Chiropractic care: helping animals feel better naturally

Dr. Josee Gerard is a certified animal chiropractor. She helps all kinds of animals from dogs and cats to llamas and goats at her Kiro4Pets practice.

Dr. Josee Gerard is a certified animal chiropractor. She helps all kinds of animals from dogs and cats to llamas and goats at her Kiro4Pets practice.

By Sherry Warner

Animal chiropractic is very similar to human chiropractic minus the emotional baggage people carry around with them. This is one advantage animals have over us humans, says Dr. Josee Gerard, who has been a human chiropractor for 15 years and for the last five has concentrated on animals full-time.

“I think the big difference between humans and animals is animals don’t seem to have the psychological factor that we humans do that gets in the way of our own healing,” says Dr. Gerard. “They just go with it — they get better or they don’t.”

Dr. Colleen Gardiner, also a veteran human chiropractor who for the last eight years has been treating horses, agrees. “The biggest bonus of treating an animal over a person is there is no psychological factor involved,” she says. Animals usually respond well to treatment — typically most conditions only require a few sessions — and if they don’t get better you know it may not be a chiropractic problem, she explains.

Chiropractic medicine is based on the paradigm that the body has the innate power to heal itself and that innate power is controlled by the nervous system, says Dr. Gardiner. “There is a common misconception about chiropractic (medicine): people think we just treat bones that are out of place when in fact we are actually treating the nervous system.”

Dr. Colleen Gardiner focuses on horses at her animal chiropractic practice, Horse Creek Animal Chiropractic near Cochrane, AB. She is an avid rider and competes in Reining both locally and internationally.

Dr. Colleen Gardiner focuses on horses at her animal chiropractic practice, Horse Creek Animal Chiropractic near Cochrane, AB. She is an avid rider and competes in Reining both locally and internationally.

Dr. Gerard explains it as a two-fold venture: “The first part is structural and the second part is neurological,” she says. “When you free up the joints and get some mobility, it takes pressure off of the nerves located near those joints so the brain has the ability to send messages down to those muscles, organ, joints etc. so they function properly.

For small animals like dogs and cats, an animal chiropractor can help with a whole range of health issues such as arthritis, paralysis, incontinence, hip dysplasia, luxating patala (floating knee caps), degenerative mylopathy, making sure a new puppy or kitten is structurally sound or simply improving the quality of life for a geriatric or terminal patient. “A lot of people will come see me as a last resort upon referral of their vet,” says Dr. Gerard.

With respect to horses, the same types of health issues can be addressed with chiropractic care, but problems may present themselves differently: The horse may flinch when you’re cinching them up, show lameness, be unhappy, unpleasant or show resistance when they’re being worked, have trouble picking up a specific lead or cross firing.

For those with high performance horses such as reining and cutting horses, problems may be a little harder to pick up on, says Dr. Gardiner, so she relies on feedback from the rider to help her figure out what the issues are.

The treatment process is pretty much the same for small animals and horses. The animal is assessed by the doctor and a course of treatment is scheduled. Followup visits will depend on the  severity of the issue and how the initial visit went. “The goal is to schedule them for as far as I feel they won’t hold their alignment,” says Dr. Gerard.

“A lot of horses show significant improvement even after one treatment,” says Dr. Gardiner. “The number of treatments depends on how long they’ve had a problem, how severe, how old they are but even with one treatment they’ll show some improvement. Then we build on that,” she explains.

For small animals the cost of treatment is about $115 for the initial consult and about $48 for each followup visit. Horses are a little more expensive at about $115 for the initial visit and about $100 for each followup session.

In Alberta, to call yourself and animal chiropractor you either have to be a veterinarian or a human chiropractor certified in animal chiropractic. That means that a four-year, post graduate Doctor of Chiropractic or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree has been earned before getting your certification in animal chiropractic. Unfortunately, this field is not currently regulated in Alberta so there are some who may be providing chiropractic services who are not qualified to do so.

Both doctors suggest that when looking for an animal chiropractor, do your homework and make sure the animal chiropractor is certified by asking them for their credentials. There are two bodies that certify animal chiropractors: the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association and the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. “I like to caution people not to trust just anyone or they can hurt your animal,” says Dr. Gardiner.

If you have pet insurance, check with your insurance provider to find out exactly what they cover and whether or not they will cover treatment from only a licensed veterinarian who is certified in animal chiropractic and/or a licensed chiropractor certified in animal chiropractic.

“I really think I have the best job in the world — it’s so rewarding,” says Dr. Gerard. “Animals just don’t get in the way of their own healing.”

Dr. Gardiner concurs and adds: “It’s really enjoyable to work with animals … and it’s satisfying to know that we’re helping the animal feel better naturally.”

—Dr. Josee Gerard, BA, DC, CVSMT, Certified Animal Chiropractor, serves Calgary, Airdrie and area through her clinic Kiro4Pets. For more info visit www.kiro4pets.com. Dr. Colleen Gardiner, DC, BsA, IVCA Certified, does home visits and sees patients at her practice, Horse Creek Animal Chiropractic, in Cochrane, AB. For more info visit www.horsecreekanimalchiropractic.com.