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Chiropractic Treatment in Veterinary Medicine

Story Highlights
  • Chiropractic adjustment for animals was introduced around the same time as it was for humans but has been slower to gain acceptance into veterinary medicine.
  • Focused on re-establishing healthy communication between and function of the nervous system, musculature, and the skeletal system, veterinary chiropractic may be useful for a variety of health problems affecting animals.
  • Experts stress the importance of finding a certified chiropractor who has received training in veterinary anatomy and neurology.

Chiropractic has been recognized as an alternative and integrative approach to health in humans for more than 100 years, ever since D.D. Palmer proclaimed that “good health can be sustained naturally, without drugs or surgery, through chiropractic care.”1 Although chiropractic adjustments began to be given to animals at about the same time as humans, today chiropractic is not as well established in veterinary practices. However, it appears that is changing.

Chiropractic therapy for animals has been gaining respect and acceptance over the last two decades—thanks in large part to the efforts of the late Dr. Sharon Willoughby-Blake, a chiropractic veterinarian and the founder of Options for Animals, the preeminent college and training center for animal chiropractic in the United States.2

From the Greek word Chiropraktikos, translated as, “effective treatment by hand,”3 animal chiropractic was first embraced by the equine world for the treatment of show- and racehorses. Proponents say these hardworking yet delicate animals find immense relief from such common woes as gait abnormalities, nerve problems including spasms and sciatica, and neck or back pain that can compromise performance.4

The Neurologic Basis of Chiropractic

Based on the principle that anything that negatively affects the nervous system will resonate throughout the entire body, animal chiropractic is focused on optimizing the integrative health of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system, to “restore function and mobility to the compromised vertebra in an effort to re-establish neurologic transmissions” and allow the body to perform at its optimal level.

Doctors of chiropractic maintain that when the bones of the spine are out of position in relationship to one another and cannot move as they should, this, in turn, interferes with nerve function. These functional disturbances are called “vertebral subluxation complexes” or “segmental dysfunction.”5

When chiropractic adjustment restores the proper relationship of the bones and joints in the skeletal system, nerves are able to efficiently communicate with all the structures in the animal’s body, allowing for healing and recovery.6

Dr. Drew W. Spisak, co-owner of Options for Animals College, likens chiropractic for four-legged animals to the same practice in the two-legged variety. As in humans, he says, chiropractic is most commonly used to treat back and spine issues, and he treats many long-spined animals such as dachshunds and Bassett hounds, as well as older dogs that may have spine and joint issues.7

Chiropractic Benefits Go Beyond Easing Back Pain

Veterinarian Karen Becker is an enthusiastic advocate of the chiropractic veterinary approach and says she has found it can effectively treat a “wide range of health conditions—everything from joint problems to urinary incontinence.”8 Dr. Becker adds that animal chiropractic can sometimes take the place of surgery, can reduce the need for drug therapy and can alleviate many chronic conditions.

Dr. Becker offers a number of case studies to demonstrate that animal chiropractic provides benefits not only for back, neck, leg or tail pain but also for such problems as chronic pain, bowel and bladder disorders and even some issues manifested as behavioral problems that may actually be related to unrecognized pain. She has found that a number of conditions respond to chiropractic intervention as a first step rather than a “treatment of last resort.”

These include the recovery process following any injury, illness or surgery involving anesthesia; lameness; seizure disorders and many other neurologic conditions; discomfort associated with aging; mood or behavioral changes; and any chronic or recurring health issue.9

Chiropractic: One Element of Integrative Animal Care

Most who recommend animal chiropractic stress two things: First, chiropractic treatment does not replace traditional veterinary care but augments it, and may be a good place to start before turning to more invasive procedures.10 It is also very important that the  chiropractor providing care to animals be thoroughly trained in anatomy and neurology to prevent harm and maximize health benefit for the animal.

Veterinary chiropractor Dr. Jenny Johnson said, “It is very important that the veterinarian or chiropractor providing chiropractic care to animals is specifically trained in animal chiropractic.” She recommends a course comprising over 200 intensive training hours and stresses that, “A weekend course in animal chiropractic is not adequate training.”11

Experts recommend contacting the American Veterinary Chiropractor Association or the College of Animal Chiropractic to find a qualified animal chiropractic in your area.


1 McKay TJ, Jenkins KB. What Is Chiropractic? The Spine Guys. 2000-2010.
2 Options for Animals College. Animal Chiropractic History. 2015.
3 McKay TJ, Jenkins KB. What Is Chiropractic? The Spine Guys. 2000-2010.
4 Ennis J. What Is Chiropractic Care for Horses? American Veterinary Chiropractic Association Doctors. Copyright 1998-2088.
5 Becker K. Chiropractic Care: The “New” Way to Relieve Your Pet’s Pain (Whatever its Cause). Mercola.com. Jan. 17, 2012.
6 7 What Is Animal Chiropractic? Options for Animals. 2015.
8 Becker K. Chiropractic Care: The “New” Way to Relieve Your Pet’s Pain (Whatever its Cause). Mercola.com. Jan. 17, 2012.
9 10 Becker K. Animal Chiropractic Success Stories. Mercola.com. April 6, 2012.
11 Equine Shockwave & Veterinary Chiropractic.  Veterinary Chiropractic. 2012.

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