chiropractic care for your senior dog

Misalignments in your dog’s spine do more than cause back pain. They can actually affect his overall health, especially if he’s older. Chiropractic adjustments can help bring him back into balance.

Aging animals are like aging people. They may walk stiffly and have trouble getting up and down stairs. You may notice gray hairs developing around the muzzle, a dull and dry coat, and hazy eyes. Senior dogs and cats can and will develop many of the same problems we do – failing eyesight and hearing, as well as arthritis, heart, liver and kidney problems.

The biological clock moves much faster for animals than it does for us. Instead of taking 18 years to reach physical maturity as we do, most dogs and cats are mature by the time they are just over one year old. The age at which your animal is considered geriatric will depend on the breed. Cats are considered geriatric when they reach eight to nine years old. Most dogs are geriatric when they reach seven to eight years. Large breed dogs will age even faster.

The life expectancy of your dog or cat is determined by four things:

1. Proper nutrition: Establish a healthy dietary program tailored to your animal’s needs. Bad nutrition can trim years from his life.

2. Healthy immunity: A balanced immune system allows him to fight off disease and parasites.

3. Movement: Early correction of degenerative aging processes improves movement in the joints and helps stave off early aging and loss of muscle and body function.

4. Genetics: You can’t change an animal’s genetic influences on the development of health problems, but you can decrease the speed at which they are expressed.

Sublaxations affect health on many levels

As your animal becomes older, adding routine chiropractic adjustments to the above list will help him avoid some of the issues of aging (see sidebar on next page). It’s important to know that even small misalignments in his joints, especially the spine, can have far-reaching effects on his health.

• A misalignment (subluxation) means that the affected vertebrae, as well as the corresponding soft tissues and other vertebrae, are not moving correctly. While some subluxations may be immediately painful, some can exist without symptoms, though they will eventually become symptomatic. As well as pain, there may be heat, swelling, muscle spasm and loss of motion in and around the area.

• Each and every spinal segment contributes in a small way to the total movement of an animal’s back. This allows your animal friend to curl up in a ball, change directions quickly when chasing a squirrel, or just enjoy a nice smooth walk around the block. When one segment is not moving correctly, the segments in front of or behind it may become more mobile in an attempt to maintain normal range of motion. This hypermobility leads to degenerative changes and eventually a loss of mobility in another segment. The loss of function in one spinal segment will affect the way your animal’s entire body moves.

• The spinal cord carries nerves that are distributed to every organ and tissue of the body. These nerves exit the spinal column between the vertebrae. A misalignment in the vertebrae adversely alters the function of the nerves, which in turn negatively affects the function of organs and tissues supplied by the nerves. This can lead to pain, disease, fatigue, muscle weakness, poor balance, immune suppression, and more.

• The nerves exiting the spinal canal from between the vertebrae transmit data from the brain and spinal column to the rest of the body, and return sensory information back from these remote areas to the central nervous system. When the vertebrae are misaligned, even slightly, they affect the nerves and the flow of information. Scientist Chung Ha Sue at Colorado University has discovered that the weight of a feather can decrease this nerve transmission by up to 50%! Fluid can also reduce the transmission of this information. The data has to travel both ways. If your animal doesn’t really know where his legs are, how can he quickly bring back the ball you’ve thrown, or negotiate around obstacles?

• The muscles supplied by the nerves exiting the vertebral canal between the subluxated vertebrae usually become tight and may even spasm. This tightness can be isolated to the small muscles that connect one vertebra to the next, or it can extend to the long muscles that run along the entire length of the back, and to the muscles in the limbs. This tightness can cause pain and weakness in the muscle and may lead to changes in the curve of your animal’s spine. If muscles are not kept mobile, they will eventually atrophy from disuse.

• The tissues that surround your animal’s brain, spinal cord and nerves connect to the spine and can also be distorted by a subluxation. This can affect the stability and health of the entire spinal column. Any changes in this system can reduce nerve impulse. Normal motion of the muscles stimulates fluid flow in an area and promotes cleansing of the local tissues.

• Blood vessels enter the spinal canal between the vertebrae. These vessels provide nutrition to the spinal column, the spinal cord, vertebrae and nearby joints. Swelling in the area will cause decreased blood flow through these vessels. The resulting loss of movement leads to changes in the surrounding tendons, ligaments, and supporting tissues. Immobilization of these tissues results in profound degenerative changes in as little as three days. Cartilage shrinks, increasing its susceptibility to damage from minor trauma. Adhesions start to form, which further decrease mobility in the area. Tightness takes ligaments to the limit of their expansion, and receptors in these ligaments send pain signals to the brain.

• Subluxations cause waste products to build up. Also, distant areas supplied by the nerves associated with the subluxations can undergo degenerative processes resulting from the altered nerve function in and around the problem area of the spine. The tissue pathology caused by the subluxation, both local and distant, may not present symptoms and may become quite serious by the time symptoms do occur.

• Proper body function relies on constant and accurate feedback from the organs. Pain caused by subluxations and myopathology can stimulate the adrenal gland to secrete more adrenalin, causing a decrease in neurological impulses and blood supply to the skin, mucous membranes, reproductive and digestive systems. The mucous membranes dry out and immunoglobulins have difficulty crossing them, leading to respiratory problems. Adrenalin also decreases secretions in the digestive tract, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms (indigestion, bloat). The immune system is suppressed and the body becomes more susceptible to all types of infection.

• Adverse changes within the cell can result in improper cell function and as all organs are made up of cells, this can eventually result in organ failure. These changes can exist a long time before symptoms occur.

What an adjustment can do

Your older companion may benefit from chiropractic care if he exhibits one or more of the following signs:

• Laziness, decrease in performance levels (the nervous system supplies the body with energy)

• Loss of wind capacity (rib subluxation will affect the animal’s ability to respire)

• Problems or difficulty executing certain movements (climbing stairs, jumping on the couch, agility obstacles)

• Behavioral changes (starting to snap, refusal to play with family members)

• Problems eating or refusing to play with toys

• Short, uneven strides, nail dragging, stumbling

• Diagnosed conditions such as degenerative arthritis

• Muscle imbalance, spasms or atrophy

• Abnormal posture when standing; standing with hips uneven; choosing to stand on uneven ground; not squaring up when urinating; holding tail to one side

• Head shaking, constant ear problems, allergies

• Injuries resulting from falls or other activities

• Chronic disease conditions, multiple repetitive infections, weak immune system

Chiropractic adjustments restore well being

This may all seem very forbidding, but fortunately for your animal, most of these changes are reduced by chiropractic adjustments. Combined with regular veterinary care, they will help your animal restore his body systems. The adjustments rectify subluxations, and re-establish correct alignment, full range of motion, and the proper functioning of the nervous system. It allows the body to restore the relationship between the nervous system, the spinal column and its associated structures. In short, chiropractic works to eliminate the cause of the problem, not just treat the symptoms, and helps your senior companion back to health.