Chiropractics in the Veterinary Hospital

The strength of the human-animal bond often causes owners to reach out and embrace alternative medicines to help their pets.  Being aware of the pitfalls, as well as the benefits of chiropractic medicine is not only important to owners, but to the veterinarian as well.

Ask anyone to define or characterize a chiropractor and you might get answers ranging from total praise to total disbelief.   In the United States, more than 60,000 doctors of chiropractic are licensed and active in their profession.  More than 7.4% of the US population, or almost 24 million people, used chiropractic services during a recent survey.  Chiropractic medicine is defined as a drug-free, hands-on approach that encompasses therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises as well as nutritional and lifestyle counseling ( .  And now, spinal manipulation is becoming more readily available for our pets.

The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association was founded in 1989 and now numbers close to 500 members.  The veterinarians and chiropractors of ACVA have completed more than 200 hours of continuing education in animal chiropractic techniques and are required by the organization to complete 30 hours of continuing education every 3 years (from their website, .  Failure to do so results in a loss of active certification.  These doctors can be found in almost every state, as well as Europe and Canada.

Having experienced relief themselves, many pet owners are anxious to try and help their pets in a similar manner.  At a recent Western Veterinary Conference, 10 seminars were devoted all, or in part, to the discussion and implementation of chiropractic technique in the veterinary practice. Owners are urged to be vigilant in selecting the right person to work on their pet.  According to Dr. Kevin Haussler, a veterinarian and assistant professor at Colorado State University, people should be wary of fraudulent individuals passing themselves off as “animal chiropractors.”   “Licensed professionals who have pursued postgraduate training in small animal chiropractic techniques are the only individuals qualified to perform chiropractic examination and treatment,” says Haussler.

It’s these non-licensed people that can cause plenty of headaches not only for dog owners, but also for the AVMA and ACA as well. Many states will not allow a licensed chiropractor to work on an animal, unless he or she is under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian.   This usually puts the doctor of chiropractic in a role as a unlicensed veterinary technician.  On the flip side, many states also specifically restrict their chiropractors to “human spine only” ( .  On his website, , Dr. David Ramey, a veterinarian, discusses lay individuals who assert that they have “experience” in animal chiropractic techniques.  Dr. Ramey has strong beliefs that neither humans nor animals should be treated by this type of complimentary medicine.  Dr. Haussler mentions that many pet owners do not discuss chiropractic techniques, or their availability, with their veterinarian, because many veterinarians are not prepared to adequately discuss the benefits and drawbacks of these techniques with the client.  This leads to the client attempting to seek advice from individuals who are either unlicensed, or perhaps not the client’s regular veterinarian.  Either way, the result might be detrimental to the pet, the client/doctor relationship, and perhaps even to the practice as a whole.

Although detractors will cite a lack of scientific evidence when dealing with chiropractic, the field has come a long way in recent years.   Most chiropractic techniques for dogs, and even horses, are borrowed from the human theories and limited formal research about animal chiropractic is starting to become available.  At present, therapeutic trials, in both canines and equines, generate the most information about applications and success rates in animals.
It is possible for the condition of the pet to deteriorate with the advent of chiropractic care.   Transient stiffness can be a common occurrence and Haussler adamantly states that “chiropractic is not a cure all for all back problems.”  Dr. Narda Robinson, affiliate faculty at Colorado State University cautions veterinary practitioners to help their clients do their homework before sending that patient out to an unknown individual practicing complimentary medicine.  “Investigate state laws pertaining to complimentary and alternative medicine for animals before sending the pet off-premises.”  Robinson also urges clients and veterinarians to know what the timelines for treatment might be and how one might know whether or not the treatment was a success.

As with any medical issue, your best source of information is open and honest communication with your veterinarian.   To find out more about animal chiropractic medicine, log on to