According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), approximately 36.5 percent of U.S. households own a dog.
In addition, 30.4 percent have a cat, and 1.5 percent have at least one horse, if not more.
This equates to more than 148 million pet owners for these three categories alone, making the care of these animals important to a large percentage of the American population.
That’s why some chiropractors have decided to expand upon their practice by offering diagnostic and treatment services for the furry and not-so-furry companions that have worked their way into our hearts and homes. Maria V. McElwee is one of them.
McElwee is a licensed DC in Pennsylvania who spends her days caring for a variety of different animals, providing them chiropractic services via her business, Critter Chiropractic. “I always had a love and passion for animals and chiropractic,” says McElwee. “It was my dream to be able to combine both of them into a profession I love.”
What types of animals does McElwee commonly treat? “All animals with a spine and nervous system” can benefit from chiropractic services, says McElwee, adding that “the majority of my practice is dogs and horses, but I also have cats, alpacas, cows, camel, etc. as patients.”
Treating animal patients versus humans
McElwee says that working on animals is similar to working on people in that “we don’t focus on the symptoms.” That being said, McElwee does admit that practicing on an animal is a little different than practicing on a human in that animals have a different amount of vertebrae and “the articulation of the joints are also different due to them being quadruped.”
One major issue when working with animal patients, says McElwee is that “animals are good at masking pain, so when they start to display a problem it is usually something that has been there for a while. I have worked on animals that were completely paralyzed from mid-back down. They would have no current trauma and be fine hours before and all of the sudden lose all control.” McElwee points to the physical, chemical, and emotional stress of everyday living as the culprit oftentimes, indicating that it “would build up until their body could not handle it anymore.”
Signs of musculoskeletal problems in animals
Research indicates that a pre-treatment, comprehensive exam and evaluation is part of the animal-based chiropractic process. According to one article published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, this involves taking a solid look at the animal’s veterinary history (which means reviewing both the tests and procedures conducted in the past, as well as their results), obtaining a history of any trauma or behavioral changes in the animal, and conducting an analysis of the animal’s posture and gait.
It also entails checking the animal’s spinal temperature and performing motion palpation – a technique that this particular article refers to as “the cornerstone of a chiropractic examination” as it “determines areas of hypo- or hypermobility.”
McElwee takes a slightly different approach, stating, “I don’t like to focus on physical signs to indicate if an animal needs chiropractic. If you need physical indicators though, some things to look for are difficulty standing up or laying down, difficulty with different gaits, restlessness, lick granulomas, sitting or laying consistently to one side, sensitivity, change in attitude, [and] difficulty jumping up or down off of things they usually would.”
Necessary steps to becoming an animal chiropractor
In order to practice chiropractic on animals, McElwee said that she first had to become either a chiropractor or a veterinarian. “You then go on to complete post doctorate work at an accredited animal chiropractic college,” she says, further citing that “there are schools located in the United States and Europe.”
Once you complete your schooling, you have to become a member of one of two associations: the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA) or the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA), says McElwee. “You also have to complete CE [continuing education] for animal chiropractic in addition to your CE for chiropractic or veterinary medicine.”