WHAT IS CHIROPRACTIC CARE FOR DOGS?

Chiropractic Care is a holistic approach to many of the health and performance problems of the dog. It is a Health Care System based on movement and symmetry, but does NOT replace traditional veterinary medicine and surgery. Chiropractic offers an integrative, not alternative, method of care that often is highly successful in supplementing traditional care. Used concurrently, many of your dog’s musculoskeletal conditions respond dramatically, and rehabilitation can take place quickly and efficiently.
Chiropractic Care focuses on the health and proper movement of all joints in the body, but especially, the proper functioning of the spinal column.

THE SPINAL COLUMN

The spinal column of the dog is complex.  It consists not only of bones, called vertebra, but also of ligaments, muscles, and most importantly, NERVES. These units all work together in providing many crucial functions, some of which are:

1.  Act as a framework that supports the body.
2.  Act as an attachment for many of the body's muscles.
3.  Protect the NERVES and SPINAL CORD.
4.  Protect the internal organs of the body, such as heart and lungs.

The SPINAL CORD passes down the back and through the center of each vertebra. SPINAL NERVES branch off of the spinal cord and pass in between the vertebra going to all parts of your dog’s body. The attached ligaments and muscles surround and hold the vertebra together.  These soft tissue structures also allow for movement between every bone in the back. The moveable areas that contain two bones and all of the other things mentioned above are called JOINTS. There are over 150 joints in the dog’s spinal column. Moving properly, these joints allow for a flexible, happy, and healthy animal. Moving improperly, or not at all, these joints can make a dog become sick, stiff, and possibly pinch a nerve. Chiropractic examines and evaluates your animal’s joints for good, healthy movement and flexibility.

WHAT IS A SUBLUXATION?

When used by Chiropractors, the term SUBLUXATION is used to describe a very specific condition, or disease, of the spinal column in which one or more of the joints are not moving properly. One could say that the dog’s bones were "stuck", and that this condition was causing a nerve to be "pinched" or compromised. Even if only one of the many joints of the spine is "stuck", the entire spinal column will loose flexibility and the dog will become STIFF, RESISTANT, and begin to LACK IN PERFORMANCE.

Examples:

1.  Lack of lateral bending slows a racing or coursing dog making him turn wide.
2.  Fixation in the rear causes a dog to loose power and not be able to jump.
3.  Subluxations in the neck won't allow a dog to lift it's head properly, and pain is experienced on lead.

Remember, NERVES are branching off the SPINAL CORD and going right through these SUBLUXATED areas. “Misaligned” and "stuck" vertebral joints can affect the nerves as they exit. These nerves are the communication lines between the brain and the rest of your dog’s body. They carry impulses both to and from all of the structures in your dog, down to every last cell. A SUBLUXATION can be thought of as an injury that cuts those lines of communication and depending on the area and amount of damage, serious problems can occur anywhere in the body.

Every movement, from the simple swishing of a tail to the climbing of a wall, requires a constant synchronization of many muscles. Some muscles contract while others relax.  The communication lines that allow for these precision orchestrations are the NERVES. If these are pinched, uncoordinated movement will result. Major, long-term interference can cause major lameness, while minor interference may cause only minor, almost imperceptible changes. Just remember, the more you expect from your dog, the more these deficiencies will become evident.  The slightest most insignificant change may be what the judge sees, or may slow your dog that one tenth of a second he needs to win a race.

More importantly, lack of coordination in these movements can cause missteps, or improper gaits, that can lead to damage in the remaining healthy joints such as the stifles, knees, or elbows.

And don't forget PAIN. "Pinched" nerves are painful, no matter how slight. Pain will also prohibit your animal from working to his maximum potential.

Subluxations in the spine may cause your dog to compensate in movement or posture. In an attempt to avoid pain, he may shift his weight, or even refuse to do certain tasks. This shifting of stress from one area, or joint, that is subluxated, to a healthier more stable joint, is called compensation. Secondary subluxations may begin to occur at these areas, further complicating the entire process.

Examples:

1.  Pain and subluxation in the right sacroiliac joint causes a dog to shift forward onto his left forelimb.
2.  Pain in the neck causes a dog to move with its head down, shortening its gait.

WHAT CAUSES SUBLUXATIONS?

Traumatic and stressful situations present themselves to your dogs many times each day.  Confinement, rigorous exercise, strenuous play, or just everyday slips and falls can all lead to problems in the spinal column and SUBLUXATIONS.

The following is a short list of examples of activities that many times lead to SUBLUXATIONS:

1.  TRAUMA:  slips, falls, missteps, missed jumps, "wipe outs", etc.
2.  CONFORMATIONAL TRAITS:  Certain traits such as long backs and short legs predispose the dog to back problems.
3.  BIRTH:  Trauma during delivery, or the pregnancy, can lead to damage of the soft spine and lead to future, more permanent damage very quickly.
4.  CONFINEMENT:  Constant confinement decreases balance and coordination; the "free" dog can scratch, stretch, and romp to naturally loosen his back.
5.  PERFORMANCE INJURIES:  Agility falls and stubs, obedience jumps and twisted necks, conformation lead jerks, etc.
6.  EQUIPMENT:  Improper use of leads and harnesses.
7.  AGE:  As the dog ages, the spinal column naturally loses some of its flexibility.
8.  GROOMING:  Improper nail cuts, matted coats, etc.

HOW DO I KNOW THAT MY DOG IS SUBLUXATED?? (SYMPTOMS)

Subluxations can cause a variety of symptoms, from very mild to very severe. The most common of these symptoms is PAIN. Dogs in pain will compensate in gait or posture and often refuse to perform certain tasks. The following is a list of symptoms that MAY indicate pain from the presence of a subluxation:

1.  "Puppy" sitting, or sitting with the rear legs out to one side.
2.  Discomfort when putting on or taking off collars and harnesses.
3.  Abnormal posture when standing.
4.  Evasion type maneuvers such as dipping head or hollowing back.
5.  Wringing or tucking tail.
6.  Refusing or unwillingness to go over jumps.
7.  Change in behavior patterns; fear biting.
8.  Sensitivity to touch.
9.  Facial expression of apprehension or pain.

Subluxations can also cause change in muscle coordination and flexibility. These conditions may cause:

1.  Lack of coordination in gaits.
2.  Pacing.
3.  "Lameness" that seems to move from limb to limb.
4.  Stiffness coming out of the crate or kennel.
5.  Stiffness in side movement of the body or neck.
6.  Muscle atrophy or shrinking.
7.  Shortened stride in one or two limbs.
8.  Decreased extension in front or rear.
9.  Side-winding or crabbing.
10. Stumbling on dog walk.
11. Partial weakness or paralysis.

Subluxations may cause problems with the nerves that supply other cells in the body such as those of the skin, glands, and blood vessels.
Some of the symptoms that may result are:

1.  Lick granulomas.
2.  Increased sensitivity to hot or cold.
3.  Incontinence.
4.  Skin lesions and scratching.

IF SUSPECTED, HOW CAN I DETERMINE IF SUBLUXATIONS EXIST IN MY DOG??

Chiropractors are trained specifically to locate, evaluate, and correct SUBLUXATIONS.  However, some of the tools they use to examine the dog can be utilized by owners, trainers, and handlers to quickly check to see if their dogs may have problems.

GAIT AND PERFORMANCE

The owner/handler should mentally review the current "look" and performance of the dog.

1.  Has the dog recently changed behavior or begun to work lower than his capabilities?
2.  Does the dog's overall appearance and outline look good?
3.  Does an obscure or shifting lameness exist?
4.  Are there subtle differences in gait with no apparent lameness?
5.  Is the dog having difficulty concentrating on a task?

RANGE OF MOTION

The dog should move freely from side to side in all ranges of motion, with no apparent tension. Remember not to compare one dog to the next, but compare side to side on the same dog.

1.  Ask the dog to turn his head and put his nose to his shoulder on both sides. Does he resist more on one side?  This could indicate a neck subluxation.
2.  Gently wiggle the dog’s buttocks back and forth while your other hand rests on the back. Does the back seem to move in both directions equally?
3.  Apply light downward pressure on the back in a rhythmic, or pumping motion. Move up and down the back. Are there areas of stiffness?

MUSCLE PALPATION

Examine the major muscle groups in the dog. Look and feel for pain, tone, spasm, and symmetry. The muscles should be equal from side to side. The muscle should be firm but not hard or too soft. Muscles should NOT be painful to moderate pressure.

BONE PALPATION

Palpate, or feel down the spine for prominent bumps or elevations. If found are these hot or painful? Compare the two prominences at the top of the hips. Are they level? Are there any noticeable bumps in the neck?

IF FOUND, HOW ARE SUBLUXATIONS CORRECTED?

A trained Animal Chiropractor should make final diagnosis of subluxations. Once identified, the Doctor will attempt a correction of the subluxated or "stuck" vertebra. This correction is called an ADJUSTMENT. An adjustment is a short, rapid thrust onto a vertebra in a very specific direction that will restore movement into the fixed joint.

Chiropractic is very specific, and adjustments are made on each vertebra directly. Jerking on legs or tails is NOT an adjustment. A proper examination and evaluation by the Doctor is necessary to determine what needs to be adjusted, and more importantly, what NOT to adjust.

While delivering an adjustment the Doctor uses a controlled force. Large dogs don't necessarily need more force that very small ones. Each joint of the spine is moveable, and if the correct angle is used, the adjustment is relatively easy appearing to use little force.

REMEMBER! Although the Animal Chiropractor pays particular attention to the spine, he may also adjust the jaw, legs, or skull.

Chiropractic is a very diverse profession, and there are many techniques used to treat subluxations. Most Animal Chiropractors will use only their hands to adjust your dog. Some doctors, however, will use a small impacting device called an activator. This device is small and safe if used correctly. Other uneducated doctors or laypeople claiming to perform chiropractic may use pads, mallets, or other devices to strike the animal. This is unnecessary and can easily injure your dog. Beware of these types of practitioners.

After the adjustment, there is a healing time. The Doctor does not "cure" anything. He simply restores motion and health to the "stuck" joints, and the dog's body does the rest. This can take time and patience.

HOW MANY ADJUSTMENTS ARE NEEDED TO CORRECT THE SUBLUXATIONS?

This is the most difficult question to answer, and most commonly misunderstood concept concerning Chiropractic Care. The purpose of the adjustment is to restore function to a joint in the spinal column and to realign or reposition the spine. The dog’s muscles and ligaments of the spinal column must be able to maintain the correct alignment once the Doctor has restored it. The condition of those supporting structures is what determines how many times and how often the patient needs to be treated. Thus, long standing, or chronic conditions tend to take more time and treatment, while minor injuries, corrected immediately, respond most rapidly. Several adjustments over two to four weeks are generally needed for the body to accept and maintain the new corrections. Most dogs show significant improvement in one to four treatments. After that, age and conditioning are the major factors as to whether the subluxations may reappear.

To make this clearer, think of an orthodontist. The orthodontist applies a rigid brace to the teeth, and over a period of time makes regular corrections and tightening of braces to realign the teeth. In essence, this is what a Chiropractor is trying to do to restore function to the spine.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP MY DOG DURING TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION?

As in all activities, there are several things you can do to help your dog’s performance and health. An easy way to look at it is, what would you do if you were going to start to train for a sport?

VETERINARY EXAMINATION

First, before starting any new activity with your animals, consult with your veterinarian. Thorough, regular examinations are a must.

CONDITIONING

Dogs, and all animals including humans, are more prone to subluxation and spinal trauma when soft, supportive tissue such as ligaments, muscles, and tendons are not fit for work. Proper warm-up, training, and cool-down, over an appropriate length of time is essential to good, healthy performances. Your dog performs, and is an athlete. Treat him like one.

MASSAGE

Massage and muscle therapy are very beneficial throughout your dog’s performance years. Massage increases blood flow and nutrition to the working muscles, as well as carries waste and by-products away. Massage and stretching are essential before and after workouts. Massage can also be very beneficial to healing injuries as it can decrease the amount of scar tissue build up and decrease the healing time.

EQUIPMENT

Proper equipment is a must. Whether collar, lead, pulling harness, etc. the proper type and fit of all equipment is essential. Also, don't forget to learn how to use the equipment. Improper use of choke collars and harnesses are common causes of subluxations.

CONFINEMENT

Even if your dog lives in relatively comfortable surroundings, he is most often confined while at shows, trials, etc. This makes the exercise, warm-up, and stretching even more essential.

VETERINARY CHIROPRACTIC CARE

Regular Chiropractic care can be a very cost effective way to maintain the performance ability of your dogs. Chiropractic works to eliminate the source of the pain or dysfunction, allowing your dog to reach its maximum performance potential.

SINCE PROPER FUNCTION OF THE BACK AND NECK ARE VITAL TO PROPER PERFORMANCE, CARE OF THE BACK SHOULD BE A MAJOR CONCERN FOR THE OWNER OR HANDLER.

THE VETERINARIAN/CHIROPRACTIC TEAM

If no Certified Animal Chiropractor is available in your area, perhaps your veterinarian will work with a human chiropractor to provide your dogs with spinal care. The chiropractor's knowledge of the spine and adjusting, combined with the veterinarian's knowledge of the dog often creates a very successful team approach.

When selecting an Animal Chiropractor for your animals, please be wary of exaggerated claims. There are many conditions in dogs that may be permanent, or have permanent symptoms. Others worsen, even with the finest of health care. Have realistic expectations. Do not expect that the Animal Chiropractor will solve all long standing or multiple conditions with one adjustment. HEALING TAKES TIME!!