What is Animal Chiropractic?
Animal Chiropractic deals with the musculo-skeletal system, primarily the spine and the relationship of the spine with the nervous system.
The spine is a collection of irregular bones called vertebrae that fit together in a specific order and articulate with each other, through one or more pairs of facet joints, to allow movement. The spine allows a range of movement such as lowering and raising the head, arching or dipping the back & bending from side to side.
Discs are present in between each vertebrae to absorb the shock & concussion produced by movement. The horse's spine, unlike the human's or dog's, is a fairly rigid structure, the majority of movement being in the neck and in the lumbar area just in front of where the spine connects to the pelvis (equivalent to our hips).
The spinal cord runs through the spinal column with nerves that emerge at intervals along its length. As these nerves exit the spine, they divide into various branches and go to the joints, muscles, internal organs and skin. Nerve impulses travel from the brain and spinal cord, out of the spinal nerves to all parts of the body. Similarly nerve impulses travel back to the brain via the peripheral nerves and spinal cord carrying information as to the relative states of all the various areas of the body.
Can a Chiropractor help your animal?
Sometimes a joint between 2 vertebrae may become slightly fixated - restricting the normal range of motion and decreasing flexibility. This could be due to a fall, a bad stumble, getting cast or a badly fitting saddle. It could be due to lameness or poor shoeing and a resultant change in the way the horse normally moves.
A back problem is almost always a secondary problem to a primary cause which is why it is absolutely essential to have a veterinary surgeon diagnose the primary problem and decide if chiropractic treatment is going to benefit the animal before referring to a chiropractor. If the primary cause goes untreated, the problem will keep reoccurring no matter how many times you seek chiropractic help.
Although many slight joint fixations resolve themselves through muscle activity, such as rolling, or normal spinal movements such as bending and stretching, some fixations can persist.
When this stage is reached some physical symptoms will probably be seen. This could range from subtle changes in the animal's performance to muscle spasm and soreness, stiffness, or lack of collection or impulsion or even a degree of inco-ordination. There may be nerve pain in long term cases and, where a nerve is being pinched there could be numbness or pins and needles.
It could even show itself as a behavioural problem such as a cold back, bucking, not wanting to "bend" on one rein or refusing fences. When it gets to this stage then an external influence is required to restore normality.
What will a chiropractor do?
Having being referred by a vet, a chiropractor will already have some idea of what the problem is. However body tissues are living things and are constantly changing so a chiropractor will ask questions of both the owner and the rider (where the patient is a horse), and most probably carry out an examination which usually includes an analysis of both posture and gait. Assessment of the animal may reveal asymmetries, such as unequal muscle size or tone between the left and right side which are not normal for that animal.
The chiropractor will also look for abnormal head or neck placement, foot placement or any sign that the posture being adopted is not normal for that animal. The chiropractor may then assess the range of movement of the animal's spine to see if it is even on both sides, as well as palpating the muscles around the spine to assess any muscle spasm, swelling or the presence of any hot or cold spots that will indicate an alteration in circulation.
The chiropractor will then look for uneven wear on hooves, shoes or claws, before watching the animal moving to assess whether there is any lameness, weakness, "hiking" of one hip, shortening of the stride, stumbling, inco-ordination or bizarre or restricted movement.
What does chiropractic treatment consist of?
The treatment will not hurt the animal, in fact most animals thoroughly enjoy it! It is quite common for an animal to become increasingly relaxed as the treatment progresses even to the point of becoming drowsy.
The chiropractic adjustment consists of a short, sharp thrust to a specific area which releases muscle spasm, alleviates pain and returns the joint to its normal range of motion. This allows the body to restore its own natural balance and harmony.
The chiropractor will then advise on aftercare, as afterwards the animal may have a reaction to the treatment. This could range from feeling better straight away to being stiff, sore or appearing worse the next day. It may also go off its food for a short time.
The chiropractor should advise on a re-fittening and rehabilitation programme to try to ensure that the animal has the necessary level of fitness and musculature to cope with the demands made upon it, thereby reducing the risk of further injury. The chiropractor should also send a fully detailed, written report to the referring veterinary surgeon.
REMEMBER - a chiropractor can only treat an animal under the direction of a veterinary surgeon.
THIS IS THE LAW
Proper animal chiropractic treatment requires education, training and experience and it is extremely important to carefully consider who is doing any chiropractic care you need for your animal - see the feature (below) about Training & Qualifications.
Chiropractic Training & Qualifications
In the UK there are only two ways in which someone could have trained and qualified to practice as an Animal Manipulative Therapist/Chiropractor - one is with the McTimoney College of Chiropractic and the other is through the Oxford College of Equine Physical Therapy both based in Oxfordshire.
There are, of course, other training institutions around the world which provide training and qualification in the treatment of animals using Chiropractic techniques, for example, the International Academy of Veterinary Chiropractic, in Germany, who run a training centre in Leicestershire.
All courses are at Post Graduate level and usually require that a student is already a Vet or a human Chiropractor.
Always check that a practitioner has recognised qualifications otherwise they may not be what they say they are. Would you trust your own health to an untrained "doctor"!
McTimoney College of Chiropractic
The Animal Chiropractic course lasts two years (part-time with additional field work working alongside experienced practitioners) and is based at Warwickshire Agricultural College. The programme is the only one in the country that is externally validated by the University Of Wales.
Students are taught by specialist veterinary surgeons, and study animal anatomy and the physiology of movement to a level at least on a par with that of veterinary surgeons themselves. Students are assessed partly through coursework and partly through examinations - both practical and theory.
From the year 2000 onwards, those who successfully qualified will have attained the Post Graduate Diploma in Animal Manipulation (McTimoney Chiropractic) - the "PGDip", whereas previously qualified practitioners will carry the letters "AMC" - Animal Manipulation Certificate. More recently, PGDip was replaced by an MSc in Animal Manipulation.
Oxford College of Equine Physical Therapy
The Animal course lasts 12 months (again, part time with additional field work) and is based at The Witney Stud Farm, a part of Abingdon and Witney College. Again, students are taught by highly qualified staff, including vets, and if successful gain the Diploma in Animal Manipulation.
At the moment (surprisingly) there are no guidelines from the RCVS to say that a vet should only refer clients and their animals to a trained and qualified Animal Manipulative Therapist - whether a Chiropractor or not - so in theory a vet could refer a client to an untrained and unqualified practitioner. However most vets will be vigilant about therapists to whom they refer cases and it may only be a matter of time before a directive is issued and perhaps added to the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct. The majority of vets are concerned about the number of untrained and unqualified people treating and perhaps even damaging animals.
Make sure that any practitioner you chose is properly trained and qualified.