Harry Goes to the Chiropractor

Animal chiropractic is a relatively new profession, and it has great potential for dealing with many animal health problems.

Chiropractic is a drugless, holistic method of health care that can be applied to any animal with a spinal column. Chiropractic theory is based on the nervous system that is housed in the spinal column and how it relates to the proper functioning of the entire body. The spinal cord carries all the nerves that go to every organ in the body. These nerves exit the spinal column through areas between vertebrae, which are the individual spinal bones. Chiropractors believe that adequate nerve supply is vital to the proper functioning of the entire body. When the vertebral bones are misaligned even very slightly, they affect the nerves and the flow of nerve impulses. Chiropractors call these small misalignments “subluxations”. A chiropractic adjustment is aimed at correcting the subluxation and restoring the proper functioning of the nervous system. Animals also have individual vertebral bones that subluxate and cause nerve pressure. A subluxation is caused by trauma such as slips, falls and blows. The birthing process can lead to subluxations. As animals age, stresses naturally accumulate in their spine. Some animals that are used to carry loads, such as riding horses, will subluxate as a result of these forces on their backs.

Dr. Marc L. Sommer
Dr. Sommer is certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

Harry’s Caretaker’s Perspective

Harry the Hare adopted us at the end of September, 1996. Harry is a handsome full-size brown and white spotted male lop who had been living in an enclosed outside area of a local college where he had been “dropped off” in the middle of April, 1996. The woman who dropped him off (never to return) mentioned that Harry was about 3 years old. At the time of his adoption, Harry was a little thin. He also had fleas (treated with flea powder) and his ears were full of wax. Our rabbit-savvy vet, Dr. Pam Gorbics of the Oakland Animal Hospital (in New Jersey), treated him for these conditions. She also did bloodwork and fecal tests. Harry’s balance was a bit off at this time, but we attributed this to the clogged up ears as he seemed basically healthy. Dr. Gorbics neutered Harry in the middle of October, 1996. Everything went well with this procedure. However, Harry always seemed to be “off-balance”. His tail seemed to be off to one side, and one shoulder was higher then the other when he was laying down. Harry also seemed to run down stairs sideways.

I have gone to a chiropractor for the stiff neck and lower back pain that seemed to go along with spending long hours in front of a computer. I had gotten relief from this treatment, and so I decided to see if this might work for Harry. I was lucky in my search because I was able to find a local chiropractor who had been certified in veterinary chiropractic manipulation. I contacted Dr. Marc Sommer of Little Critters Chiropractic Service in Wayne, N. J. I was told that Dr. Sommer accepts only patients who are referred to him by their veterinarians. I asked Dr. Gorbics about referring Harry. We are fortunate in that Dr. Gorbics has always been very open to discussing alternative treatment for our bunnies and she already knew Dr. Sommer, so she agreed. I brought Harry to Dr. Sommer at the end of November, 1996.

The initial visit consisted of an examination and an adjustment. During this visit, Dr. Sommer also instructed me in home animal massage. After the first adjustment I noticed that Harry seemed to sleep more. Right away I noticed that he was no longer a “crooked” bunny. Harry’s mobility has increased, and he even started to “dance”, which is something he hadn’t done before. I was impressed with how gentle and kind Dr. Sommer is with our Harry. Going to Dr. Sommer does not seem to stress Harry too much (he doesn’t like riding in the car). It is also very interesting to see what other animals are being treated. One afternoon when we arrived Dr. Sommer was out in the parking lot adjusting a horse!

I am sure that this treatment has improved the quality of Harry’s life.

The Doctor’s Perspective

Chiropractic evaluation of Harry included palpation, gait analysis, neurologic/orthopedic overview and biomechanical study. This evaluation indicated that the left tuber sacral rotated dorso-caudally, and C1 was misaligned to the right. Specifically, Harry is being treated utilizing a technique developed by two chiropractors earlier this century.

The first technique developed by Dr. Logan requires that pressure be applied on 2 points on either side of his tail that realigns Harry’s lower back. The second technique developed by Dr. Gonstead requires that specific digital pressure be applied to any vertebrae (backbone) out of their normal position in such a way that each bone is gently and specifically adjusted back into normal place thus taking pressure off of the spinal nerve.

This office has seen many diverse problems responding to chiropractic care: lameness, neck and back pain, older animals with stiffness and pain, bed wetting in dogs and many other diseases. One of the most exciting things that we see happen in almost all of the animals we treat is an improvement in the animal’s attitude. Owners tell us all the time about how good the animal feels after an adjustment.

Chiropractic care takes time, since we are allowing the body to heal itself after the proper nerve functioning has been restored. Animals recover very rapidly as a rule, but older animals and more serious problems take more time. Some problems are so serious that chiropractic care will not completely solve the problem. Sometimes referrals for laboratory analysis or radiographs may be necessary. This is the case when problems such as fractures may be present. The speed of recovery depends on these factors:

The length of time that the problem has been present. The more time that has elapsed since the onset means that the recovery may take longer. It takes time to get sick and it takes time to get well.

Age and physical condition. Older animals are slower to heal. It is not possible to return a 14-year old dog to puppyhood, but the quality of his life may greatly increase with chiropractic care.

Damage. How much damage has been done? Sometimes there is simply no repair for severely damaged tissue. For example, if the spinal cord is damaged by a ruptured disc, there may be slow and minimal healing with any treatment. Cooperation. The speed of recovery often depends on how well the owner will cooperate with the animal chiropractor who is treating his pet. If the animal is removed from care too soon, the best possible results may not be achieved. Animals are first given a examination and a history taken to establish the state of their health. The animals then undergo a chiropractic analysis to determine the health of their spine and the spinal segments that require adjustment.

The doctor will establish a schedule of adjustments that the animal needs. Most animals are seen on a weekly basis if they are not very acute. Some may require more frequent visits at first, but most need to be seen every week for the first 4 – 6 weeks. Generally, by that time the visits may be extended to greater intervals until the spine is maintaining the corrections. Maintenance visits will be recommended to keep the animal’s spine in adjustment.

by Kathy Nolan

House Rabbit Journal Spring 1999: Volume III, Number 12