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animal chiropractic care

What is animal chiropractic?


Chiropractic focuses on the relationship between the spinal column and the nervous system as well as the role of the spinal column in biomechanics and movement. Chiropractic is an important part of the holistic trend in health care.  A holistic approach to health care looks at all of the external and internal influences on the body in the study of health and disease.  Holistic therapies, such as chiropractic, are designed to work with the animal’s inborn ability to heal itself, which is called innate intelligence.  Innate intelligence not only allows the body to heal itself, but it is also how the body is able to regulate its systems and function properly as a whole.  This approach differs from purely allopathic approaches that often treat only symptoms instead of the animal as a whole.  The role of the chiropractor is greater than simply treating conditions.  Instead, by reducing vertebral subluxation complexes, the innate intelligence of the body can best express itself and thereby heal itself.  This will then enable that animal to reach more of his or her full potential in every area of life.  


The proper functioning of the nervous system is of utmost concern to the chiropractor.  The nervous system is an information superhighway that links the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.  Information from the brain travels down through the spinal cord and out to the rest of the body through the spinal nerves, which are located at the level of each vertebrae.  If there is a problem with this system the brain and body may not be able to communicate properly and therefore the body is unable to function properly as a whole.  The basic function of the vertebrae of the spine is to protect the spinal cord, provide stability to the body, and provide attachment for major trunk muscles.  Therefore, subluxations can not only lead to altered biomechanics of the body but they can also lead to muscle spasm and interfere with the proper functioning of the nervous system.


Chiropractic is not a replacement for traditional veterinary medicine.  Animal chiropractic is integrated with concurrent veterinary primary care.  A referral from your veterinarian is required before your animal can receive chiropractic care.


What do animal chiropractors do?


Animal chiropractors diagnose and treat vertebral subluxation complexes as well as subluxation complexes of the extremities.  Subluxations are identified by the animal chiropractor through palpation of the spine and extremities.  A subluxation is any joint that is restricted in its normal movement.  Subluxations cause alterations in biomechanics and disturbances in the nervous system.  Subluxations occur for many reasons and include physical, mental, and chemical stressors.  Subluxations can occur and at all ages.  Performance injuries, stress, poor nutrition, fatigue, and even the birth process are among some of the most common causes of subluxations.


The American Chiropractic Association defines a vertebral subluxation complex “as an aberrant relationship between two adjacent articular structures that may have functional or pathology sequence, causing an alteration in the biomechanical and/or neurophysiological reflections of these articular structures, their proximal structures and/or body systems that may be directly or indirectly affected by them.”



If found, how are chiropractic subluxations corrected?


A proper examination by the Doctor is necessary to determine what needs to be adjusted.  Diagnosis of subluxations should be made by a trained animal chiropractor.  Once the subluxation, or “stuck” joint, is identified the animal chiropractor will correct it with an adjustment.  An adjustment is a high velocity, low amplitude thrust on a specific bone in a specific direction.  Using high velocity and low amplitude means that the adjustment is very quick yet gentle.  Therefore, a larger animal does not necessarily require more force to be adjusted than a smaller animal.




How many treatments will

my horse need?


Each animal is an individual and the goals of treatment are unique to each case.  A problem usually takes time to become severe enough to manifest clinical signs and symptoms.  Therefore, a single treatment is usually not enough to eliminate a problem.  Most animals show significant improvement after 1 to 4 treatments. Chronic problems usually take longer to resolve requiring more chiropractic treatment, whereas animals with acute problems often respond more quickly.  However, even after a specific problem is resolved it is important for your animal to have regular spinal checks by an animal chiropractor in ensure a healthy functioning nervous system.  It is much easier to resolve subluxation complexes before they manifest into bigger problems if they are detected early.

The goal of chiropractic treatment is to address neurological dysfunction in the spine and restore mobility.  It is then the task of muscles and ligaments to support the spine and maintain this new realigned position.  A chiropractor will also adjust and correct the animal a number of times, until the body accepts the new position of the spine as normal and the muscles and ligaments support and maintain this position.




How long will a treatment take?


The initial consultation, exam, and treatment will usually last approximately 60 minutes.  The initial visit tends to take longer than subsequent treatments, which usually last between 30 and 45 minutes depending on the animal chiropractor’s findings.



Will the chiropractic treatment hurt my animal?


A chiropractic adjustment is a very specific, low force quick thrust along the plane of the joint that helps to restore joint movement. Adjustments influence bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. They do not hurt your animal.



How can an animal chiropractor adjust something the size of a horse?


Even though horses have a very large, thick muscle mass over the spine the vertebral joints are flexible and relatively easy to manipulate with minimal force. A high velocity, low amplitude thrust in an specific line of correction is used to correct subluxations.  If the correct technique is used the ligaments and other soft tissue are not adversely affected. For most animals the treatment is very relaxing.  Often, you will see the animal licking, chewing, yawning, and sighing during a chiropractic treatment.

How do I know if my horse needs to be adjusted?


Horses with subluxation complexes may present with many symptoms, with the most common symptom being pain.  Horses that are in pain often exhibit this with changes in their posture, resistance in their work, or by changes in their behavior.  The animal attempts to compensate for the pain by changing their posture and way of going, which can eventually cause even bigger problems if left unresolved.


The following symptoms may indicate that your horse is in pain caused by a subluxation:


  • Abnormal posture while standing

  • Horse may show discomfort when being saddled

  • Horse may show discomfort when ridden

  • Reduced performance

  • Difficulty bending or flexing of the neck or back

  • Evasion issues such as throwing its head up, grabbing the bit, or hollowing the back

  • Pinning ears, bucking, or swishing tail

  • Difficulty with leads or cross cantering

  • Refusing jumps or knocking rails

  • Difficulty with collection or lateral movements

  • Horse may exhibit abnormal behavior issues

  • Facial expression of pain or apprehension

  • Sensitivity to touch


Subluxations can also cause changes in the horse's biomechanics, strenght, coordination, and flexibility.  Additional indicators of a possible subluxation include:



  • Horse is not tracking up

  • Inability or difficulty engaging the hindquarters

  • Differences in muscle size and/or tone

  • Irregularity of gait, which cannot be assigned to a particular leg

  • Difficulty flexing at the poll

  • Inability to stretch or lengthen topline

  • Brushing or interfering

  • Stiffness on one side of the body or neck

  • Lack of coordination in gaits

  • The horse may seem “off”

  • Shortened stride in one or more legs

  • Stiffness coming out of the stall

  • Horse pulls against one rein

  • Overall decreased range of motion in gait

  • Back does not swing



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