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Should I take my sport dog to the chiropractor?

By: Kaitlyn Lackey DC cAVCA

Published: Jan 14 2024




Just like human athletes, sport dogs can experience mobility challenges that can inhibit their performance and reduce their quality of life.


In addition to traditional veterinary medicine, you might consider exploring complementary means of enabling your sport dog to perform to their utmost potential. Complementary is an umbrella term that could include different modalities or treatments, such as: chiropractic, massage, rehabilitation, red light therapy, and more.


Animal chiropractic involves identifying and correcting areas of improper motion in your pet's joints. Through restoring proper joint motion, an adjustment can reduce painful muscular compensation plus can aid in promoting proper nerve signaling between the body and brain. When it comes to your canine athlete- chiropractic can help to decrease discomfort, improve performance, and help slow down the wear and tear on your pet's joints.


How does animal chiropractic care work?



👉🏻 Animal chiropractors focus on the motion of your pet's joints.


Animal chiropractors can work on the spine, the front limbs + hind limbs (extremities), and also accessory joints (such as the jaw or tail.) If two bones come together and form a joint, that area most likely can be adjusted!


A trained animal chiropractor can find joint restrictions using a combination of hands on palpation, range of motion evaluation, and additional special testing.


Restrictions in your pet's joints can cause muscle tension or spasm: this can look like flinching to touch, reduced mobility, decreased flexibility, or loss of range of motion. Restriction in the joints can also reduce feedback from the nerves: this can look like reduced balance or poor body awareness. Therefore, the effect of joint restriction and/or misalignment can have obvious (or more subtle) implications when it comes to your pet's ability to perform. During a visit, an animal chiropractor may apply adjustments (via hand or instrument) to specific joints based upon your pet's specific presentation. An adjustment is a quick, specific force that will open up the joint capsule, reduce surrounding muscular spasm or adhesions, promote circulation, and stimulate the release of natural pain relieving mediators. The ultimate over arching goal of an adjustment is to promote proper motion in the joint(s).



Is animal chiropractic care effective?


👉🏻 Yes! Chiropractic care outperformed acupuncture or medication alone in this human study (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12865832/) with an astounding 50% improvement in objective pain and disability questionnaire scores.





However, the "success" of animal chiropractic care can vary depending on the severity of the problem, the length of time a pet has been struggling with a complaint, and the quality of the provider.


It's important that when choosing care for your animal that you do your research. Not all providers are created equally!


When choosing an animal chiropractor, be sure to choose a TRAINED PROFESSIONAL.


Only veterinarians or chiropractors are eligible to undergo post graduate education in animal chiropractic. Upon completion of the coursework, these individuals may also prove proficiency via examination such as the tests offered by the American veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) or International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA).


Common vernacular or abbreviations include:

  1. Certified animal chiropractor (CAC)

  2. Certified in veterinary chiropractic (CVC)

  3. Certified in veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (CVSMT)

  4. Certified AVCA or IVCA (cAVCA, cIVCA)


A licensed, trained, and certified provider is going to be the most responsible choice when moving forward with animal chiropractic care.


You should avoid the following:

  • provider does not do a thorough evaluation

  • provider does not evaluate pre AND post treatment

  • provider uses excessive force and/or theatrics during treatment

  • pet is excessively uncomfortable or painful during treatment

  • provider cannot answer your questions about what they are doing

  • provider continues to treat without any signs of measurable improvement

  • provider cannot answer where they received training, their license #, or if they have insurance


It is advisable that you seek animal chiropractic care in supplement to your existing vet care. Numerous conditions and unexplained symptoms can often be improved with animal chiropractic treatment, however, a primary care veterinarian should always be involved and routinely monitoring your animal for signs of degrading health status so that further diagnostics and/or interventions can be explored if necessary.


Across the United States there are different rules and laws about animal chiropractic care. In a select few states pets can see an animal chiropractor without first consulting a veterinarian... whereas in many other states an animal chiropractor may require a written referral or direct veterinary supervision. Please be mindful of this as it could delay your pet's accessibility to an appointment should they immediately be in need.



How to know if your pet is a candidate for animal chiropractic care



👉🏻 Pets don't show pain like humans do. A human can tell you when things feel tight, stiff, sore, achy and etc. But your dog? Not so much.


Similar to an athlete, your pets joints can become restricted with repetitive overuse and they may be experiencing discomfort that they cannot tell you about.


Common signs of discomfort could look like a change in routine or behavior.


My short list of early warning signs includes:

  • gait changes

  • sensitivity to being touched in certain areas

  • changes in posture (i.e. sloppy sit, hunched back)

  • reluctance or inability to perform

  • avoidance to do certain activities or task

  • weakness, loss of tone, or muscle asymmetry


If you see these early warning signs, your pet may have some joint problems that are going unaddressed. Masking the symptoms (such as with pain medication) may temporarily help, but in my experience, unresolved discomfort stemming from your pet's joints can progress. Your pet may then start to experience pain.


Signs of pain varies, but in dogs pain can look like:

  • panting excessively

  • difficulty getting comfortable

  • vocalizing suddenly, when changing position, or when being picked up

  • uncharacteristic aggression or grumpiness

  • limping or lameness

  • avoidance to interact or play

  • avoidance to being touched or held


The most common reason that owners seek out animal chiropractic care is for changes in behavior or performance.

Chiropractic care is most often utilized to supplement ongoing veterinary care for pets that have orthopedic, neurologic, musculoskeletal, or performance related concerns.


Chiropractic care for sport dogs



👉🏻 Sport dogs have their own unique challenges. Certain sports put different demands on the musculoskeletal system and its important that you have a provider that covers all of your bases.


In a survey of 1,958 agility dogs, (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34647477/) 41.7% of animals sustained a musculoskeletal related injury that preventing them from competing. The most common affected areas were the shoulder joint (30%) and the iliopsoas or hip flexor muscle (19%). Border collies represented the most affected breed.


When we break it down, the research suggests 2 out of every 5 dogs will will likely struggle with a musculoskeletal injury during their performance career.

Other common ailments I find in sport dogs includes:

  • Strains and/or sprains

  • Toe injuries

  • Tendinopathies

  • Lower neck and/or back pain

  • And more


Injuries often occur for a variety of reasons, such as lack of warm up/cool down routines or inability to recognize signs of pain. Regardless, there is a high likelihood your animal will sustain some kind of musculoskeletal injury over the course of their performance career.


An animal chiropractor can be a huge asset to your performance dog's health care team. They are one of very few professionals that specialize in assessing proper joint function and overall musculoskeletal health.


Athletes in many different sports continue to seek chiropractic care for injury prevention and recovery and to continue to improve their performance

In this research study (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0161475423000891) "two-thirds (67%) of athletes sought chiropractic care." With the percentage continuing to rise in human sports, I am encouraged that this trend will soon carry over to animal sports as well.



In Summary



It's important to remember that animals are not like humans.


Performance animals often hide pain and are at high risk for musculoskeletal injury. Animal owners and handlers should be on the lookout for changes or behavior, routine, or performance in order to properly assess their animal's health status.


Animal chiropractic can be a valuable complementary treatment to help mitigate subtle joint restrictions before they become painful problems. It's important to choose a properly trained and certified provider in order to achieve the best outcome for your pet. I hope you consider adding an animal chiropractor to your sport dog's health team!



 

About the author


Kaitlyn Lackey DC cAVCA


Many people don’t know that I’ve sustained 3 very serious head injuries due to horseback riding. 

 

When I sought medical treatment for these injuries, traditional medicine "failed me."

 

I'm very fortunate to have found chiropractic. Getting adjusted gave me my life back after I was struggling every day with dehabilitating migraines.

 

After seeing what it did for me, I thought: why isn’t this available to animals, too?

I decided against vet school and instead pursued chiropractic education.  I graduated Parker University in April of 2017 with 2 Bachelors and my Doctorate then later received my AVCA certification in June of 2017.

I practiced for 2 years on humans and then shifted my focus to offering chiropractic care for animals full time in 2019. I now travel across North Dallas offering care to all sorts of animals.

I continue to do all that I can to practice evidence informed and patient centric chiropractic care to guarantee that my clients receive the best results.


 

DISCLAIMER


We operate in full compliance with all laws and regulations. Our services are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any specific illness or condition and should only be used as a complement to routine veterinary and/or medical care. Chiropractic may provide support and encourage the body into its most optimal state of health. The content provided herein is informational only and is not to be construed as medical advice.


 


I want to let you know you came to the right place for complementary options for your pet!


We are certified by the AVCA which is a top notch and rigorous certification program of 200+ hours class time followed by a written and practical board exam. We take 10 yearly hours of continuing education because we value knowing the most in order to provide the best.


When choosing chiropractic for your pet, choose someone licensed, trained, and certified.





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