Log Cabin Chronicles

Chiropractic for animals:
Does it work?

DR. ALISON SEELY, DVM
Beachburg, Ontario

veterinarian As a veterinarian, I find the term "side effects" has an ominous ring. We caution clients of the negative implications of drugs on liver and kidney function, appetite, thirst, urine production, attitude and alertness.

As an animal chiropractor, however, I find side effects take on a new tone. They are invariably positive.

Pets, like their owners, receive chiropractic attention for the classic symptom of back pain. However, the condition is usually far more advanced in pets than the sore-when-I-drive-too-long-and-it's-affecting-my-golf-swing stage that leads their owners to seek chiropractic care.

The dogs and cats presented to me are often semi-paralyzed with disk disease or unable to climb stairs due to osteoarthritis. The circumstances are so dire, they are sometimes scheduled for euthanasia in case this last-ditch chiropractic effort fails.

I adjust the spines of my patients and often see remarkable differences afterwards. The pain is relieved, lameness and sometimes apparent paralysis resolves and posture can change visibly.

As the owners marvel that their dog's topline is no longer roached and anticipate a better score in next weekend's agility trial, I mention they may witness some of chiropractic's side effects. A week later, they wonder if their dog's peaceful attitude is a coincidence and why it no longer vomits on two out of every three days. Can this too be related? These are what I term chiropractic side effects.

What is chiropractic?

Chiropractic as a therapy is simple to understand. Chiropractors adjust spinal subluxations to relieve interference with the nervous system. A subluxation is an aberrant position or lack of motion between two adjoining vertebrae, caused by partial dislocation.

The spine houses the spinal cord, which is a direct continuation of the grey and white matter that make up the brain. The brain and spinal cord direct everything the body does. Information is passed to and from the end organs via spinal nerves.

Subluxations alter the flow of this information by compressing or irritating. the spinal nerves. When a subluxation affects nerve input or output from the brain, a state of dysfunction appears, seemingly distinct from the spine.

For example, if information leading to the stomach from the brain is interrupted, the stomach secretes an inappropriate amount of gastric juices. This can create an environment ideal for opportunistic bacteria to erode the stomach walls. The result is gastric ulcers.

No organ system is immune, because all rely on nervous input. Another example is the reproductive tract, which can become dormant without appropriate innervation. Chiropractors do not directly treat infertility, but they relieve spinal subluxations that are sometimes the cause of infertility.

Treating the body through the back

The list of symptoms that may be resolved by chiropractic adjustments is as long as the list of potentially innervated organs.

In fact, ears were the target of the first recorded chiropractic adjustment. The founder of chiropractic, Dr. D.D. Palmer, adjusted a janitor's spine and restored his hearing, which had been lost after he fell as a child. I have witnessed this same improvement in three of my geriatric canine patients.

Ear infections, too, often respond to chiropractic adjustments. Generally a mixed bag of bacteria and yeast, these infections are opportunistic bugs trying to set up home in a moist, warm environment. When lymphatic drainage from the ear is compromised by irritated spinal nerves at the base of the skull in the first cervical vertebra the atlas it creates an ideal condition for pathogens agents of disease.

When a dog suffers from infections that recur even after the use of anti-fungal and anti-bacterial ear drops, I start to examine the neck for a cause. Often, the atlas is out of alignment.

Skin problems can also be affected beneficially by chiropractic, far from the site of the adjustment. For example, acral lick granulomas are moist sites of dermatitis on dogs - usually on their lower legs-that are caused by their own licking. Traditionally, they have been dealt with symptomatically, with topical creams and licking deterrents.

When a nerve is irritated, the body has difficulty distinguishing where along its length it is affected. Phantom leg pain in amputees is one example of this problem.

In dogs, the sixth cervical and first two thoracic spinal segments innervate the forelimbs, so subluxations in this area can cause lameness and trigger acral lick dermatitis, often in the skin directly over the metacarpus (i. e. the bones in the paw). Due to this connection, chiropractic adjustments can resolve the irritating condition, which has often plagued my canine patients for years.

Urinary incontinence is another symptom that sometimes resolves with chiropractic care. The bladder sphincter is innervated at the lower lumbar vertebrae.

When I examine my four-legged patients and palpate subluxations at the sixth and seventh lumbar vertebrae, I ask if they are having problems with "leaking." Usually, the owners have already resigned themselves to living with a leaky animal, having ruled out hormonal or infectious causes. Yet, a chiropractic adjustment in these cases often restores bladder control.

An adjusted view

Chiropractic benefits have become common knowledge in my practice. Whereas once clients brought their pets in for adjustments because of pain or postural symptoms, I now see owners with complaints related to .their pets' internal organs, so they are aware an adjustment may help.

Chiropractic is not a cure-all, but when a physical dysfunction is secondary to spinal subluxations, adjustments can relieve seemingly unrelated symptoms. Many clients see their pets being adjusted and consider seeking chiropractic care themselves. The adjustments are painless and quick, but potent, with tangible effects.

Dr. Alison Seely is an Ontario veterinarian and certified animal chiropractor. She practices in the Pembroke Animal Hospital and the Carp Road Animal Hospital in Ottawa and also maintains a mobile horse chiropractic practice. She can be reached at (613) 732-3641.


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Copyright © 2003 Dr. Alison Seely, DVM/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.03