When to Consider Chiropractic Care for your Pet
Randy Kidd, DVM, PhD
A drugless form of health care that has long been used in man and animals, chiropractic works by restoring the spine, the spinal motor units, and joints of the extremities to normal function. When spinal motor units are functioning normally, the patient's innate healing powers are allowed to repair tissues and thus return the body to a state of physiologic balance, in turn, helping to restore and maintain overall holistic wellness.
Chiropractors consider disease to be the result of neural malfunction and use manipulation of the spinal column and other bodily structures as the preferred method of treatment. The term subluxation is used to describe a specific problem or disease of the spinal column manifested by a misaligned vertebra that is "stuck" or unable to move correctly. Note that a chiropractically "subluxed" hip (a hip that is improperly aligned with the sacrum) is different from the luxated hip in regular veterinary terminology. Normal veterinary terminology defines a hip luxation as a specific condition when the femoral head is luxated or displaced away from the acetabulum (socket joint) of the hip.
When movement between two vertebrae is restricted, the animal will not have total flexibility of the spine and stiffness, resistance, and lack of functional ability results. Misaligned vertebra can also result in pain—pain that is either directly observable or seen as slight changes affecting movement or performance success. In addition, subluxations between spinal vertebrae may also inhibit the normal flow of important neuronal information to areas peripheral to the spinal cord.
Subluxations in the spine may cause the animal to compensate in movement or posture. The animal may attempt to avoid the pain of a subluxation by shifting weight or by avoiding certain movements. When the spine is not functioning correctly in one area, stress is placed on other vertebral joints. This is when secondary subluxations can occur in other areas of the spinal column, further complicating the problems of the animal.
So when is chiropractic treatment, the realignment of vertebrae and joints to repair subluxations, most effective? The following are some of common problem areas where chiropractic may be especially helpful:
Acute and Chronic Pain - Chiropractic offers excellent results when used for pain due to misaligned vertebrae and/or joints of the extremities. It is my opinion that musculo-skeletal pain responds so well to chiropractic that it is just plain bad medicine-or perhaps even malpractice-to not use it.
Routine Maintenance for the Performance Animal (canine or equine). Athletes, human and animal, have found chiropractic to greatly enhance their performance and to greatly prolong their longevity as active athletes. Chiropractic is also considered sound routine maintenance for the animal predisposed to chronic structural problems, such as hip dysplasia. While chiropractic may improve function, it does not generally alter structural abnormalities. It is unlikely that chiropractic care will alleviate structural problems, but it can lessen their impact on an animal's ability to function by keeping that animal's physical body balanced and chiropractically aligned
Other Uses - I have found chiropractic to be helpful for many diseases I would not have previously considered to be chiropractic cases, apparently because it helps to correct abnormal nerve function. Examples include: Inappropriate urination, reproductive problems, gastrointestinal upset, ear infections, acute and chronic skin irritations (hot spots), epileptiform seizures and heart-rate irregularities.
The following explains which animals are likely to benefit from chiropractic treatments:
Animals That are Obviously Sore - Those who are limping; grunting or moaning when they lie down or attempt to get up from lying down; unable to climb stairs or jump up on the couch or bed; always lie down or sit on one side (pressure on the other side hurts); standing offset or on three legs (resting the sore leg); don't like to be touched in certain spots; dirty animals (especially cats) that cannot bend to keep themselves clean.
Older Animals - As any animal ages, its joints tend to "dry out", thus becoming "creaky" and sore. Chiropractic can help.
Competitive Animals - Chiropractic helps the animal to attain optimal performance.
Arthritic Animals - Joint movement helps provide lubrication, and a properly moving and aligned joint will not form bony arthritic growths as quickly as one that is out of alignment or moving improperly
Special Cases - Chiropractic along with other therapies can help skin conditions, urinary incontinence, intestinal problems, behavior problems (when an animal hurts, he may not want to do what you ask of him, and hurting animals tend to be crotchety).
You'll want to see your animal-chiropractic practitioner to help you evaluate your animal's pain and soreness. Pain can be difficult to evaluate for a number of reasons including when it persists in animals that can't tell us where it hurts. Also, animals have different levels of pain tolerance and different ways to express pain.
Even though all dogs and cats probably have about the same threshold for pain (the amount of painful stimulus it takes before the animal feels the pain), different individuals have different levels of tolerance (the ability to tolerate a level of pain before they react to it). Some animals may scream and cry at the slightest hint of pain, while others, with a high tolerance for pain, are more stoic—even when subjected to painful stimulation.
It is often difficult, even for the experts, to detect an obvious limp in an animal that travels on four legs, and determining exactly which leg hurts can be an even bigger challenge.
There are signs, however, that can help you deduce information about an animal's pain. Animals in pain tend to be either more restless or withdrawn; they often don't sleep or eat well. They may be up and down all day and night, trying to get comfortable. Cats may be able to hide their pain most of the time. Since many of them spend a good share of the day curled up on the couch, it may not be evident that they hurt when they move. In my experience, however, a high percentage of cats have spinal vertebrae and joints of the extremities that are "stuck" or that are arthritic, and therefore painful. So many cats, especially the older ones, can definitely benefit from chiropractic adjustments.
Animal chiropractors use a variety of methods to evaluate musculo-skeletal and joint function and you should rely on a qualified animal chiropractic practitioner to do the final pain evaluation of your pet. In addition to evaluating the gait and stance of an animal, chiropractors will palpate the animal's body for relative cold or warm areas, for pain on movement, and perhaps for "energy flow" through the body. True chiropractic involves the ability to detect the mobility of the spinal vertebra or joint, to be able to detect when the mobility is abnormal (or stuck) and to properly adjust the joint so that it becomes "unstuck".
In addition to chiropractic adjustments, natural or alternative medicines may be used along with chiropractic to help the patient. They include:
Acupuncture - the most natural adjunct to chiropractic care
Massage and physical therapy - to help ease pain and thus allow the animal the ability to move about more normally
Homeopathy - some remedies may ease bony or muscular pain and thus help keep the animal moving
Herbs - there are many herbs that offer a natural way to ease pain and/or to act specifically to help heal muscle or bone conditions
Supplements - there are a variety of nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and MSM that help heal joint surfaces. Other supplements, such as antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can help heal damaged tissues.
The following are tips that will work well in concert with chiropractic treatments:
Choose Natural Medicines - When at all possible, use natural medicines for pain relief. Avoiding prescribed painkillers will keep your pet's list of potential adverse side effects to a minimum.
Keep 'em Moving - To keep your dog's joints flexible and moving provide a daily dose of walking and a romp in the yard or park. It's the best anti-pain and anti-arthritis medicine you can offer. To encourage cats to exercise you may need to be a mite more creative. Use toys to encourage them to play, jump and run; hide their food and small treats in various places throughout the house, so they have to move about to search for them, and make some of the hiding places in spots where they will have to climb or jump to reach to them. Some cats love their daily walk on a leash.
Fight Obesity - Fat animals don't have the energy to move about. Their lack of movement tends to stick or freeze joints. And, when joints are stuck, it becomes painful to try to move them, which makes for even less movement. As the lack of movement progresses, arthritic bony changes occur, making for more pain and even less ability to move. Obesity is the death-knell for normal movement, normal joints, and a naturally healthy life. Of course, watch your pet's diet, as well.
Chiropractic can help many of your pet's ailments, but you should seek out a qualified practitioner. If your pet needs some extra care for sore or creaky joints, pick a qualified animal-chiropractic practitioner who has the necessary training and expertise. I'll talk about how to do that in Pet Chiropractic - How to Select an Animal Chiropractor.