Chiropractic For Your Pet

In memories of all immobile dogs that were not given a second chance

What is Chiropractic for Animals?

Chiropractic comes from the Greek words ‘cheir’ (which means ‘hand’), and ‘praxis’ (which means ‘done by hand’). Chiropractic has been a popular form of therapy for humans for centuries, but veterinary chiropractic has only gained acceptance in the traditional vet community in the last 15 years. Chiropractic is based on manual spinal manipulation. It uses the body’s own healing abilities and the relationship between the spine and the nervous system to restore and maintain good health. Chiropractic therapy focuses on the vertebral column. The goal is to alter the progression of the disease process and restore the critical relationship between the spine and the central nervous system. Chiropractic actually has its own language. Vertebral lesions are called subluxations and describe vertebra with an abnormal positional relationship. In other words, when bones in the spine are out of position in relation to one another, and if they are not moving properly, then this vertebral alignment problem creates disturbances in the way the body moves, which interferes with nerve function. These disturbances are called vertebral subluxation complexes or VSCs. They are also called segmental dysfunction.



Symptoms in a pet with a subluxation can range from mild to severe. Generally, if there is pain, you’ll notice a change in your pet’s behavior. A dog in pain will often pant more than normal. He also might pace or yelp. He may sit or stand in an abnormal, awkward position. He might also show problems with his coordination. He might drag a foot, or move his head or tail strangely. Sometimes there is discomfort when a collar or harness is put on. Dogs and cats may refuse to jump up on things or move in normal ways. Some pets will develop fear biting because of the pain. Many show sensitivity to being touched in certain places on their body. Sometimes you can even detect a pain response in your pet’s facial expression. And then there are the sort of normal signs of pain like excessive vocalizing – yelling, yowling, and even screaming. All these signs are indications your pet is having a pain response, and in fact, she may be in much more pain than you’re aware of. Subluxations can cause other problems as well, including stiffness, lameness, difficulty going up and down stairs, muscle atrophy, changes in gait like ‘sidewinding’ or ‘crabbing’, stumbling, weakness and paralysis.



When you take your pet to a chiropractor, the first thing he or she will do is get a history on your pet, including information about her lifestyle and her overall health status. The chiropractor will also want to see any prior x-rays taken on your pet. A chiropractic exam includes a neurologic assessment, an evaluation of stance and gait, motion, and static palpation. Each abnormality in positioning that is discovered during the exam will be corrected through manipulations, which are called adjustments. The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association defines an adjustment as, “a shortlever, high velocity controlled thrust by a hand or instrument that is directed at specific articulations to correct vertebral subluxations.” Adjustments can be performed on vertebral joints, extremity joints, and cranial sutures. The goal of an adjustment is to restore normal position and movement of the vertebral column, which in turn improves neurologic function. Most animals respond well to adjustments. They are instinctively aware of the problem in their body, and most of the time they are pretty tolerant of the chiropractor’s manipulations. In fact – and I’ve seen this in my own practice – some pets actually adjust their position to help the chiropractor in treating the subluxation.

How Chiropractic Care Helps Pets


DVM. Karen Becker

Chiropractic care is an excellent way to prevent and treat joint degeneration in your pet. Proper vertebral alignment keeps the body from shifting into unhealthy positions to compensate for joint pain caused by injury or degeneration. Regular manual orthopedic manipulation, especially with large and giant breed dogs, will help keep the musculoskeletal system from degenerating as the aging process occurs. It can also help keep your pet moving comfortably throughout her whole life. Dogs with floating kneecaps can benefit greatly from chiropractic adjustments to keep the hips and knees in alignment and to help prevent the condition from progressing. Dogs with hip dysplasia can avoid compensating injuries through chiropractic adjustments as well. Some pets with urinary incontinence are helped by chiropractic adjustments, and I have seen many cases in my practice of improved bladder tone and neurologic function through maintenance chiropractic care. If your pet has been injured, a veterinary chiropractor can help realign the spine to avoid compensating injuries from occurring in addition to the underlying primary injury. If your pet has had surgery with general anesthesia, I always recommend a visit to the veterinary chiropractor afterwards to realign a body that has potentially been flopping or jerking around while the animal was anesthetized. I also recommend maintenance chiropractic care proactively for all my patients to reduce the risk of injury and joint degeneration. This is especially good for puppies and kittens because they are ‘loose’ – their joints are not yet completely formed. Their bones are still growing and they’re prone to subluxations. Other conditions that often respond well to chiropractic care include:

  • Neck and back pain
  • Tail injuries
  • Muscle spasms and nerve problems
  • Injuries from slips, falls, accidents
  • Jaw or TMJ problems
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Sporting or working dog injuries
  • Bowel, bladder and other internal organ disorders
  • Maintenance of joint and spine health
  • Post-surgical healing