The Benefits of Chiropractic Care
These treatments are used to address a wide variety of health issues in animals, and more veterinarians are choosing them.
Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue organization based in California, acquired Regina, a Suffolk cross sheep, in late 2016. Two days after she arrived, Regina’s right hind leg was amputated at the University of California, Davis, Large Animal Clinic because the limb had been broken in 3 places shortly after birth and was left untreated by her previous owners. The surgery saved Regina’s life, but walking on 3 legs resulted in gait issues that threatened to cause significant back pain as she matured. The prescribed solution? Monthly chiropractic adjustments.
Jamie Peyton, DVM, DACVECC, chief of the Small Animal Integrative Medicine Service at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, examined Regina’s left hind leg in March 2017 and determined that she would benefit from having a brace on it. “Regina was fitted for the brace during that examination, and Dr. Peyton also recommended chiropractic adjustment after observing the tension and misalignment in Regina’s back, shoulders, and neck,” reports Alicia Pell, Farm Sanctuary’s southern California shelter manager.
The results have been impressive. Prior to her first adjustment, Regina exhibited decreased mobility and activity, Pell noted, but immediately afterward, her activity level improved noticeably. “She moved around much more, and her movement appeared less stiff and painful,” Pell observed. “The differences in activity and mobility were fairly substantial.”
Chiropractic: A Brief History
The first chiropractic adjustment was performed in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer of Davenport, Iowa. Two years later, Palmer established the world’s first school for chiropractic. Interestingly, animals were among Palmer’s first “patients,” as he worked to prove that the benefits of chiropractic manipulation were more than just a placebo effect. As chiropractic gained acceptance among human health care providers, so, too, did veterinarians come to realize its value. Today, 40 states provide regulatory guidelines for the practice of chiropractic care and related treatments on animals.
“The overall goal of chiropractic care is improved mobility, pain relief, and the general health of the patient,” says Dr. Peyton. “Best of all, it’s appropriate for all species.”
Dr. Peyton received her chiropractic training in 2016 from Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic in Wellsville, Kansas, and was certified through the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association, 1 of 2 bodies in the United States that certify veterinarians and human chiropractors to work on animals. “I didn’t quite understand the role of chiropractic in helping our patients,” Dr. Peyton says, “but since I took the certification class and have been actively incorporating chiropractic into my patient care, I have really become a proponent.”
Benefits Beyond Back Pain
Dr. Peyton also has introduced chiropractic to her students, many of whom, she says, come to class with preconceived ideas about what chiropractic care is and its role in veterinary medicine. “When they watch me treat a patient, they realize just how precise this modality is as I adjust each joint individually,” she says. “They also see how it benefits the patients. My goal is to open their minds to the idea that there are other modalities they can incorporate to help their patients.”
As in human medicine, veterinary chiropractic is used to treat a wide variety of health issues, reports Patty Glover, DVM, owner of Naturally Balanced Veterinary Services in Pulaski, Wisconsin, a practice that specializes in chiropractic, acupuncture, and the use of Chinese herbs. Musculoskeletal discomfort, she says, is one of the primary presentations in her patients. “In small animals, we see a lot of intervertebral disk disease,” Dr. Glover notes. “We also see a lot of arthritis patients and performance animals, such as dogs and horses, that are stiff or not competing well.”
Darby, a 12-year-old Boston terrier owned by Kelli Danielsen of Oakland, California, is a good example of this type of chiropractic patient. He receives regular adjustments from Dr. Peyton for arthritis/spondylosis due to a defect in the structure of his spine and has benefited greatly, Danielsen says. “Darby had a good amount of atrophy in his hind legs and less coordination before he started seeing Dr. Peyton,” she reports. “He is now more active and coordinated than a few years ago and more confident in his movements. The treatments have definitely improved his quality of life.”
Chiropractic also can have a big impact on health issues related to the nervous system, notes Dr. Glover, who has been providing chiropractic services for 13 years. “Many of my patients receive chiropractic adjustments for issues outside the traditional complaints,” she says. “For example, I see a lot of urine dribblers. By helping the nerves to function well from the lower back through the sacrum, their bladders function more normally so they stop dribbling urine. Other nontra- ditional issues I’ve addressed through chiropractic include anxiety and seizures.”
According to Dr. Peyton, the typical chiropractic session begins with a thorough patient history that explores specific health issues, the animal’s home environment, and more. A general physical exam is next. “When I enter the room, I’m talking to the owner but I’m also looking at every aspect of movement from the animal,” Dr. Peyton explains. “How does it walk around? Is 1 leg weaker than the other? Does it have trouble sitting or lying down? During the physical, we may also do an orthopedic and neurologic exam.”
Following the physical exam, Dr. Peyton conducts a chiropractic examination. “Starting at the head, I go through each joint in the vertebral column, the facet joints, and move them—what we call joint motion palpation,” she says. “If I assess that an area is not moving well, I will define it as a vertebral subluxation and do an adjustment, which is a high-velocity, low-amplitude force to get the joint to move better and stimulate the neurologic receptors on the joint capsule. If an animal has a chronic disease, this will probably be a long-term part of its maintenance care.”
Growing Interest Among Veterinarians
As the benefits of chiropractic care have become better understood, interest in the technique has grown among veterinarians. Leslie Means, executive director of the Oklahoma-based American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA), reports that since 1989, the AVCA’s certifying body, the Animal Chiropractic Certification Commission, has certified 1235 doctors of veterinary medicine and doctors of chiropractic to work on animals. Doctors must recertify every 3 years, Means notes.
“We’re seeing a much stronger interest in chiropractic,” confirms Heidi Bockhold, DC, owner of Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic. “Traditionally, the classes that we teach have seen an even mix between veterinarians and doctors of chiropractic. Now, it is consistently more like 70% to 75% veterinarians.” Dr. Bockhold credits this jump to the growing number of animal owners who appreciate chiropractic and want it for their pets as well as a greater overall understanding of integrative medicine within the veterinary community (Box).
But despite growing advocacy, many veterinarians remain wary of chiropractic and are reluctant to incorporate it into their practices. “I believe the biggest misconception among veterinarians is what chiropractic really is,” says Dr. Glover. “The general concept is that your back is out and a chiropractor will put it back in, but the reality is that chiropractors work on a much more subtle level. So, when veterinarians start to understand that I’m addressing issues related to an animal’s range of motion, their interest piques.”
Indeed, despite the reluctance from some practitioners, most advocates of integrative medicine believe chiropractic has a bright future in veterinary medicine. “It’s getting stronger and stronger, and I think it will become even more mainstream,” says Dr. Bockhold. “It’s too powerful to ignore. It’s a young profession that is growing very rapidly, but it needs to be a collaborative endeavor between veterinarians and chiropractors.”
Don Vaughan is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. His work has appeared in Military Officer, Boys’ Life, Writer’s Digest, MAD, and other publications.