Chiropractic therapy, or spinal manipulation, has been practiced for centuries as a treatment modality in many cultures. However, the modern form of animal chiropractic arose in the last century. Generally used in horses, particularly in equine sports medicine, chiropractic care is becoming more commonplace in companion animal medicine, as veterinary practitioners become certified in this alternative technique. 

What is chiropractic therapy in pets?

Veterinary chiropractic care involves using manual therapy to move displaced vertebrae in the spine (i.e., vertebral subluxations) back into their normal position, to release pressure on the surrounding nerve tissue. Chiropractors base their disease theories on the connections between various body structures and the nervous system via the spinal column, and on the role of the spine in biomechanics and movement.

Chiropractic can be performed using special tools, or by using only the practitioner’s hands. Most commonly, chiropractic is used as an additional treatment option for animals—usually horses, dogs, and cats—suffering from spinal problems, or musculoskeletal disorders. 

What conditions does veterinary chiropractic therapy treat?

Veterinary chiropractic therapy can be used to help alleviate many musculoskeletal issues in pets, and may also be used for such conditions as separation anxiety and incontinence. Some of the most common health issues treated with chiropractic include:

  • Chronic musculoskeletal problems
  • Arthritis
  • Acute tension or stiffness
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Nerve issues
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia 
  • Cranial cruciate ligament rupture
  • Lick granulomas 
  • Spondylosis
  • Cervical instability
  • Acute neck pain
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Musculoskeletal weakness or pain

Chiropractic treatment can also be used to enhance performance, prevent illness, and maintain fitness. 

Which pets would benefit from chiropractic therapy?

Chiropractic therapy is most often used for pets with a condition triggered by a biomechanical or neurological dysfunction, such as osteoarthritis or degenerative myelopathy. But, pets of any age and almost any species can receive a chiropractic adjustment to help with various issues.

Pets who are not seriously ill or injured can also benefit from chiropractic therapy. For example, animal athletes can benefit from regular adjustment, whether they’re dogs who compete in agility and flyball, or horses who perform dressage or compete in show-jumping. Service dogs who pull wheelchairs, and police dogs trained to bite, often have cervical pain, so chiropractic can be used to realign their vertebrae for a healthy, pain-free spine.

What signs indicate my pet may need chiropractic therapy?

Several signs may indicate that your pet has a vertebral subluxation that could be helped by chiropractic therapy. Watch for these signs that your pet may have developed a vertebral subluxation that needs adjustment: 

  • Sitting with their legs out to the side
  • Lick granuloma on legs or paws
  • Uneven muscle tone
  • Acute neck or back pain
  • Sensitivity to touch 
  • Aversion to grooming
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty climbing stairs
  • Refusal to jump 
  • Carrying the tail to one side
  • Aggressive, withdrawn, irritable, or unsociable behavior
  • Dry, dull hair coat
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Stiffness and tension
  • Poor muscular coordination and mobility
  • Abnormal gait
  • Hunched posture

Does chiropractic therapy cause any side effects in pets?

While chiropractic therapy is a drug-free, surgery-free, and non-invasive treatment modality, you should be aware of its few side effects. During the initial physical exam and actual spinal manipulation, your pet may feel some discomfort, since misaligned areas can be painful to the touch. However, most pets will still allow the adjustment, and appear much more comfortable after treatment. 

After a chiropractic therapy session, your pet may sleep the rest of the day. They may also feel a bit stiff and sore after an adjustment, but that feeling should go away in a day or two.

What can I expect during a chiropractic therapy session for my pet?

During your pet’s chiropractic therapy session, our Animal Rehabilitation Center veterinarian will perform a physical exam, palpate their joints, and evaluate their range of motion and mobility. Using their hands, our veterinarian will correct the misalignment. A pop or crack can occasionally be heard when a joint is released, but this is more common in people than pets. 

Following an adjustment, senior pets will seem less stiff and more comfortable, and at home, they will likely be more active, playful, and seem to have more stamina. Pets with specific musculoskeletal injuries will demonstrate an improved gait, and less pain, immediately after a treatment. 

Depending on the condition, your pet may need multiple adjustments for continued improvement, starting with weekly visits, and then tapering down as needed. Treatment is considered complete when the pet is comfortable and has achieved good mobility, but ongoing sessions can help promote continued pain-free movement.

If you have a senior pet who is getting a bit stiff, or an active dog who isn’t performing as well in agility trials, they may be a candidate for chiropractic therapy. Contact our Animal Rehabilitation Center team to schedule an appointment, and see if that is the case.