Chiropractors offer a unique brand of medicine to millions of people suffering primarily musculoskeletal disorders. For the past twenty years, chiropractors across the US have actively sought to make their knowledge available to pets, too. 

Chiropractors have been practicing their trade on animals—unofficially—since their profession’s inception. It seems that the benefits of this branch of medicine are not limited to humans.

In fact, a sizable number of veterinarians are practicing chiropractics after taking courses to gain certification. An association of vets and chiropractors working together launched the AVCA (American Veterinary Chiropractic Association) in 1979 to further the advancement of chiropractics in animals. Some docs even hold both DVM and DC degrees.

Horses, in particular, have received much of the attention of the chiropractic community due to their athletic requirements and frequent musculoskeletal ills.

But dogs and cats? Not so much. Until recently, arthritis and other orthopedic conditions were considered either part of the inevitable process of aging or the realm of veterinary surgeons when severe conditions like hip dysplasia and other bone and joint abnormalities were identified.

Now we know better, don’t we? We use nutraceuticals, drugs, acupuncture, herbs, rehabilitation medicine, massage and other therapeutic modalities to treat our pets. Why not chiropractics? I'm all for it.

Yet predictably, and not without cause, we veterinarians have been leery about allowing chiropractors to join in our reindeer games. We want to be sure they have sufficient training in animal medicine before we’ll consent to have their human-centric training applied to pets without the supervision of a veterinarian.

Sure, there’s some degree of economic protectionism at play here, since chiropractic services are likely to cut into more standard veterinary fare. But I think we can all agree that even chiropractors can generate untoward effects when improperly practiced. Why else would their licenses be as strictly monitored as physicians’?

For safety’s sake, clearly we need to ensure that chiropractors be well versed in animal medicine before they take pets into their care. To that end, chiropractors have been allowed to practice their medicine on pets in most states—as long as they’re under the “direct supervision” of a veterinarian. That means a vet has to be on the premises for the chiropractor to do his or her job.

But chiropractors haven’t been content with such restrictions. They argue that the same safety issues are at play in human medicine and that vets are fighting them over economics alone—not over safety. They posit that more animals could be helped if they were granted greater freedom to practice on animals.

And that may be true—but at what expense? Do we know the full extent of the damage that can be done to pets with intervertebral disc disease when chiropracticaly adjusted? Pets are not smaller humans, after all. These are different species with their own class of anatomic, physiologic and pathologic issues—add in breed differences and the safety issue gets even murkier.

In Minnesota, a bill is currently being considered to allow chiropractors to gain certification in veterinary chiropractics after taking a 210-hour course.

“Minuscule!” most vets argue. And I’d have to agree. That’s a six-week course. Can that possibly be enough?