happening to your dog and how chiropractic can help in this particular situation, your pooch will be prepped for the therapy. As your pet may not be keen to being touched by persons other than you, the dog chiropractor will have to employ various techniques to help your pet feel more at ease while the therapy is ongoing.

How Soon Can I See Improvements in My Dog?

Veterinary health care, just like human medicine, is not magic. Unfortunately, it’s not very exact either. Even if you use the same treatment on exactly the same breed of dog, the outcome may still be different. The same is true for human patients. You may be 40 years old and have type II diabetes mellitus. Yet the manifestations and health problems you are showing or exhibiting are very different from another 40 year old patient who has the same diagnosis of type II diabetes mellitus.

The same thing can be said of dogs. Just because a Cavalier King Charles spaniel responded so well from chiropractic for the management of its intervertebral disc disease doesn’t necessarily mean that your own Cavalier King Charles spaniel with the same diagnosis will also respond in the same manner. Sadly, this is not how it works.

Different dogs even of the same breed will respond to the same treatment differently. For most dogs, a single chiropractic session is all that is needed to start your dog on the road to recovery and healing. The actual improvements may be discernible in a few days after the session, although typically it takes around 5 days for the dog’s body to fully adjust to the manipulation of its tissues.

For some dogs, it may take even longer. There are also canine pets that will require several more sessions more before their owners can notice any discernible improvement in their dogs’ conditions. Some may even take several months; quite a few would require a few years.

The point is that it depends on the severity or the extent of the disease or health condition being treated as well as how the dog actually responds to the manipulation.

golden retriever dog lying with rubber ball on green lawn

Where Can I Get in Touch with a Certified Dog Chiropractor?

In 1989, the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association was established to provide the guiding principles needed by its members to conduct their affairs with utmost diligence, professionalism, and compassionate caring for dogs requiring chiropractic care.

As such, you can log onto the AVCA website and use its in-site search feature to look for a dog chiropractor that is duly certified by the organization. The organization continuously updates its membership and provides certification only to those who meet their stringent requirements. Their website can provide you with information on the dog chiropractor that is nearest your location.

Is it Covered by Insurance?

You’d be amazed to find out that dog chiropractic is covered by some pet insurers. This is often included in the coverage for acupuncture and massage as well as other non-mainstream veterinary medicine treatments. You may want to check out Healthy Paws as it is currently being lauded as the best when it comes to providing comprehensive coverage for your pets.

Should I Consider Chiropractic for My Dog?

Chiropractic for dogs does provide some form of clinical benefit although not really strengthened by empirical evidence. Other members of the veterinary profession frown on chiropractors for their perceived use of unfounded science. However, if we do look at the logic behind the profession’s assertions, they do make sense.

Should you consider chiropractic for your dog? Like all dog owners who have tried it on their dogs, the results can be mixed, especially if your pooch simply has a health condition for which chiropractic is not particularly suited to treat. But for those conditions that are clearly defined in its scope, chiropractic offers a safe and effective way to manage some of your pet’s health problems.

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  1. Heather Larson, When to See a Dog Chiropractor and What They Can Do, PetMD
  2. Greg Cima, Chiropractic, Veterinary Groups Negotiate Roles In Animal Care, American Veterinary Medical Association

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