Animal Chiropractor  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotWhen 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.

dotChiropractic 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 Canada.

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.

dotIn 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."

dotAnimal 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.

dotThe 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."

dotSeveral 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.

dotBy 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."

dotAs 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.

At a Glance

Soothe the beasts

  • Animal chiropractors begin by interviewing the animal's owner and reviewing the animal's medical history
  • This job involves a lot of travel
  • The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association accredits animal chiropractors in the U.S. and Canada