By Dr. Kim Adie |
Our pets are valued members of our families. However, some people are surprised to learn our furry friends can also suffer from problems related to spinal dysfunction. When these problems occur, they cause pain and stiffness that can affect their daily activities, competitive sports, work and play.
Just as many of us turn to chiropractic care to help restore normal motion, reduce pain, and improve performance, so can animals.
Advancing Chiropractic Care for Animals
I am an animal chiropractor, but I didn’t begin this way. In fact, I started my chiropractic career in 1994 and, for the first 13 years, had a family practice in Minden, Ontario.
Like many of my colleagues, I became a chiropractor because of my own positive chiropractic care experience. In the past, I competed in sports and dance, and through these activities, I came to understand the connection between good movement and health.
Over time, I realized that animals also suffer from the same kinds of joint and muscle issues as humans. Yet there were not many conservative care treatment options for pets. I have always been an animal lover and noticed how much they felt at ease with me. So, the focus of my practice began to shift as I explored this new area. In 2008, I completed my postgraduate training in animal chiropractic, and from then on, there was no looking back. I knew this was what I wanted to do.
I sold my ‘human’ practice, and for the last 10 years, I’ve focused on the chiropractic care of animals. In this capacity, I see mostly dogs, some horses and cats as well. I’m also the co-director of the Veterinary Chiropractic Learning Centre, the animal chiropractic education program here in Canada.
When Should Your Pet See a Chiropractor?
Typically, animal chiropractic care starts with you noticing some changes in your pet’s behaviour. It may be that something just seems ‘off.’ Your pet now struggles with things they usually do quickly or are less willing to interact or participate in play.
If your pet begins to have difficulty with daily activities, some things to look out for are:
- Getting in and out of the car
- Moving up and downstairs
- On or off furniture and,
- Lying down and getting up
Your animal may also appear stiff, sore or may move away when you reach out to touch them. These signs can be subtle but are often the first things an owner will notice. For horses, it can be things like difficulty lifting a leg, changing leads or sensitivity to touch while grooming. If you see that your pet has any of these problems, they may benefit from a visit.
Your Pet’s First Chiropractic Visit
Your pet’s first visit is very much like a human consultation. However, it’s important to note, animals that present with a history or signs requiring immediate veterinary attention before manual assessment (e.g. recent trauma, illness, infection, recent lameness, or severe pain) will be referred to their veterinarian. Although these animals typically do not present for chiropractic care first, animal chiropractors know the signs and conditions that require immediate referral and, those managed collaboratively. The chiropractor will then take a full health history, review your animal’s veterinary record, physically examine your pet and conduct a gait analysis observing how they move.
A visit usually involves hands-on treatment of your pet’s muscles and joints. Most animals love this care and relax nicely during the treatment. Depending on the animal’s condition and needs, the chiropractor may give you home care exercises to help your pet regain strength and mobility. For this in-home care, we try to keep things simple and effective.
For example, a tripod exercise involves lifting one of your pet’s legs for a few seconds requiring your pet to balance on their remaining limbs. This helps activate your pet’s core or stabilizing muscles. It could also just be as simple as teaching them to move between sit-stand-sit positions or demonstrating cookie stretches. We give basic exercises to improve core stability and mobility exercises to support the care we provide and prevent future issues.
Consider Diet & Body Composition for the Health of Your Pet
As pet owners, one of the most important things we can do for our animals is to help them maintain a healthy weight.
This can be challenging. We love our pets – and our pets love treats! But an animal’s overall mobility and health will depend on them keeping a healthy body weight. Excess weight on an animal is particularly hard on their spine, which is horizontal, compared to ours.
If you’re concerned about your pet’s body weight or are simply unsure about what a healthy body weight is for your pet, your veterinarian can conduct a thorough assessment to rule out any other health issues. They will also share weight management strategies for your animal, if necessary.
Working Together to Support Pet Spine, Muscle and Joint Health
It’s important to note that animal chiropractic care is not intended to replace traditional veterinary medicine or surgery. Chiropractic care offers a conservative approach to many spinal and movement- related disorders. Veterinarians and animal chiropractors have different areas of expertise and can work together as a team for the benefit of your pet. Veterinarians are primarily responsible for the health care of animals.
Currently, I work in my private practice Full Stride, in Lindsay. I also have available hours at K9Central, Bowmanville and Rice Lake Animal Hospital, Bailieboro. Veterinarians refer animals to me and we communicate to ensure we are best serving our animal patients and their human families. Clients love that they can access qualified chiropractic care for animals and know that we will refer back and forth for pet-centered collaborative care. I believe it is in the best interest of the patient if the professions work together.
This idea of integrated care begins in the education of animal chiropractors. Only veterinarians and chiropractors can enrol into our program, so we train together and learn from one other from the very beginning. The friendships and professional relationships we develop along the way are invaluable as we collaborate to provide the best possible care for our animal patients.
Competitive Dogs, Active Dogs, Working Dogs and Senior Dogs: All Part of the Family
Chiropractic care benefits people in various ways, and there are just as many benefits for animals. As we increasingly consider pets to be part of our families, they’re also becoming a focus of family activities.
I see significant improvements with senior dogs. Many owners will think that their dogs are ‘just getting old,’ and nothing can help them. But it is with these dogs I often see the most improvement. It is incredibly heartwarming to help these dogs move and feel better, and their owners report an improved quality of life.
My competitive clients are training for agility, flyball, frisbee, or in working roles, such as herding, field trials or tracking. There are now so many activities you can do with your dog. I see some dogs that compete at a high level in various disciplines, even at a world competition level. And horses involved in show jumping, rodeo or other events.
It’s imperative that these animals are moving optimally and pain-free. Because if they are not, they’re not as efficient and may be more prone to injury. If the animal starts jumping and they’re knocking bars, well, that can indicate to the owner that something’s not right because they always make these jumps.
I know what this feels like. My dog Reggie and I have competed internationally in a sport called dock jumping. My other two dogs are involved in sheep herding. These working dogs need care too. They get knocked around by livestock and will do just about anything instinctively, with little regard for the impact on their bodies. Chiropractic care can help.
A Lifelong Commitment and Giving Back
I hope to devote the rest of my professional career contributing to animal chiropractic. Recently I began studying for a master’s degree with a thesis focus on canine chiropractic care at Ontario Tech University. I’m so excited to contribute to canine research, which is currently very limited. My supervisor is leading researcher Dr. Bernadette Murphy. She has a long track record of measuring changes in the way the brain processes incoming sensory information and uses it to control movement in response to chiropractic care in humans. Together, we are looking at measuring sensory-motor changes and functional abilities in dogs after receiving chiropractic care. Interestingly, this research may also give us insight into human chiropractic care as well.
I feel so fortunate to be doing a job I genuinely love, working with wonderful families, their pets and other animal health professionals.
If you live outside South-Eastern Ontario, you can use OCA’s Chiropractor locator to find an animal chiropractor closer to you.
If you live in South-Eastern Ontario and you or your veterinarian think your animal may benefit from chiropractic care, please reach out. You can reach me via my practice, Full Stride, at 705-928-1566 or at Kim.Adie@FullStride.ca, or at Rice Lake Animal Hospital by calling 905-797-2182.