Introduction to osteopathy in animals

Osteopathy is a manual healing therapy that isn’t just about bones. It also works on muscles, organs and tissues to remove imbalances that interfere with the body’s ability to heal itself.

Mallomar is a 13-year-old Scottish terrier mix who came to my clinic three years ago for recurring pain in her mid back. She had been treated several times the previous year by her regular veterinarian for possible intervertebral disc disease, using muscle relaxers and pain management. But every few months, Mallomar would have another episode of pain during which she could not jump up or down from the sofa and would wince if she was picked up.

When I examined Mallomar, she not only had pain in the mid back area of her spine, but also her lower neck and abdomen. She had muscle spasms in her neck and was inflamed and hot as well as painful when I touched her spine just below the ribcage.

Mallomar had been seen earlier that day by her regular vet, who at this point only gave the option of surgery. But I explained to her “mom”, Jennifer, that a modality called osteopathy could help.

What is canine osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a subtle manual healing therapy. Despite its name, it doesn’t just focus on bones. Based on the premise that the body has the ability to heal itself, it takes a holistic approach and involves freeing restrictions from the joints, organs and fl uid systems (blood, lymph, synovial fluids, cerebrospinal fluids, digestive juices, etc.). This allows the body to function at a higher level to heal itself through the immune and other systems.

A veterinary osteopath uses gentle hands-on palpation and manipulation to assess, treat and release pain and restrictions in the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tissues and organs, so that the bodily fluids vital for health can flow unimpeded. It can treat a range of conditions; its goal is to correct any misalignments and imbalances that interfere with the body’s self-healing capabilities.

Osteopathy has a different approach to healing than basic chiropractic or acupuncture, although all three are similar in many ways. Osteopathy addresses three systems: the muscles and joints, the cranial sacral system, and the organs. With osteopathy, the congestion, inflammation or scar tissue in the body is addressed mechanically and directly, allowing for longer-lasting results.

Going to the root

In osteopathy, we look for the primary cause of the problem, and not just the problem itself. For example, I wanted Mallomar out of pain and free of muscle spasms, but I needed to look a little deeper to find the root issue so she could heal for good.

As I felt her abdomen, I found that she had congestion in her liver and bile ducts; they palpated very hard and stiff. Her gallbladder was enlarged and did not easily drain when I compressed it. She was most painful in the area of her transverse colon and pancreas.

In veterinary medicine, we call the pathway between the organs and the spinal cord the somato-visceral connection. This pathway is the primary cause of up to 80% of back issues in animals and people. So simply getting the spine to move by adjusting the vertebral segments is not enough. The organs themselves have to be treated – both manually to decrease congestion, and nutritionally to address the cellular level.

I asked Jennifer what she fed Mallomar and what supplements she was giving her. Jennifer said her dog was on a commercial kibble and occasionally given fish oil. I explained to her that Mallomar was a carnivore, and although she could survive on an omnivorous diet (meat, vegetables and grains), in my experience, she would not thrive and be healthy on it.

Jennifer admitted that Mallomar was always trying to steal food from her plate and sometimes experienced vomiting or loose stools. As I worked osteopathically to release the tension in Mallomar’s body, she began to relax and her breathing changed. I was able to release the spasms in her neck and back by working on her organs. I explained to Jennifer that we would have to fast her for the next 48 hours in order to rest her GI tract so her body could have a chance to start healing. I sent them home with a homeopathic remedy for pain and an instruction sheet on how to properly fast Mallomar and restrict her exercise for a few days.

Within three days, Mallomar was back to her normal happy self, with no pain. I have continued to treat her twice yearly and she has she had no recurrence of her previous issues. In fact, she looks and acts younger than when I first saw her three years ago!