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Can A Chiropractor Help My Dog?

Written by FOTP Team

Updated

dog giving dog back massage

If your dog has stopped jumping and running with their usual abandon, your vet might suggest referring them to a chiropractor. Chiropractic treatment is a complementary therapy which can help stiff or injured dogs to get their mojo back. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons…

Is Animal Chiropractic Treatment Effective? 

Animal chiropractic practice, once viewed with suspicion, is now extremely common all over the US. However, it is still a relatively new field and there isn’t a lot of research available on the subject.

Writing A Review of Chiropractic Veterinary Science (2011), authors P. Rome and M. McKibbin presented a wide range of anecdotal case studies revealing the effectiveness of animal chiropractic treatment (for subjects including alpacas, kangaroos, cats and dogs). In one case, a 4-month-old German Shepherd called Gee had been diagnosed with hip dysplasia; with gentle exercise (swimming) and fortnightly chiropractic treatments, her movement was almost fully restored. The researchers concluded:

“Veterinary science appears to have implemented and merged with a chiropractic model of healthcare - seemingly more readily than medicine. […] It appears that anecdotal reports on animals are the primary source of evidence that is currently available. It is to be trusted that this is an early step towards establishing a sound research base.”
P. Rome and M. McKibbin - A Review of Chiropractic Veterinary Science

Chiropractic treatment is usually recommended for dogs who are stiff, arthritic or injured. It can help with lots of problems related to bodily movement. The therapy itself is gentle and non-invasive. 

If you think it could help your dog, it’s important that you first check with your veterinarian. They’ll be able to refer you to a qualified chiropractor (and their referral is required by law in some states). Keep reading and we’ll show you how to check that your chiropractor is legit!

Will Chiropractic Treatment Hurt Your Dog?

It’s carried out by a qualified therapist and they’ll use their hands to manipulate your dog’s limbs and spine, identifying areas where muscles are thickened or tense. The adjustments will be quick but low-pressure and they don’t normally cause discomfort. In fact, your dog might come to enjoy their chiropractic visits!

  • Working dogs. Very active dogs who work or compete can benefit from chiropractic treatment to increase their range of movement and keep all the joints working optimally. It is possible that chiropractic treatment can increase stride length and even speed. 
  • Ageing dogs. Dogs have long, flexible spines which enable them to run and jump; as they age, conditions such as arthritis can cause “compensatory” problems – where alternate muscles thicken or become tense. Chiropractic treatment is designed to help with this type of problem and restore movement for arthritic dogs. 
  • Breeding dogs. Carrying around a bundle of pups can wreak havoc on a girl’s spine. After giving birth to puppies, bitches can develop musculoskeletal problems and chiropractic treatments are often recommended to help them get back to normal. 
  • Injured dogs. We love them, but we must admit that dogs are daft. Maybe you know one who’s tried to pull a branch out of a tree or catch a child on a swing? Yep… doggy injuries are common, so if you notice your dog walking with a limp, it might be time to consult a chiropractor! (But check with your vet first.)

Here are some other conditions for which a vet might recommend chiropractic treatment:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease 
  • Persistent limp or lameness
  • Neck strain

Then the chiropractor will carry out adjustments designed to reduce tension. They might manipulate the soft tissue as well as joints (like a massage). Most dogs who are used to being handled will not object to this treatment.

Afterwards, your dog might continue to feel a bit sore, sleepy, and probably thirsty, but the soreness should ease quickly – and a lot of dogs will experience improvement within 72 hours. Although they can’t tell us that they feel better, they’ll probably appear happier and more fluid in their movements. Sometimes this improvement is temporary, which is a sign that your dog will need some more chiropractic sessions. (For ongoing conditions, like arthritis or IVDD, this is likely to be the case – many older dogs are treated on a fortnightly basis.)

At your initial visit, your chiropractor will recommend a treatment plan, telling you how many days your dog should rest and how to increase activity so that your dog’s movement is slowly restored. In some cases, extra therapies – like water rehabilitation or massage – might be recommended, too. 

Chiropractic treatment can worsen a fracture, if it wasn’t identified beforehand. Just like any new treatment for your dog, you should be vigilant after attending each session – and report any new symptoms to your veterinarian. 

Before booking an appointment, check that the chiropractor is qualified. They should have a qualification as a veterinarian (DVM) or chiropractor (DC) and a qualification in animal chiropractic from the AVCA. (You can find a local practitioner using their database here.)