Videos courtesy of my friend and colleague, Dr. Jamie Mabeus of Full Motion Family Chiropractic, Waukesha, WI (FullMotionFC.com)

What is Animal Chiropractic or VSMT?

Animal Chiropractic Therapy (also known as Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy or VSMT) addresses symptoms related to spinal, pelvic or peripheral joint hypomobility, sometimes called “subluxation”.  Conventional veterinarians use the word “subluxation” to refer to a joint that is almost completely out of joint. In the chiropractic field, “subluxation” is used to indicate that a spinal or peripheral joint is not moving or functioning properly-in other words, it is "restricted". The word chiropractic comes from the Greek words chiro-, meaning “hand” and praktikos, meaning “’practical’ or ‘operative’”-essentially, “done by hand”. 

Spinal, pelvic, or peripheral subluxations are identified manually by a veterinarian (or human chiropractor) who has completed training in Animal Chiropractic or VSMT. A precise, quick, directional thrust is applied on the immobile anatomical structures using specific contact points on the animal’s body and the practitioner’s hands. This treatment is called an “adjustment” and aims to reestablish the normal motion of the vertebrae and neurological signaling.

Animal Chiropractic is an integrative modality and it can offer a non-surgical, drug-free option for correcting many bone, disc, and soft-tissue disorders related to improper spinal configuration and movement. When used in conjunction with good traditional veterinary care, Animal Chiropractic is an effective means of restoring and maintaining your animal’s health and well-being.  

Why is chiropractic therapy important?

Animal Chiropractic Therapy focuses on the preservation and health of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system. Nerves control everything in the body.  Anything adversely affecting the nervous system (like a hypomobility/restriction) will have detrimental effects that affect the entire body. The spine is a complex framework of bones (vertebrae), ligaments, muscles and nerves. If the movement and biomechanics of the vertebrae becomes altered, it can interfere with the performance of the nerves that are branching off of the spinal cord.  Since these nerves communicate between muscles and organs and the brain/spinal cord, an affected animal can lose normal mobility which can cause stiffness, tension, pain, and even organ dysfunction. The nervous system also coordinates the body’s ability to heal and regulate itself so impaired signaling to the muscles, joints, and organs negatively affects the immune system and leaves the body more prone to injuries and illness. When nerves are efficiently and effectively communicating with all the structures of the body, the body begins to heal from within.

What Causes joint hypomobility?

Chiropractic restrictions can be caused by:

  • Heavy play
  • Slips and falls
  • Abnormal gait due to pain from an injury
  • Trauma
  • Recent surgery
  • Amputation (including tail docking and declawing)
  • Sports training, repetitive motions, compressive forces (ex. jumping)
  • Conformation or postural abnormalities
  • Pulling on leashes or halters
  • Improperly fitted saddles, shoes, nail trimming

HOw will i know if my animal needs an adjustment?

Symptoms of spinal or biomechanical restriction:

  • Stiffness
  • Pain
  • Muscle spasms or atrophy
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Digestive problems
  • Neurological problems
  • Lameness
  • Weakness
  • Gait abnormalities
  • Reduced athletic performance

How often does my Pet need to be adjusted?

It depends.  Pets of any age can have subluxations or hypomobilities that when left untreated, may eventually lead to pain and neurological changes. Regular chiropractic care should be considered part of your overall plan for maintaining optimal health and wellness for your pet. Healthy and athletic animals are ideal candidates for preventative chiropractic examination and care. Typically, an animal should have a chiropractic check-up monthly for prevention and maintenance. Sick or injured animals may initially need more frequent adjustments depending on the duration and severity of their condition. Most chronically sick or injured pets will show improvement after three to five adjustments.

What should i expect after a treatment?

Again, it depends.  Some animals are very energetic after their treatment while others may be sleepy or quiet.  Since chiropractic manipulation affects the nervous system, some animals may experience soft stools but this effect is usually very slight. If an animal has been compensating for a long time, he may experience mild muscle soreness as his body realigns and in general, pain relievers are not indicated. 

Who is Qualified to adjust my animal?

Most animals readily accept chiropractic adjustments. Veterinarians who have completed approved training courses should evaluate and adjust your pets (see Resources below). In some states, licensed chiropractors who have completed additional training can adjust animals under the referral of a veterinarian. Animal owners should be extremely wary of “chiropractors” who have not received certification through an accredited program, those who insist on or using large mallets or motor vehicles (yes, this happens!) to obtain an “adjustment”, or those who require anesthesia or excessive sedation.

Resources:

The Healing Oasis Wellness Center (HOWC)

Options for Animals

College of Animal Chiropractors (CAC)

American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA)

International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA)