Animal Chiropractic FAQ

What is animal chiropractic?

Animal chiropractic is a drug free approach to health care that deals with restoring the nervous system to optimal health and function. Animal chiropractic is the application of human chiropractic techniques and philosophies to care for non-human patients.  Animal chiropractic includes the examination, evaluation and adjustment of joints of the spine, limbs and skull.  Animal chiropractic care focuses primarily on restoring normal movement to the various joints of the bony spinal column.  By improving motion of the individual segments of the spine; function of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and spinal nerves) can be improved.

How does altered spinal movement affect health?

In the simplest sense, decreased motion in areas of the spine limits the biomechanical function of the musculoskeletal system.  However, a much more important result also occurs.  Lack of normal movement between two adjacent vertebrae results in changes in the micro-environment within the space between those vertebrae through which the nerve roots (as well as cerebrospinal fluid, arteries, veins and lymphatic vessels) pass.  These changes include pressure, swelling, edema and alteration in blood, lymph and spinal fluid flow (decreasing oxygen supply and waste removal), adversely affecting the function of the nerve roots.  The nerve roots contain fibers that pass out of the spine to control every structure and organ in the body and fibers that provide sensory input to the central nervous system coming back from the body.  When function of the nerve roots is compromised, the complex communication between the brain and the body cannot occur properly. This leads to dysfunction of the body’s organ systems; musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, cardiopulmonary, hormonal, immunologic, genitourinary, reproductive and the neurologic system itself.  These changes in organ function are what we recognize as the symptoms of disease.

Who can perform animal chiropractic?

Animal chiropractors are either veterinarians or chiropractors who have completed extensive training after graduation from their respective professional schools.  Currently no veterinary or chiropractic college includes animal chiropractic in their doctorate curriculum.   At this time, there are three North American programs that have been accredited by the Animal Chiropractic Accreditation Commission of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA).  The International Animal Chiropractic Association (IVCA) also accredits the same three schools.  Graduates of one of these programs may then take the certification exams from either the AVCA or the IVCA.  Certification exams consist of both written comprehensive and clinical competency portions. Both organizations require certified doctors to complete ongoing continuing education hours to maintain their credentials.

Can non-certified veterinarians or chiropractors adjust animals?

Because no veterinary or chiropractic college teaches animal chiropractic during their professional curriculum, non-certified doctors are not qualified to safely or effectively adjust animals.  The breadth of knowledge related to chiropractic technique, science and philosophy as well as veterinary anatomy, physiology and pathology cannot be learned from weekend seminars, conference lectures or self-teaching.  Using a certified animal chiropractor is your only real choice when considering the health of your pet.

How does Animal chiropractic work?

Animal chiropractic care aims to identify specific areas of the spine that lack normal motion and return those areas to normal function. The individual pairs of vertebrae are palpated for both alignment and motion of the joints that connect them.  Lack of motion is referred to as a chiropractic subluxation.  After identifying and evaluating the various subluxations in the animal’s spine, an adjustment is performed to return the problem areas to normal movement and position.  A chiropractic adjustment is defined as: a very specific, short lever, high velocity, controlled thrust by hand or instrument that is directed at specific articulations to correct vertebral subluxations.

What is involved in animal chiropractic care?

Just like a standard medical exam, a chiropractic exam begins with basic information collection to complete and maintain required medical records.  Then a history is taken that may include: owner’s concerns, prior and current health problems, progression of problems, prior therapies and responses, diet, medications, supplements, patient’s intended use and owners expectations.  Next, the patient is examined which could include basic physical exam, neurologic exam, gait analysis, lameness or specific limb musculoskeletal exam.  After this general evaluation, a chiropractic exam is performed.  This consists of static and motion palpation.  Static palpation assesses muscle and soft tissue tone, tightness and pain as well as vertebral and skeletal position and alignment.  Motion palpation assesses the range of motion of individual joints in the spine and extremities and identifies the subluxations to be adjusted.

Is chiropractic care painful and how do animals react?

Most animals find chiropractic adjustments to be very relaxing.  Some adjustments may involve unfamiliar positioning or physical contact and a few may produce mild, transient discomfort. Of course, some animals are seeking chiropractic care for painful conditions and working on specific areas can be uncomfortable.  Generally speaking, there has to be cooperation from the animal to safely adjust; therefore, some areas of the animal may not be able to be adjusted on the first visit.  However, with patience and incorporation of various chiropractic and soft tissue techniques most animals can be adjusted safely and comfortably.  Unlike humans receiving adjustments, audible “pops” are uncommon in animals.  Most animal patients sleep soundly after being adjusted; a few may experience stiffness or soreness one to three days afterwards.  This is usually mild and short lived. 

How often do animals need to be adjusted?

Unlike humans, animals often respond much faster and often more dramatically to chiropractic therapy.  Problems of short duration often respond immediately.  Long standing or chronic problems may take four to six visits to respond satisfactorily, even though improvement is often noted after the first couple adjustments.  Another difference in animal chiropractic is the decrease in frequency of adjustments.  Animals often need be adjusted only once every week or two for their initial problems.  However, some severe and/or painful conditions may initially require more frequent evaluations.  Generally speaking the number and frequency of follow up visits is determined by the animal’s response to treatment.  Factors that influence an individual animal’s need for chiropractic care include age, general health, level of physical fitness, participation in athletic activities, concurrent medical, and structural problems.  Most animals (even “healthy” individuals) benefit from being adjusted 3-4 times per year to maintain optimal health.

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