When it comes to pinched nerves or sore joints, no one knows the nature
of the beast better than animal chiropractors. If something's amiss with an
animal, they can often ease it back to its old self through their expert touch.
Chiropractic is a form of therapy meant to complement, not replace, traditional
medicine. It helps heal the body without the use of drugs or surgery. It does
this through a massage-like "adjustment" to the spinal column, which controls
the nervous system.
Chiropractic has been around for centuries. But today's animal chiropractic
profession began with the 1985 founding of the Options for Animals Training
College in Hillsdale, Illinois. It evolved into the American Veterinary Chiropractic
Association (AVCA), which now accredits animal chiropractors in the U.S. and
Leslie Collins is the executive secretary of the AVCA. "You have to have
a license in either chiropractic or veterinary medicine [to obtain certification],"
she says. You must also complete AVCA training.
In its occupational definition, the AVCA states that "animal chiropractic
includes the adjustment of vertebral joints, the adjustment of extremity joints
and the adjustment of cranial sutures." It also includes "management advice
as to what is needed to insure proper response to chiropractic care, including
rehabilitation and proper exercise."
Animal chiropractors begin by interviewing the animal's owner and reviewing
the animal's medical history. That may include radiographs or laboratory tests.
Next, they conduct a thorough examination of the animal's posture, gait, vertebrae,
limbs and nervous system. Using this information, they determine what kind
of adjustments to make.
The job's main physical requirement, says Collins, is the ability to "get
up over the top of a horse's back and to perform chiropractic adjustments.
It's not based on physical strength or height."
At the same time, animal chiropractors must stay on their toes. "Human
patients don't bite," says Collins. "There's a safety factor you have to be
conscious of. You could be severely injured or even killed if you're not careful."
Several states require that animal chiropractors obtain a referral from
a veterinarian before working on an animal. "As an animal chiropractor, you're
responsible for the animal's whole health," says animal chiropractor Alison
Seely. That includes sending the animal to the vet if need be.
When adjusting animals, William Schmidt works alongside a vet. He also
continues to adjust humans.
"Many of the chiropractors have two practices," he notes. "They'll do people
and then they'll go and do animals."
But increasingly, says Collins, those coming from the veterinary side of
things do animal chiropractic only.
By Collins' estimate, a full-time animal chiropractor works around 10 hours
a day. "It's physically tiring," she says. "It involves a lot of travel. Most
animal chiropractors have a circuit of several hundred miles and they might
be gone from home several weeks at a time."
As long as the patients are vertebrates (in other words, they have a spine),
there is no limit to who -- or what -- animal chiropractors can treat. Seely
has seen everything from cats to a very docile iguana. Schmidt counts a tiger
and snake among his patients.
Such unusual customers give animal chiropractors a whiff of the exotic.
But "the bread and butter work is dogs and horses," says Seely.