Canine Chiropractic Care by Dr. Andi Harper, DC, CAC

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This article is an excerpt from "Canine Chiropractic Care" by Dr. Andi Harper. The entire article can be read in the book Your Dog's Golden Years – Manual for Senior Dog Care, edited by Jennifer Kachnic.

Chiropractic care focuses on diagnosing, treating and preventing nerve stress caused by distortions in the musculoskeletal system, with special emphasis on the spine. This stress is known as a subluxation. Subluxations can cause physical and emotional malfunction. They are associated with loss of energy, pain, weakness, neurologic issues and disease of all types.  This goes for any subluxation in any spine or body structure: human, horse, dog or cat.

Chiropractic treatment emphasizes manual therapy, including spinal manipulation and other joint and soft tissue manipulation. The manual therapy can include either a hands-on method or the use of a hand-held, low-force mechanical adjusting device. Traditionally, it is assumed that a vertebral subluxation or spinal joint dysfunction can interfere with the body’s function.

Animal chiropractic is a broadening of human chiropractic with techniques developed to be able to treat animals. Today, there are three schools in the United States, one in Canada and Europe. The courses are open to any qualified chiropractor or veterinarian. In most states/jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada, completion of this program is mandatory for those who wish to practice animal chiropractic and become a certified animal chiropractor. Recognition of animal chiropractic as a separate professional entity began when the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association was established.

The most common question I receive from pet owners is, “How do I know if my dog needs an adjustment?” The simplest answer is:

Whatever you would see your chiropractor for, your pet should see their animal chiropractor for.

Specifically, for the senior group, it is time to see a chiropractor when they are having a hard time getting up from a seated or lying position, difficulty going up or down stairs, or trouble getting into or out of the car. They may be exhibiting generalized weakness or may seem “off ” or just plain uncomfortable. Many owners report that their dog is fine one day and sore or lame the next. In most cases, owners report they have no idea what has occurred.

According to the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, chiropractic care is appropriate in the treatment of:

  • Neck, back, leg and tail pain 

  • Muscle spasms 

  • Disc problems 

  • “Neurologic” or “Knuckling Over,” most commonly seen 
in the rear leg(s) 

  • Lick Granuloma, more common in the front leg(s) 

  • Joint problems, limping/lameness 

  • Injuries from slips, falls and accidents 

  • “Sloppy Sitting,” legs off to one side may be seen in your 
puppy or adult dog 

  • Event or sports injuries 

  • Post-surgical care, most commonly following TPLO 
(tibial plateau leveling osteotomy). 

  • Bowel, bladder and internal medicine disorders 

  • Maintenance of joint and spinal health 

Can arthritis be treated with chiropractic care? Absolutely! Arthritis is the number one issue that is treated with chiropractic care, human and animal. What exactly is arthritis? Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. A joint is the area where two bones meet. Arthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage normally protects a joint, allowing it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, such as when your dog walks or runs. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, resulting in arthritis and with that comes pain, swelling (inflammation), and stiffness.

Cartilage has very poor blood supply, it relies on staying healthy with regular motion through the entire range of motion of the joint. Chiropractic adjustments return that complete motion of the joint to prevent arthritis. For those senior dogs where arthritis is already present, chiropractic adjustment allows for more motion to be put into the joint and therefore reducing pain and inflammation. The boney changes will not be reversed with adjustments but the pain and stiffness and discomfort can be greatly reduced.

Does animal chiropractic help with hip dysplasia? Yes! Hip dysplasia in the simplest term is a form of arthritis that has developed over the dog’s lifetime. Owners will often call wondering if their senior dog has developed hip dysplasia when they appear to be having trouble standing up from a sitting position, or sometimes it shows as reluctance to sit or sitting becomes very slow.
Many senior dogs are on pain medications to help with the pain and inflammation. Chiropractic care works well in conjunction with the medications and in many circumstances, allows for lowering the drugs, which may have adverse reactions for the dogs, including GI disturbance or liver issues. Regular discussions and blood work with your primary veterinarian are advised.

How your dog will feel after their first adjustment runs the gamut, from “Wow, I feel great” to “Can we go home? I need to take a nap.” Older dogs in general tend to be pretty tired after an adjustment and will often go home and go to sleep. They may even be sorer for 24 - 48 hours after- ward. Some will even experience some loose stool (it should be no more than one bowel movement). All of this depends on what is going on and what medications are being prescribed by their veterinarian.

Animal chiropractic regulations vary considerably from state to state. Most states allow certified animal chiropractors to work on animals with a veterinarian present when the animal is adjusted. A few states allow a certified animal chiropractor to adjust an animal with a written referral. Others have absolutely no regulations at all. State regulations for what is considered a certified animal chiropractor and how an animal may be adjusted can be determined by contacting the chiropractic association for each state.


Harper's Ridge Animal Chiropractic Care:

 American Veterinary Chiropractic Association:

Options for Animals School of Animal Chiropractic:

Activator Chiropratic Adjusting Tool:

ArthroStime Chiropratic Tool:

The information presented by The Grey Muzzle Organization is for informational purposes only. Readers are urged to consult with a licensed veterinarian for issues relating to their pet's health or well-being or prior to implementing any treatment.

The Grey Muzzle Organization improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other nonprofit groups nationwide.

About Dr. Andi Harper: Andi Harper, DC, CAC is a Doctor of Chiropractic and a Certified Animal Chiropractor. She completed five years of chiropractic-medical school in 2002 and immediately went on to do her post-graduate education in animal chiropractic. She completed the AVCA certified program in January 2003. Dr. Harper travels to different veterinary and chiropractic clinics throughout the Denver-metro area.