Veterinary Chiropractic – The Neurologic Connection

by David MacDonald

Medicine, in all its permutations, is an ever-evolving practice, seeking to understand how the body functions to maintain health, as well as understand the nature of change, what is referred to as disease. Veterinary medicine follows this path as well, and the full depth of this responsibility obligates veterinarians to use all available tools for the benefits of animal patients, large and small. 

The effort of a truly holistic veterinary practice is to recognize the uniqueness of the individual patient. A particular individual is not just a patient with a diagnosis to be treated according to standard care. Holistic practice makes use of methods and modalities that offer greater understanding of the patient, while shining light on the uniqueness of the individual, and achieving better clinical results.

Veterinary chiropractic practice is a compelling and clinically effective hands-on modality for animal health. Chiropractic practice underscores the importance of the neurologic system in the body and the critical role it plays in much of animal physiology.

How long has animal chiropractic been around?

Chiropractic techniques have been used in animals since the initial development of chiropractic practice by Dr. D.D. Palmer. Integration of chiropractic techniques for clinical veterinary practice was pioneered in North America by Dr. Sharon Willoughby in the 1980s. This lead to formal chiropractic training programs for veterinarians, which now are routinely available and accessible. Chiropractic has rapidly been welcomed and integrated into veterinary medicine as part of a modern holistic veterinary practice.

Why is chiropractic a good choice for animal patients?

In essence, chiropractic care makes use of a complete and comprehensive understanding of the nervous system. The nervous system is a key feature of animal health and includes the brain, central nervous system (spinal cord and spinal nerves) and peripheral nervous system. Veterinary chiropractic practice is uplifted by deep understanding of the following aspects of health:

  • the neurologic basis of muscle tone (muscle strength or weakness)
  • regulation of the viscera (function or dysfunction)
  • the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic “fight or flight” and parasympathetic “rest and digest”)

Understanding these aspects of health and their relationship to the nervous system allows veterinary chiropractors to effect a wide-sweeping influence through spinal manipulation.

Why is neurology important in chiropractic care?

As stated previously, chiropractic practice, utilizing techniques involving spinal manipulation, engages directly and indirectly with the nervous system. Recognizing the neurologic basis of disease allows the practitioner to consider a number of possible or probable causes of symptoms that are seen in animal patients. Whether it is explicit or not, the nervous system has a role in much of the physiologic function in the body, and, when appropriate, it must be considered the neurological basis of disease changes.

Since chiropractic training and practice places such an emphasis on functional neurology, there is a concerted effort to identify the most probable location of a lesion within the nervous system that results in the disease state. Through formal training, and its integration into the existing knowledge of a practicing veterinarian, a number of differential diagnoses as to the cause of the observed symptoms are formulated, even before touching the patient. This preparation and foresight directly impacts the intentions and determinations of the physical exam and motion palpation of the patient’s spine. In doing so, this overarching neurological framework permits the chiropractic practitioner to draw out pertinent understanding of the patient’s state of health and tailor the treatment to the patient’s needs.

How important is all this knowledge?

The depth of knowledge that comes with complete and comprehensive chiropractic training is critical to being effective as a veterinary chiropractor. The ability to localize a neurologic lesion allows the practitioner to be assured that the treatment of these patients through spinal manipulation is not random. Before an adjustment is made, thorough understanding of what influence upon nerves, muscles, ligaments and viscera a particular spinal restriction might have helps direct determination of what might be responsible for an observed symptom.

It should be noted that through this process of assessing the patient, a decision not to treat with chiropractic care is held in equal reverence as a decision to do so. Equally important also is the understanding of what clinical effects will be noted when an adjustment is made. Through spinal manipulation, there is never a random association between the lesion and the medical condition of the patient.

What is a chiropractic adjustment? Is it painful?

A chiropractic adjustment is a manual technique that provides a precise input to the spinal vertebrae in a controlled and predictable way that addresses a restriction in nerve function. It is very quick and is well tolerated by animals, both large and small. It is not painful. Most animals have an innate understanding that this helps their body feel better.

Is chiropractic safe in animals?

Yes. Any medical practitioner bears the responsibility of “First do no harm.” Chiropractic techniques have incredible safety when used by a skilled practitioner that has completed formal training. Studies have shown that there is a 30-fold greater risk of getting hit by lightning compared to the risk of an adverse event in a chiropractic adjustment.

What veterinary conditions may be treated through chiropractic adjustment?

  • Musculoskeletal conditions – since coordinated movement includes orchestrated nerve, muscle, bone, tendon and ligament function, any and all of these components may be a source of dysfunction. Since only bone is easily visualized on X-rays, utilizing a tool that can assess the other components is essential.
  • Neurological disease – in animal patients, neurologic conditions include vestibular disease (vertigo), intervertebral disc disease (herniated disc), laryngeal paralysis and hind end weakness, among others.
  • Urinary and fecal incontinence – the neurologic aspect of this loss of function is commonly managed through chiropractic techniques.
  • Lick granuloma – in patients that chronically lick an area of their body, frequently there is an underlying nerve component that should be addressed through chiropractic.
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pathology – this is a commonly overlooked abnormality that may result in widespread symptoms, from chewing and swallowing problems, to altered gait and mobility.
  • Fertility issues – for breeding animals, infertility may be addressed through chiropractic techniques since normal body secretions are regulated through the autonomic nervous system.

Recognizing the neurologic element in many conditions, and addressing it through chiropractic adjustments, allows a veterinary chiropractor to address small, early changes that are corrected before they become bigger and more involved problems.

Who is likely to benefit from chiropractic care?

All animals can benefit from chiropractic care. In the course of an animal’s life, many actions or events may alter normal spinal function. In dogs that lead an active lifestyle, such as canine athletes, working and hunting dogs, chiropractic care offers an opportunity to intervene in a natural way that allows a quicker return to function, increasing the length of time between injuries, and, in the best of situations, the prevention of injuries all together.

Dr. David MacDonald is a veterinarian with Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care, located at 380 N. Shady Retreat Rd. He is a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA) and a certified veterinary spinal manipulative therapist (CVSMT). To request an appointment, call 215-345-6000. For more information, visit DoylestownVeterinaryHospital.com. October 2018

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