Chiropractic Care for Canines

Copyright 1996 Adele C. Monroe, DVM, MSPH

Chiropractic care has been used to relieve back and neck pain in humans for over a century. In fact, in the early 1990's a Canadian study found that chiropractic care was the most cost-effective treatment for lower back pain in humans. Owners of many world-class competition horses have learned that regular chiropractic care helps keep their horses performing at their peak. Increasingly, dog owners are learning that chiropractic care improves mobility, relieves pain, and keeps performance dogs in top form.

The dog's spine contains 30 bones and 85 joints between the back of the skull and the base of the tail. The bony spine surrounds and protects the spinal cord, which is composed of many fibers that carry nerve impulses between the brain and the rest of the body. The spine also plays an important role during movement. For the dog to move most efficiently, all segments of the spine must be flexible and moving normally. If an area of the dog's spine lacks normal mobility or is painful, the dog compensates, placing extra stress on other areas of the spine and on the joints of the legs. This increases the risk of injury to those areas under increased stress. Inflammation, with swelling of tissues, may occur when an area of the spine loses flexibility or is stressed. Because the spinal cord and associated nerves are enclosed in bony canals, any swelling of surrounding tissues puts pressure on nerves, which interferes with the normal flow of nerve impulses to and from an area of the body.

The purpose of a chiropractic adjustment is to restore normal motion and function to areas of the spine that are not moving or functioning properly. During a chiropractic examination, the mobility (up-and-down and side-to-side) of each segment of the spine is evaluated. Bones that are in an abnormal position relative to neighboring bones are also identified. Only those areas where abnormalities are found are adjusted. Osseous adjustment restores mobility and function when a very fast, short-lever thrust is delivered to a specific contact point on a single bone in a specific direction. Other forms of chiropractic are equally effective and involve touching specific contact points on the body that trigger the release of muscle tension, allowing the spine to assume its normal alignment and mobility. When performed by a skilled practitioner, animals tolerate chiropractic adjustments very well and generally feel better immediately.

Many factors or events can cause dysfunction or reduced mobility of the spine. Your dog may benefit from chiropractic care if he/she:

  • is limping and no cause can be found. 
  • has arthritis, hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease, or neck or back pain. 
  • flinches or pulls away when touched in a specific area on his or her body. 
  • has had an injury in the past after which he or she limped during recovery, even if the limping has resolved completely. 
  • has fallen down, even if he or she appears to have recovered completely. 
  • has experienced a noticeable decrease in play behavior, activity level, or athletic ability. 
  • lacks flexibility in general, or in a specific part of his or her body. 
  • regularly participates in athletic activities such as frisbee catching, exercise running, obedience, agility, or conformation shows. 
  • "crabs" or "sidewinds" when trotting. 
  • always moves one foot when placed in a square standing position. 
  • cannot jump a required height, lacks fluidity when jumping, or must work to clear a jump.

In short, any dog who does not look completely free and at ease when moving would probably benefit from chiropractic care.

You can take several measures to promote spinal health in your canine companion. Provide secure footing during play sessions; running and playing on hardwood or vinyl floors, or on wet grass, invites strains, sprains and torn ligaments. Performance dogs are athletes; proper conditioning, which includes warming up and stretching exercises, is essential to minimize the risk of injury during training sessions or competitive events. Train the competitive obedience dog to work on your right side as well as your left side to promote spinal flexibility in both directions. Use positive motivation instead of training techniques that use leash "corrections." Finally, seek regular chiropractic care to maintain spinal flexibility and function and to correct minor imbalances before they become problems.

You can locate some practitioners certified in Animal Chiropractic by contacting the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA). Please note that this list includes only practitioners who maintain membership in the AVCA and is updated infrequently. It is not a complete list of all AVCA-certified practitioners.

Small animal chiropractic care in the Raleigh-Durham, NC area.

Copyright 1996 by Adele C. Monroe, DVM, MSPH. Except for printing single copies for personal use, reproduction of this article, either electronically or in print, without prior written permission of the author is prohibited.

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