One of the more commonly employed natural therapies for human health involves chiropractic manipulation. While not as commonly used in pets (probably due to the lack of availability of properly trained veterinary chiropractors,) it is a viable therapy, especially for pets with musculoskeletal problems.
Chiropractic medicine uses manipulation of the vertebrae in the spine to improve health. As is true with other natural therapies, chiropractic works at the root cause of disease, helping to restore health, rather than simply treating symptoms and making the patient feel better.
Chiropractic care focuses on the interactions between the nervous system (including the spine, spinal cord, and nerves leading from the spinal cord to the rest of the body.) According to chiropractors, disease occurs as a result of misalignment (called “subluxations”) of the vertebrae. When vertebral subluxations occurs, the nervous system, which controls all vital bodily functions, fails to function properly, resulting in disease. By various spinal manipulations, chiropractic treatment reduces subluxations and restores normal nerve function, returning the patient to health.
There are many theories that exist to explain how chiropractic care works. As with acupuncture, it is likely that several explanations contribute to the overall success of chiropractic treatments.
The proposed theories to explain the success of chiropractic therapy include facilitation, nervous system dysfunction, nerve compression, compressive myelopathy, fixation, artery insufficiency, neurodystrophy, and axoplasmic aberration.
These theories propose that spinal misalignment (subluxations) compress the spinal cord; compress spinal nerves; cause repetitive nerve firing; cause abnormal nervous system transmission; prevent normal range of vertebrae in the backbone; cause decreased blood flow to the nervous system; disrupt normal inter-and intra-cellular movement of proteins, glycoproteins, or neurotransmitters; and cause reduced immune system function.
At the initial visit, the veterinary chiropractor will perform a thorough physical examination and necessary laboratory tests. These can include blood and urine tests, but usually will include spinal radiographs (X-rays) to try to determine any areas of misalignment of the vertebrae.
Once the affected areas of the spine have been determined, the chiropractor will attempt to adjust the spine and realign any subluxations that may be causing your pet’s problem. As with people, chiropractic manipulation is usually not painful and it is often enjoyed by the animals.
It is important to make sure that the doctor performing the chiropractic treatments is a licensed veterinarian, preferably with advanced training in veterinary chiropractic, or a human chiropractor working under the guidance of a veterinarian. Many laypeople may advertise “adjustments” or “massage” or “physical therapy,” but these people are not trained veterinary chiropractors nor are their treatments substitutes for proper chiropractic care.
While chiropractic therapy is helpful in pets, it is rarely performed as the sole “natural” therapy. This is due to several reasons. First, because integrative medicine focuses on treating the pet, rather than treating the disease, a combination of therapies typically works best and gives the best results.
Second, because pets requiring chiropractic care suffer from various, often severe, problems, simply correcting an adjustment won’t restore full health to the patient. Most holistic doctors use a combination of therapies to offer the best possibility for a successful treatment for their patients. These therapies include nutritional supplements, proper diet, proper exercise, physical therapy, proper rest, herbs, and homeopathics.
Consider the case of Barney, a 10-year-old Labrador retriever I treated for arthritis. In order to avoid using potent drugs such as NSAIDs, his owner wanted a more natural and gentle approach that would allow Barney to walk comfortably with minimal pain.
Here’s what I did for him:
I put Barney on several joint supplements, including hyaluronic acid (Cholodin Flex by MVP Labs,) a homeopathic “NSAID alternative” (Zeel by Heel,) and herbal anti-inflammatory remedy (Traumanex by Evergreen Herbs.) I also scheduled a weekly acupuncture appointment with Barney (using a low intensity laser,) and referred him to a chiropractor to have spinal adjustments done as needed (usually monthly.) With this treatment regimen, relying totally on several natural therapies, Barney was able to walk comfortably without the use of traditional medications.
All areas of the dog’s life must be addressed and treated appropriately; chiropractic care should be one part of a comprehensive treatment regimen for your pet.