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One of the more commonly employed natural therapies for human health involves chiropractic manipulation. While not as commonly used in pets (probably due to the lack of availability of properly trained veterinary chiropractors,) it is a viable therapy, especially for pets with musculoskeletal problems.
Chiropractic medicine uses manipulation of the vertebrae in the spine to improve health. As is true with other natural therapies, chiropractic works at the root cause of disease, helping to restore health, rather than simply treating symptoms and making the patient feel better.
Chiropractic care focuses on the interactions between the nervous system (including the spine, spinal cord, and nerves leading from the spinal cord to the rest of the body.) According to chiropractors, disease occurs as a result of misalignment (called “subluxations”) of the vertebrae. When vertebral subluxations occurs, the nervous system, which controls all vital bodily functions, fails to function properly, resulting in disease. By various spinal manipulations, chiropractic treatment reduces subluxations and restores normal nerve function, returning the patient to health.
There are many theories that exist to explain how chiropractic care works. As with acupuncture, it is likely that several explanations contribute to the overall success of chiropractic treatments.
The proposed theories to explain the success of chiropractic therapy include facilitation, nervous system dysfunction, nerve compression, compressive myelopathy, fixation, artery insufficiency, neurodystrophy, and axoplasmic aberration.
These theories propose that spinal misalignment (subluxations) compress the spinal cord; compress spinal nerves; cause repetitive nerve firing; cause abnormal nervous system transmission; prevent normal range of vertebrae in the backbone; cause decreased blood flow to the nervous system; disrupt normal inter-and intra-cellular movement of proteins, glycoproteins, or neurotransmitters; and cause reduced immune system function.
At the initial visit, the veterinary chiropractor will perform a thorough physical examination and necessary laboratory tests. These can include blood and urine tests, but usually will include spinal radiographs (X-rays) to try to determine any areas of misalignment of the vertebrae.
Once the affected areas of the spine have been determined, the chiropractor will attempt to adjust the spine and realign any subluxations that may be causing your pet's problem. As with people, chiropractic manipulation is usually not painful and it is often enjoyed by the animals.
It is important to make sure that the doctor performing the chiropractic treatments is a licensed veterinarian, preferably with advanced training in veterinary chiropractic, or a human chiropractor working under the guidance of a veterinarian. Many laypeople may advertise “adjustments” or “massage” or “physical therapy,” but these people are not trained veterinary chiropractors nor are their treatments substitutes for proper chiropractic care.
While chiropractic therapy is helpful in pets, it is rarely performed as the sole “natural” therapy. This is due to several reasons. First, because integrative medicine focuses on treating the pet, rather than treating the disease, a combination of therapies typically works best and gives the best results.
Second, because pets requiring chiroporactic care suffer from various, often severe, problems, simply correcting an adjustment won't restore full health to the patient. All areas of the patient's life must be addressed and treated appropriately; chiropractic care is one part of the treatment regimen.
In addition to chiropractic manipulation, any other complementary therapy can also be employed to help the pet.
Most holistic doctors use a combination of therapies to offer the best possibility for a successful treatment for their patients. Most chiropractors believe that for the adjustment to “take” and last as long as possible, other therapies need to be given in between regular chiropractic adjustments. These therapies can include nutritional supplements, proper diet, proper exercise, physical therapy, proper rest, herbs, and homeopathics.
In my practice, regular chiropractic adjustments are done as needed to keep the spine properly aligned; other supplements are used as needed to keep the dog healthy and its spine properly aligned to maintain proper functioning of the immune system.
Consider the case of Barney, a 10-year-old Labrador retriever I recently treated for arthritis. In order to avoid using potent drugs such as NSAIDs, his owner wanted a more natural and gentle approach that would allow Barney to walk comfortably with minimal pain.
Here's what I did for him:
I put Barney on several joint supplements, including hyaluronic acid (Cholodin Flex by MVP Labs,) a homeopathic “NSAID alternative” (Zeel by Heel,) and herbal anti-inflammatory remedy (Traumanex by Evergreen Herbs.) I also scheduled a weekly acupuncture appointment with Barney (using a low intensity laser,) and referred him to a chiropractor to have spinal adjustments done as needed (usually monthly.) With this treatment regimen, relying totally on several natural therapies, Barney was able to walk comfortably without the use of traditional medications.
In my book, 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog, I list “grooming” as one of the steps necessary to have a healthy pet. It's an overlooked but vitally important part of pet care for several reasons. First, any time spent with your pet increases the bond the two of you share, which is important for both you and your pets mental, physical, and emotional health. Second, regular grooming can prevent problems such as matting of the hair and overgrown nails. Third, regular grooming can actually uncover problems such as skin infections, skin tumors, ear infections, and dental disease. In this article, I'll share with you some of the things you can do at home to properly groom your canine companion.
Regularly bathing your dog will remove dead hair and skin cells, improve the natural luster of your pet’s hair, and reduce its allergies as well as your own! Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that pets cannot be bathed frequently. While it is true that many chemical-based shampoos can be harsh on your pet’s skin and hair, using an organic shampoo such as Dr. Shawn’s Organic All-in-One shampoo, which is designed for frequent and even daily use, is safe and effective. I recommend pets without skin disease be bathed at least weekly (or more frequently if needed) and pets with skin diseases such as allergies or skin infections be bathed every 24 to 48 hours with this organic shampoo. Regular bathing will decrease problems with your pet’s skin.
It's amazing how many dogs don't like having their nails trimmed, despite the fact that having properly trimmed nails is extremely important in helping the dog walk normally. I recommend that all puppies have their feet handled frequently and nails trimmed as needed in order to get them comfortable with this procedure. If you have an older dog who does not like having his nails trimmed, your veterinarian can show you how to properly perform the procedure with minimal stress to your pet. Overgrown nails cause pain and lameness for dogs. This can easily be prevented with regular trimming of the nails. And because dewclaws are unnecessary and can easily overgrow, I recommend having them removed during the spaying or neutering procedure when your pet is a puppy.
Next to skin disease, ear infections are frequently seen in dogs. The most common cause is undiagnosed and improperly treated environmental allergies. Regular ear cleaning with organic ear drops (such as Dr. Shawn’s Organic Ear Wash) several times per week and even daily if needed will greatly reduce ear infections in your dog. Simply putting a few drops of the organic ear wash in your dog's ear and gently massaging the ear is all that is needed in most cases.
Brushing Your Pet
Regular brushing removes dead hair and prevents matting of the hair. Brushing also can restore luster to a dry coat. Finally, brushing can uncover tumors, warts, and skin lesions that may not be apparent simply by looking at your pet.
Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth
Periodontal disease is the leading infectious disease in dogs of all ages. Most dogs do not mind having their teeth brushed, especially if you start this procedure when they are puppies. Using a soft gentle toothbrush and a dental product approved for dogs will decrease plaque and harder, reducing the number of times your pet requires a professional dental scaling at the doctor's office. In general, I recommend brushing your pet's teeth every day if possible or at least several times per week. Having your pet's teeth cleaned professionally at the doctor's office will remove infected tartar that brushing can't remove, allow a thorough inspection of your pet's mouth to check for oral cancer, and will allow identification of any specific problems with your pet's teeth and gums that may require additional treatment. “Anesthesia-free” dental care is not the same as a professional dental treatment than a doctor's office under anesthesia, and should never replace a proper dental cleaning done by a trained veterinarian.
While it's easy to overlook your pet’s grooming needs, most pets enjoy having these procedures done. Additionally, regular grooming not only increases the bond between you and your dog but also allows you to thoroughly examine your pet and uncover any hidden medical problems. On more than one occasion I've had an owner find a problem during routine grooming at once properly treated, literally saved the pet's life. Your veterinarian can help you learn to properly and gently perform any of these procedures on your pet.
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