Animal Chiropractic

Dr. Erin O’Connor, AVCA Animal Chiropractor

“The beauty about chiropractic is the fact that it works with natural means. It puts nothing new into the body, nor does it take away any natural gland or organ. Chiropractic simply releases life forces within the body, sets free rivulets of energy over nerves, and let’s nature do her work in a normal manner.” —BJ Palmer, developer of chiropractic

The Science Behind Chiropractic

Chiropractic is also a wonderful holistic treatment method for not only people, but pets as well. Animal Chiropractic is a gentle, yet highly effective treatment modality that allows the animal to utilize their very own healing capabilities. Chiropractic care deals with the nervous system. The two most important parts are housed within the skull and spinal column. The spinal cord carries nerves that are distributed to every organ, tissue, and cell of the body. The nerves exit the spinal column between the bones of the spine called vertebrae.

Chiropractors have discovered that a misalignment of joint that has lost motion and/or position, called a subluxation in chiropractic terms, adversely affect the function of the organs, tissues, and cells supplied by that nerve. Dysfunction of the nervous system can lead to a series of illnesses and conditions. A certified animal chiropractor aims to correct the dysfunction with a specific thrust called an adjustment and restore proper nerve flow as well as proper alignment and joint movement. Therefore, chiropractic aims to eliminate the cause of the problem and not simply treat the symptoms.

The Anatomy

A dog’s spinal column has over 100 separate joints. It is similar to ours in having cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral regions, with the exception of one additional thoracic vertebrae, 2 additional lumbar vertebrae, and 3 fused sacral vertebrae instead of 5. Each of these joints must move and function correctly for the dog to perform properly.

If a dog loses normal motion and position of a joint, there will be compensations formed elsewhere. The weakest areas, which are the areas that are adjusted more often, are transition areas of the spine where the vertebrae change shape. These are at the first vertebrae just behind the skull called the atlas (atlanto-occipital junction), the base of the neck (cervico-thoracic junction), the middle of the back (thoraco-lumbar junction), and the last vertebrae of the low back (lumbosacral junction).

Depending on where a dog experiences a subluxation, you’ll have loss of normal movement in the area, but certain areas of the body will be affected as well. For example, C1 vertebrae supplies the pituitary gland, scalp, bones of the face, middle to inner ear, eyes, and controls blood supply to the head. The nerves from T8 vertebrae supply the spleen, stomach, liver, pancreas, adrenal glands, and mid-back. L4 vertebrae supplies reproductive organs, rear legs, prostate, uterus, and ovaries. With these examples, you can see how if the nerve isn’t able to signal properly from the brain to these end organs, and then the organ back to the brain, you can have dysfunction.

Qualified Doctors

Entrust the health of your animal only to a trained professional.  AVCA Animal Chiropractors are licensed and certified chiropractors or veterinarians.  Certification means your animal chiropractor is recognized by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.  By dealing with a Certified Animal Chiropractor, you are assured of the services of a skilled, dedicated professional who will work to provide the very best care.  If you are looking for an animal chiropractor in your area, visit

How To Tell If Your Dog’s Spine is Healthy

The only definitive way to know if you dog needs to be adjusted is to have them examined by a certified animal chiropractor. However, there are a few “home checks” you can do to see if your dog would benefit from chiropractic.

Put your dog in a sit and hold a treat in front of them. Now bring the treat to their shoulder. They should go directly nose to shoulder in a simple, easy motion. If they scoot back, twist sideways, or do anything besides that simple lateral neck movement, they may have a problem in their neck.

Another way you can check your dog is to feel along their spine. Feel for heat, cool, swelling, muscle twitching. You can gently press along their spine and see if it causes them any discomfort anywhere. If they jump, turn their head, if you feel muscle tension or twitching, or temperature changes, they may have a problem in that area. This can be difficult if you’ve never felt your dog’s body in this way, but the more you feel these areas, the more sensitive you will become. Many times dog owners who regularly stretch or massage their dog detect changes easily since they are used to feeling what their dog’s normal body is like.

You can also observe them. If they have difficulty executing desired movements, such as walking, running, going up or down stairs, jumping into the car or on a couch, getting up from laying down, squatting, or sitting, they may have a chiropractic problem that needs to be checked. Abnormal posture when standing or sitting, nail dragging, as well as side sitting (where the dog looks like they are attempting to lounge) can also be indications.

Causes of Subluxations

Subluxations, where a joint loses proper movement and/or positioning are caused by three things: trauma, toxins, and thoughts (stress). How can this translate into your dog’s life? The trauma could be a major trauma, such as falling down the stairs, or it can be a micro trauma over time, such as tugging their neck on leash or a car ride with unexpected stops, or landing off center after jumping off the couch. Toxins are what you put on or in your dog’s body, such as harsh chemicals or processed food. Stress can be from thunderstorms or being boarded in a kennel. Age can also lead to degeneration of the spine. Extra weight also causes additional stress on the spine. Performance dogs have higher physical demands on their bodies, similar to a human athlete. Many dogs also don’t get the exercise that they are designed to, while fully stretching their legs, back, and abdomen.

The Adjustment

Most dogs actually enjoy being adjusted. They quickly learn that it makes them feel better which makes it a positive experience. Many also learn to lean into adjustments and will begin to relax during them. Licking and chewing during an adjustment is the feel good response that many dog owners will observe during the adjustment. There may be muscle tension in the area where the adjustment is given, due to the joint not moving properly. Sometimes this area can be sensitive, and this is where the animal chiropractor must place their hands to adjust, but usually dogs do just fine and the sensitivity is extremely quick, over within seconds, and then the dog experiences relief. Animal chiropractors work with your dog to allow them to be as relaxed as possible for the adjustment and to allow for a positive experience.

The entire chiropractic treatment lasts as long as it takes to check every joint in the animal’s body. For example, a dog who shows many times is very still and calm while being worked on and many times can be checked and adjusted within minutes. A dog who is nervous or hyper may take longer as the animal chiropractor works at their pace or if the dog takes breaks to walk around the room. However, for most animals the chiropractic treatment is over within 5-15 minutes.

Frequency of Care

Chiropractic care takes time. The animal chiropractor performs an adjustment and then the dog’s body does the healing from within. There are many factors that can weigh in on the healing process, such as how long the condition or symptoms have been going on, whether the dog is old or young, processed vs wholesome raw nutrition, medications, whether the dog is at their ideal weight or overweight, trauma to the neck on walks from pulling on the leash, activity levels, other health conditions present, state of the dog such as overgrown nails, and cooperation of the owner.

A dog experiencing conditions or symptoms usually have more frequent care, as recommended by their animal chiropractor and as they improve, the time between adjustments is lengthened. It is much easier to maintain health than to regain it. Performance and senior dogs who are not experiencing outward symptoms usually respond well to care that is a little more frequent, usually monthly works well. A few chiropractic adjustments a year can greatly benefit a healthy, happy dog. Health is about much more than how you feel, it is the body’s ability to adapt to it’s environment to physical, chemical, and emotional stress. Chiropractic can go a long way to help that.

Examples of Conditions that may Benefit

Remember, since animal chiropractic affects the nervous system and the nervous system controls every organ, tissue, and cell in the entire body, as well as restores normal movement, a vast variety of conditions can usually benefit. The more common conditions many chiropractic patents present with are limping, abnormal posture or movement, pain, paresis, paralysis, seizures, ear infections, allergies, arthritis, tremors, muscle spasms or imbalances, inability to execute a desired movement, chewing abnormalities, performance animals, puppy or adult wellness, and much more.

Many times neurological conditions with no known cause are related to misalignments of the upper neck. This upper neck area is where the brain stem develops into the spinal cord and every nerve signal being sent out to the body from the brain has to start at this point. The misalignment, or “subluxation” in chiropractic terms, causes abnormal nerve transmission. The abnormal nerve signals can manifest as seizures, paralysis, ataxia (drunken sailor gait), tremors, and more. Chiropractic adjustments may benefit these neurological conditions.

Animal chiropractic can also usually help senior dogs retain or regain function as they age. It helps to promote healthy joints. Many senior dog owners report their dog has more energy after an adjustment. Sometimes it even allows them to do things that they did when they were younger, but no longer attempt to do.

“Side sitting” or “puppy sitting” many times is indicative of a pelvic or sacral issue, rather than the dog attempting to lounge. Animal chiropractic may be able to help restore normal square sitting through adjustments.

Licking and chewing of the paws may be related to your dog’s neck. There is a bundle of nerves that leave the middle of the cervical spine in the neck and run down through the front legs. If one of these nerves is irritated, it can lead to paresthesia, which is the fancy term for the pins and needles, tingly type of sensation similar to when your foot “falls asleep.” Many times chiropractic adjustments can remove the irritation. The same goes for the rear, but it is usually due to irritation of the nerves in the low back and pelvic areas.

Animals That May Benefit

This article was focused on our canine companions, but any animal with a spine can benefit. My practice focuses on small animals including dogs, cats, exotics, and native wildlife being rehabbed at a local wildlife center. Some animal chiropractors choose to focus on large animals and some treat both large and small!

In Summary

Chiropractic care is beneficial for a variety of conditions, and to help maintain health. It is great for micro injuries from everyday stress and to help prevent injury. Remember when seeking chiropractic care for your pet, to only entrust their care to a professional, being an AVCA or IVCA certified animal chiropractor. Whether it’s an injured animal, performance animal, or a family companion, chiropractic can be a simple way to make a positive difference in their health and wellbeing.