Anyone who has ever owned and loved a pet understands the distress that is felt when that animal is in pain.
Anyone who has ever owned and loved a pet understands the distress that is felt when that animal is in pain. Many pet owners will go to great lengths and explore all options to have that animal feeling better again.
|Drs. Annette Langlois (left) and Kim Adie (right) combined their passion for chiropractic and love for animals into a fulfilling career in veterinary chiropractic.
Photo: Mari-Len De Guzman
One of these options is animal chiropractic, or veterinary chiropractic, a treatment in which spinal manipulation and adjustments are made to correct subluxations and improve neurological functions in animals.
The Veterinary Chiropractic Learning Centre (VCLC), based in Brantford, Ont., is a place designed to educate licensed chiropractors and veterinarians on how best to perform this type of treatment on animals.
The first and only certified institution of its kind in Canada, the VCLC prides itself on delivering a quality education program in order to produce professional, safe and qualified graduates, according to its proponents.
The VCLC was established in 2001 by Dr. Pedro Rivera, a licensed veterinarian and animal chiropractor who is also the founder and lead instructor at the Healing Oasis Wellness Center in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, which he started in 1998.
Prior to 2001, if chiropractors wanted to become accredited in the field of animal chiropractic they would have had to attend one of the three programs offered in the United States (Healing Oasis Wellness Center, Parker Chiropractic College or Options for Animals Animal Chiropractic Program), or one of the two European programs (Backbone Academy for Veterinary Chiropractic and Healing Arts or Academie Internacional De Quiropractica Animal).
Dr. Annette Langlois, a licensed chiropractor, joined Rivera in 2005 and the two directed Canada’s VCLC program together until 2010, when chiropractor Dr. Kim Adie became business partners with Langlois and signed on as co-director.
The two women now run and instruct classes at VCLC, while Rivera focuses primarily on his Wisconsin school. His guidance and the education model he developed at Healing Oasis provided a stable guideline for the VCLC program and he remains actively involved with the Canadian school.
Healing Oasis offers three programs: veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (it’s illegal in the state of Wisconsin to use the term “veterinary chiropractic”), veterinary massage and rehabilitation therapy, and an advanced neurology seminar series, in addition to continuing education seminars and courses.
The veterinary spinal manipulative therapy program, which is the basis of the VCLC basic program, is only open to licensed chiropractors and veterinarians, and includes 226 hours of education.
Rivera’s program only lets in about 15 students per class. Those who don’t make the cut are placed on a waiting list.
“Call me a control freak, I don’t care, but if they go out with our seal of approval, as attested by the faculty of our school, I want quality, I don’t want quantity,” he says of the size restriction placed on his classrooms. “If you have six, seven, 10 students per lab group what do you learn there? You don’t learn anything. If you have two to three students per lab group, at max, now you can kick some royal gluteal.”
To date, there are already seven students registered and waiting for January 2015 classes to begin.
Not all who register and attend class will pass the demands of the program, however. Rivera says about 10 to 20 per cent of attendees will not receive their graduation certificate.
Many of Rivera’s educational standards carry over to VCLC, which includes a minimum 220 hours of supervised instruction and a required 76 per cent average grade in order to graduate.
VCLC, like its American counterpart, is only open to licensed veterinarians and chiropractors and allows about 15 to 18 students into the program, which according to Langlois is usually a 50/50 split between the two professions.
To date, Langlois estimates about 65 chiropractors have graduated from the Canadian program.
There are six instructors on staff, aside from Langlois and Adie, with backgrounds split between veterinary and chiropractic, as well as an array of qualified guest speakers. Adie describes the program as being very “well-rounded.”
The basic program includes courses on biomechanics, rehabilitation therapies, neurology, anatomy and chiropractic pathology.
Once a student has completed all of the required coursework, animal chiropractic can generally be performed on any animal with a spine, including but not limited to horses, dogs, cats, cows, gerbils, hamsters, birds, exotic animals, chickens, rabbits and rats.
Both Adie and Langlois attest that in their practices they mainly treat horses, dogs and cats.
An animal in need of chiropractic care shows this in a variety of ways, but generally owners notice a lack of performance or modified behaviours in their animals.
“The animals get the same sort of ailments that humans get; they get arthritis, disc herniation, they suffer sprains and strains – all the same musculoskeletal issues humans get,” explains Adie.
The afflicted animal might not be as active or agile in their movements as they were before. For instance, they might stop going up the stairs or jumping on beds, they might change their eating habits or their digestion will be off.
Randy Read, who owns two Belgian shepherds that work with the Ontario Provincial Police as search and rescue or cadaver work dogs, finds chiropractic helpful for his four-legged friends.
“In the two working dogs, problems can develop and you don’t necessarily see them,” he says. “It’s important to give them a tune-up on a regular basis.”
At this point a chiropractic assessment and, if necessary, an adjustment will be done. However, the chiropractor doing the treatment must approach the animals in a certain way.
“As the practitioner, you have to be patient and you have to bring a calmness because animals can read your fear; if you’re afraid of them, they know it – and they are not going to cooperate. But if you bring a calmness to the situation, it works out so well,” Langlois says.
She explains that once an animal realizes that the treatment is painless they tend to relax, and the effects are nothing less than impressive.
Adie adds, “In my experience, animals respond a lot faster and they don’t require the treatment frequency that humans do. It always amazes me, but it’s something that you have to see for yourself.”
Langlois’ theory is that unlike human patients, animals don’t have a preconceived notion as to what the treatment should do for them; so they don’t let their heads get in the way of the body’s natural healing process.
|Dr. Kim Adie gave up her human practice to focus solely on animal chiropractic care.
Photo:Christina Handley Photography
Read also owns a 15-year-old Belgian who is now retired from the working world and has taken up post as the family pet. “With the old girl you can tell that when she’s been with Kim [Adie] she’s feeling better. We try to keep her as comfortable and mobile as possible in her later years.”
In terms of the treatment process, animal chiropractic includes many of the same aspects as in human practice but differs because the chiropractor is instead dealing with a quadruped, with different gravitational pulls to take into account, as well as different joints and spinal structures.
“With human adjusting you manipulate the whole body in order to get an adjustment; with an animal you’re very specific to one segment when you’re adjusting, so angles are very important,” Adie explains.
“Most of what we do is manual, but it doesn’t require a lot of force. People would think that it might because a horse is such a big animal, but what you’re trying to remember is that what you’re trying to have an effect on is a spinal joint which isn’t that big in the whole scheme of things with the animal. So what you’re trying to have the effect on doesn’t require as much force as you might think,” Langlois adds.
“Learning the anatomy and the muscles and the nerve innovation is so important because it’s not all the same as people – it’s close, but it’s not the same.”
Adie attests that working with animals has made her tap into a different area of her expertise. “Treating animals is very different, I felt like I was using another skill set completely,” she says.
“Animals can’t tell you verbally what is hurting them or what’s wrong with them, so you really have to use different skills to try to tune into them. It was really challenging and interesting for me.”
But this challenge has paid off for Adie, who in 2011 gave up her human practice – after practicing for 13 years – in order to focus specifically on animals.
“Working with animals, something I’ve noticed is that they take nothing from you, they don’t drain your energy at all and they’re really a pleasure to work with,” she says. “I feel now that I’m really doing something I love to do. When you get the feeling that it doesn’t feel like work – that’s got to be a good thing.”
And this good thing is gaining ground. “It’s taking its time and it’s up and coming,” says Rivera, of the veterinary chiropractic profession. But while it may have taken its time gaining ground, it’s not wasting any in making headway.
The Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ont., has officially recognized animal chiropractic and is allowing their fourth-year students to take the basic program as an elective to count towards their graduation certificate.
Fourth-year CMCC students are also signing up to be enrolled in the program.
For animals in the performance world, veterinary chiropractic is nothing new, but there has been an increase in instances of veterinarians referring patients to animal chiropractors in their area, as well as more and more veterinarians wanting to add animal chiropractors to their practices.
“I think it’s going to be driven by clients who are requesting safe and healthy ways of treatment for their pets and going conservative,” Adie says. “They don’t want to go the drug route or the surgery route unless they absolutely have to.”
Such was the case for Diane McCollough and her bullmastiff, Gemini, who suffered an injury to her back left leg.
“Without chiropractic and rehab she would have had to have surgery, which means they cut the bone right off and they put a screw down in it to stabilize the knee. Now the bigger the dog the higher the percentage that they blow the other side, just because they have to do all the weight bearing on the other side,” she explains. “And with rehab they don’t, they actually use the leg and try to build up the muscle around that area to support it. So Gemini never had to go through all of that horrible surgery, and never mind she probably would have had to have it twice.”
“Personally I would feel that it would be incompetent and negligent if a veterinarian does not provide or give direction to the owner of where to go (for their pet) to be treated when it comes to chiropractic, or spinal manipulation or acupuncture or rehab,” says Rivera.
A rising breed
The College of Animal Chiropractors (COAC) was recently established to help build the profession’s reputation, raise awareness and provide member resources.
Rivera, Adie and Langlois share a palpable passion for their work and an intense love for animals; however, the three practitioners also share a common concern.
The trio stresses the need for the public to become aware and involved about the decision to see an animal chiropractor. They warn against those practicing who have gone to weekend courses or those who have attended their program, or others like theirs, but have not passed.
“There are a number of courses out there that are being offered for veterinarians, chiropractors and lay people and calling it animal chiropractic and they might be just weekend courses and that sort of thing,” Langlois said. “That’s out there and we are trying to set ourselves apart from that sort of weekend-warrior type of education, and let people know that there are certain standards that we are trying to establish in animal chiropractic.”
Rivera echoes her sentiment, stating that all too often clients blindly accept that these people are suitable to perform this type of treatment, and stresses the importance of asking to see proper certification.
“You’d be surprised by the ignorance that is out there and the charlatans that are out there and the sad thing is that people think these are professionals,” he said.
An interested client can pull up a list of licensed graduates on any of the accredited programs’ websites, or on the COAC site. If the person claiming to be an animal chiropractor is not on that list, do not trust them to perform chiropractic care on an animal.
With increased awareness and recognition, the veterinary chiropractic profession has a bright future ahead, and for chiropractors planning to make a future in the profession, it can be incredibly rewarding.
“When you see what you can do for an animal and you see how many animals are euthanized before their time, when you know that there’s something you can do to help change the quality of life for an animal,” says Adie. “That’s huge.”
To learn more about veterinary chiropractic or the VCLC go to veterinarychiropractic.ca or collegeofanimalchiropractors.org.
“For us, at VCLC, we want to keep evolving and keep bettering our program and eventually offer more continuing education opportunities and put animal chiropractic on the map,” says Langlois.
Jessica Beaulieu is a freelance writer based in Toronto. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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