What Does a Veterinary Chiropractor Do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A veterinary chiropractor performs spinal adjustments on animals to address musculoskeletal problems. This particular aspect of veterinary care is a form of complementary or alternative medicine and the level of regulation available depends on the location. In some countries, for example, people can only provide medical treatment to animals if they are veterinarians or working under the supervision of a veterinarian. Regulations in other regions may be more flexible. Animal owners concerned about a care provider’s level of experience and certification can ask for more information.

It is usually recommended that chiropractic treatments for horses be given in conjunction with regular veterinary check-ups.
It is usually recommended that chiropractic treatments for horses be given in conjunction with regular veterinary check-ups.

These care providers need an extensive understanding of animal anatomy and physiology to provide the best treatment. They work with animals who have conditions associated with musculoskeletal problems, most commonly horses and dogs. The extent of conditions treatable with chiropractic manipulation is a subject of debate. Some practitioners believe issues like back pain, stiffness, and muscle injuries may be treatable, and others extend it to a wider spectrum of conditions including chronic health conditions, vomiting, and behavioral problems.

A veterinary chiropractor may work with dogs, as dogs are associated with musculoskeletal problems.
A veterinary chiropractor may work with dogs, as dogs are associated with musculoskeletal problems.

A session typically starts with a review of the animal’s medical record. In some cases the veterinary chiropractor is referred by the animal’s primary care provider. Some veterinarians offer complementary health care as an adjunct to their regular practices and may recommend adjustments as part of treatment. If clients are seen without a referral, the care provider may ask for a detailed history and could request permission from a primary care provider before proceeding. The veterinary chiropractor examines the animal, checks for spinal alignment issues, and discusses symptoms with the handler.

Veterinary chiropractors in rural communities might work with livestock.
Veterinary chiropractors in rural communities might work with livestock.

If an examination leads to a finding that could be resolved with an adjustment, the veterinary chiropractor can use gentle pressure and manipulation to pull the spine into alignment. The handler may remain present to calm the animal, and technicians may provide assistance with positioning and restraints. This can be especially important with large animals like horses. Follow up visits may be necessary to assess the animal’s response to treatment and perform microadjustments.

The efficacy of care provided by a veterinary chiropractor can vary depending on the condition, level of training, and experience of the practitioner. Those skilled in this field can determine when their services will not be helpful and make recommendations for other modes of treatment. They may work closely with veterinarians or could be licensed veterinarians to ensure that animals receive the full spectrum of care they need. For example, a horse with back problems might benefit not just from chiropractic care but also medications, changes to saddle and harness fittings, and physical therapy.

Veterinary chiropractors might work with exotic animals at a zoo.
Veterinary chiropractors might work with exotic animals at a zoo.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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