You visit the chiropractor. Should your dog?

A limping, shuffling, or dragging dog will concern just about any pet parent, and it might seem like there's little we can do about it, especially if a dog is entering their senior years.  

But there actually might be something you can do—or something a dog chiropractor can do. They're experts in both how your dog's joints work and how best to make sure those joints are working at full potential.

We talked with Christine Horne, DVM, CCRP, CVA, CIVCA, who works at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital's Georgia Veterinary Rehabilitation in Marietta, Ga. She gave us the skinny on how canine chiropractors operate and how they can potentially help your dog with joint pain and discomfort.

Are There Dog Chiropractors?

Indeed there are. Some, like Horne, are both veterinarians and chiropractors. But don't assume all vets are chiropractors and vice-versa. If your canine chiropractor isn't a veterinarian, make sure they're working in concert with whatever treatment your veterinarian prescribes. As always, there's really no substitute for vet care, so that should always be your first stop for addressing your dog's health issues.

When you're looking for a chiropractor, it's best to look for someone who's been certified in animal chiropractics through either the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) or the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA), which certified Horne. Both require their candidates to pass written and practical exams.

"It needs to be somebody who has gone through the training to do chiropractic on dogs," Horne tells Daily Paws.

Those certified will have both the anatomical knowledge and the technique know-how to safely treat your dog, Horne says. Both the AVCA and IVCA have chiropractor directories on their websites, so you can find one near you.

Also be sure that any pet professional you work with uses positive reinforcement techniques. Along with verifying their credentials, ask potential care providers about how they make visits as stress-free as possible for your pet and how they prevent further injury to your dog.

woman hugging white husky outside
Credit: diignat / Getty

How Dogs Get Chiropractic Adjustments Safely

The first thing, and really only thing, dog moms and dads need to do to ensure their pups' safety for chiropractic adjustments is to visit a qualified chiropractor with the credentials we described above. Adjusting your dog is not something you should try at home on your own. It can actually make your dog's condition worse, Horne says.

Here's what happens when your chiropractor adjusts your dog's joints that aren't moving correctly:

"It's not moving through its full range of motion, and you're using that adjustment to basically open up that whole joint so it can use its full range of motion," Horne says.

When the joint is open, it allows the body to communicate better with the brain and nervous system, hopefully reducing the dog's pain while allowing the joint to move how it's supposed to. If you're more of a visual person, here's what it can look like:

Can Chiropractic Care for Dogs Help With Conditions Like IVDD and Hip Dysplasia?

Hopefully! Those are among the primary reasons and afflictions Horne will see canine patients. Other top reasons pet parents will seek her services include:

If chiropractors aren't able to regift full range of motion back to the joint, there's still a good chance they can reduce a pet's pain. If the treatments don't work, you can talk to your vet about other pain-relief options, whether that's medication or even surgery.

"Pretty much anything, for the most part, can benefit from chiropractics as long as there is not an injury or instability in the joint," Horne says. 

Now, some joints might prove unstable and no one should push, pull, yank, or grab on those. Those inoperable joints, however, are probably putting more pressure on other parts of the body to compensate for the lack of movement. A chiropractor can examine and work on those overburdened joints to make sure they're working properly. 

If the operational joints and muscles are able to gain strength, your dog can still enjoy a high quality of life.

What to Do Instead of Visiting a Chiropractor for Dogs

Like we said before, don't try making adjustments alone at home. That YouTube video above is simply for reference, not a how-to guide. But you can talk to your vet and see if they have other treatment options—which you can do at home. That might include massaging your dog, for example, Horne says. Your vet will have ideas and can provide you with instructions on whatever pain-relief options might be best for you. They know your pet's health better than anyone.