Determining Whether a Dog Would Benefit from Chiropractic Care
Veterinary chiropractors use these procedures to determine whether your dog would benefit from chiropractic – but you can use them, too.
DOG CHIROPRACTICS OVERVIEW
What you can do...
- Using the procedures outlined in the sidebars, examine your dog and note any problems you could find on your own.
- Look for a practitioner who has been certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA).
- Bring your notes to the appointment, to offer the practitioner as much background information as he or she wants.
- Make sure you also note and date improvements in your dog’s condition after treatment.
The following is a guide that I use to help clients evaluate their own dog’s biomechanical status. Using this guide should provide you with the necessary information to help you decide whether or not chiropractic adjustments might be indicated for your dog.
I chiropractically evaluate and treat every one of my patients whom I can comfortably get my hands on. I do this for several reasons. First, because I feel it’s important to have a free-flow of healing energetics that is possible only when the body’s “scaffolding” is free of kinks. Second, because when I adjust an animal, I personally receive the added benefits of being body-to-body, heart-to-heart with that animal. This is one of the prime aspects of holistic veterinary medicine – a personally healing aspect – that was not available to me in a western-style practice.
I like to have as much background information about the dog as I can get . . . and then I put it all in a “safe-keeping” place somewhere in the back of my mind. I do not want an overload of information to confuse my hands’ ability to feel and sense what is really going on in my patient.
However, it is important for me to learn what my clients expect from our treatments: what they want their dogs to be able to do after the treatments; and discuss how soon (how many treatments) we feel is appropriate before results should be seen. I also want to discuss what I’ve seen clinically in similar cases so we have (I hope) a common ground to work from.
As I speak with the dog’s guardian, I try to hunker down and make myself available for the dog to come to me of his own accord. In a few minutes after our introductions we will become pretty intimate, and I want him to have some trust before I begin.
I usually do a quick gait analysis to see if I can detect obvious lameness. If, and only if, the dog’s “job” depends on her athletic skills, I make a concerted effort to determine the site of lameness. Otherwise, it is enough to know the animal is lame; my chiropractic treatment will depend on what I find with my fingers anyway.
Chiropractic adjustments are much easier (on me and the patient) when the patient is relaxed. As soon as I can get my hands on, I use basic Tellington Touch massage techniques for calming. (A dose of the calming herbs kava or valerian, or the flower essence called Rescue Remedy, given about 30 - 60 minutes before the veterinary visit, can also be very helpful.
I also do a quick pass over the dog to feel differences in energetics. In my Kansas practice I try to do this surreptitiously; when I’m working in California, I make a big show of it! Energetic differences – areas where I feel or sense increased or decreased energy – almost always indicate an area where chiropractic adjustments will be needed.
As we get more familiar with each other, I do more hands-on investigation of the dog. As I conduct an anatomic palpation, I’m checking to see whether all the bones are where they should be and whether they are connected properly; is the hip bone connected to the back bone, connected to the neck bone, connected to the head bone? More importantly, are the adjacent bones connected to each other as they should be?
I also check the range of motion of the joints. Each joint has its own normal range of motion. Spinal vertebrae, for example, move around three axes – lateral flexion (side-to-side, hula motion), flexion/extension (up and down motion), and rotation. Joints of the extremities have their own specific normal range of motion, depending on the joint involved. For evaluation, I will check each spinal vertebra for its range of motion, then those that are stuck, I’ll adjust it so they are able to return to a normally functional range of motion. Joints of the extremities are usually simply moved through their normal range of motion.
Problems that Might Respond to Chiropractic Care
Note: I think a properly aligned skeletal system (which in turn gives the nervous system its best chance to be healthy) is such a vital component of any healing process, I chiropractically adjust every one of my animal patients that I can get my hands on. I don’t try to claim that my chiropractic adjustments cure non-musculoskeletal conditions, but then again, I don’t believe that I cure anything; I simply make it easier for the animal’s own innate healing powers to perform their miracles. Following are some of the conditions I have treated with chiropractic that have responded positively:
- Some skin conditions, including “hot spots” and “lick granulomas.”
- Some cases of urinary incontinence.
- Some acute cases of digestive upset.
- Some reproductive problems.
By realigning skeletal components of the body so that the nervous system can function in its normally healthy manner, chiropractic offers another way to aid in the overall healing process of almost any disease.
Chiropractic Techniques for Dogs
There are more than 100 different chiropractic methods, each with its own name, specific technique or focal area of the body that it addresses, and its own advantages and disadvantages. I’ve adapted several of these methods into my own practice, and I suppose I use some stuff that has no name or list of practitioner-adherents.
I find that some of the light-touch methods – “Network Chiropractic” and “Logan Basic” – are helpful, especially for hypersensitive animals and/or those who have chronic disease. At the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association’s course for veterinarians and chiropractors, the major techniques we learned were combined adaptations of the “Gonstead” and “Diversified” methods.
Although many practitioners have found it helpful, I do not use an activator (a mechanical devise that activates a spring-loaded plunger) to assist with adjustments. I don’t use an activator because I feel it takes away from my ability to feel what is going on with the area I am adjusting. Also, I don’t like the idea of anything mechanical being used in a process that I feel requires an awareness of the energetics involved. Plus, an activator is incredibly powerful; used improperly, it can do real damage to joints. And finally, I think it is too easy to half-learn the technique, which lets a lot of half-skilled people use the method in inappropriate ways.
The way I was taught, a chiropractic adjustment consists of the following. First, identify the specific site of the subluxation and identify the direction the joint is “stuck or “loose.” The contact point (the bony part of the anatomy where the adjustment will be performed) is located, and the adjuster creates a firm contact with the underlying bone, and the patient’s body is stabilized. Then, the actual adjustment is performed by moving the hand in a short-lever, high-velocity, controlled thrust, aimed in the direction that is specific for the way that the joint needs to be returned to normal function.
Since the spinal column is functionally one long string of bones, one subluxation is almost always associated with other dysfunctional areas in other parts of the body; this is referred to as “associated subluxations.” One treatment does not fix them all, so the entire back (and the hips and extremities) needs to be evaluated.
After the treatment, I’ll recheck the areas that were abnormal, check them for pain and motion. Then, we’ll watch the dog walk to check for any improvement.
We’ll also discuss home care. I like to let the dog’s guardian know what she can do at home to help the chiropractic (and other) treatments achieve their expected results. Exercises, stretches, nutrition, herbs, and supplements are all a part of a continuing home healthcare program.
Before the clients leave, I like to review our treatment objectives, time frames involved, and expected results, so we are still on the same page as the dog walks out the door.
And finally, even as the dog walks out the door, I watch to see what kind of immediate results we have had: good (I hope) or bad (ugh).
Visual, Physical, and Radiographic Examinations
First, I conduct an “eyes-on” examination, looking for the following:
Dog should be symmetrical, side to side.
Muscle groups should be equal in size, side to side.
Foreleg to foreleg, hind to hind, should look the same, viewed from front and back.
Where is your eye drawn? Often to the site of dys-symmetry.
NON-TRAUMATIC CONFORMATIONAL DEFECTS
Toe in or out.
Over at elbow/back at elbow.
Too straight or too much angle to the shoulder/elbow.
Angle of hips to the spine and to the horizon (requires knowledge of what is correct for the breed and what is biomechanically sound).
Look for tail tilt. In most breeds, the tail should hang or be carried on a centered, plumb-line. Hanging off-center may mean that the sacrum and/or hips are out of alignment).
Straight hind legs, sickle hocks, cow hocks? All may create mis-aligned spinal vertebrae.
Short leg? Almost always the result of hip or shoulder being out of alignment.
Base wide/base narrow (chest too wide or narrow)? May create mis-aligned spinal vertebrae.
I examine the three natural dorsal (upward) spinal curves: 1) the upper cervical/neck (atlas and axis or upper neck bones), 2) the lower cervical, and 3) the thoracolumbar (the junction of the rib cage and lower back region. These natural curves provide spinal flexibility within a sturdy support system, and they help to allow sensitive spinal nerves to exit properly from the central nervous system. When one or more of these natural curves are absent, it predisposes the animal to skeletal and nervous system dysfunction.
Resting one leg; constantly shifting weight; reluctance to jump, to climb stairs, or to walk on unusual surfaces.
Anxiety – pain or behavioral?
Wants to lies down on only one side or sits (or lies) in an odd position; moans on getting up or lying down.
Moves slow (or painfully) at first, then loosens up (rusty gait syndrome), and/or seems to have more pain after exercise.
Keep in mind that weight and condition dramatically affect the animal’s ability to maintain good posture/stance/attitude.
HEAD AND NECK
The “natural” neck forms a supple “S” shape, due to the upper and lower cervical curvatures. A neck that is held in a posture that is too straight (or too curved) may predispose to problems related to cervical vertebral instability, abnormal bone formation, and/or intervertebral disc disease.
Posture should be as indicated for the breed AND as indicated for biomechanical soundness.
Head tilt (always to one side) indicates a problem.
A line drawn across the tops of the eyes should be horizontal. Eyes should be the same size. If the eyes are off horizontal or of different size, it’s a good possibility that the upper cervicals need adjustment. This is a common problem with dogs constantly on a tight leash.
HANDS ON EXAM
Next, conduct a whole-body, lighttouch exam. Feel for:
Heat (as compared to the rest of the body and adjacent areas) or swelling.
Muscle tone that is either firmer or softer than adjacent muscles and/or the corresponding muscle on the other side. This indicates an abnormally functioning muscle and a possible misalignment.
Pain on palpation, as shown by a dog who flinches (or whose skin will flinch), whines, gives you the “evil eye,” or tries to move away from you.
Pain or reluctance to move on flexion, extension, rotation.
I also feel for increases or decreases in the dog’s energy or vital force.
Some chiropractors disagree, but in my opinion, radiographs are best used to rule out non-chiropractic problems, such as fractures, tumors, etc. I regard them as having almost no value for seeing chiropractically subluxed or “stuck” joints.
Use a loose lead, which allows the dog to move in his most natural way.
Have an experienced “lead person” walk and jog.
Walk first (easier to evaluate), then jog in straight line. Then walk and jog in tight circles or figure eights (pylons are helpful).
View from behind, in front, side.
Sand walk: Have the dog walk and jog in sand to see if the feet are tracking on a straight line. Most canine types single-track at a trot, with the front and hind feet landing on (or very close to) a straight line drawn along the dog’s path. Look to see if there is a lack of symmetry in foot placings, off-line foot prints, and/or foot prints that are irregular in their depth in the sand.
Foot prints: Walk the dog through talcum powder and then walk and jog, to see if the footprints show evidence of gait asymmetry.
Walk over a curb, up and down steps or a hill. Look for a noticeable limp, obvious pain or reluctance to move up or down.
First, know what a normal gait for the breed looks like. Look, listen, use your intuition; is there something that looks, sounds, or just feels odd about this animal’s gait? One or more of the following observations might indicate that a biomechanical problem exists:
Noticeable limp – this can be fairly easy to see; picking which leg is lame is almost always more difficult than knowing a lameness exists.
Shuffling – Often noticeable when the dog walks on hard surface. It may be heard as a dragging sound of the nails, with one or more feet affected. Or the sounds of the dog’s feet hitting the ground may be asynchronous.
Head nodding – This is often associated with biomechanical problems of the legs. Also look for asymmetrical movement of the head during motion.
Uneven roll, side to side – Often a biomechanical problem of the thoracolumbar region.
Shortened stride – An inability to extend one or more legs to a normal distance. May be involved in hip or shoulder misalignments as well as limb problems.
Hip hike – One side of the hips carried higher (or lower) than the other.
Uneven tail swing – Should swing symmetrically side to side. If uneven, suspect hip and/or sacral problems.
Uneven view of pads – Should see an equal amount of foot pads as the dog walks or trots away
Information to Further Assist Your Holistic Veterinarian or Chiropractor
Breed – Some breeds are predisposed to certain types of genetic diseases that create biomechanical problems. Some of these problems are responsive to chiropractic treatment; some (in my experience) are not.
Age – Some ages are more prone to specific types of problems than other ages.
Nutrition – Foods, including herbs, vitamins, minerals and other supplements.
Duration – How long ago did you first notice lameness?
Severity – Does this change? When is it worst? When is it best?
Occurrence – Intermittent; after exercise; gets better with exercise; etc.
Other treatments and the response to these treatments – Including medications, herbs, supplements, etc. that the dog is on now.
LIFESTYLE ISSUES (Yours and your dog’s)
Can your dog be a dog?
What is your dog’s “job” and what do you expect of her in her job?
What is your dog’s daily exercise regime?
In what kind of environment does your dog live?
“In our tribal ways, we believed that the domestic animals were sent here to accept our diseases and mirror them back to us. It was from our animals that we could learn the best ways to cure our own diseases.” – Tis Mal Crow, Shaman and herbalist
What other animals are in the household?
What status among the other animals in the family does this dog have? Among human family members? Do other family members have medical or social problems? Are they similar to the dog’s problems?
Dr. Randy Kidd has a DVM degree from Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in Pathology/Clinical Pathology from Kansas State University. He is a past president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, and author of, Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Dog Care, and, Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Cat Care.