The fascinating world of animal chiropractic

By Bronwen Henley

I began my training as an animal/veterinary chiropractor in 2019 and qualified a few months before we were hit by the pandemic. I trained with the International Academy of Animal Chiropractic (IAVC) and completed the Basic Course in Bournemouth. I now practice in my home city of Bristol and the surrounding areas. I chose to study with the IAVC as I wasn’t aware of other courses and their requirements at the time; I now know that there are similar courses with Options for Animals and McTimoney College of Chiropractic in the UK.

Learning to think about how chiropractic can help animals was fascinating; the course content refreshed a lot of topics covered in university, such as neurology and physiology, whilst understanding the differences in anatomy and biomechanics between humans and animals. I particularly enjoyed the practical skills workshops and meeting chiropractors and vets from across Europe. Everyone was extremely supportive of each other and the group created a fantastic bond.

My original aim was to work with dogs as I don’t do horse riding and I hadn’t considered I would be able to work with other animals; however, treating horses was an obligatory part the course and for this I am really grateful! I love treating dogs, but they can be tricky to handle at times as they are not used to being worked with in the way horses are. Encouraging owners to handle their dogs with gentle massages and to stroke their legs, paws, ears and tails helps them get used to it and become easier to work with. I definitely became very interested in working with horses, as well as dogs, during the course and found there are great things about working with all animals. My most recent new experiences that I have loved are treating a mule and a cat! I was quite scared of treating the cat, but I took my time and approached her very gently and she actually seemed to enjoy the treatment. The wonderful part is that she has been much better since and it saved her having an MRI scan after falling out of a window and suffering with back pain.

The fact that we are experienced in treating humans is actually a massive benefit in working with animals. The skills we have in communicating with people are important because we are not only keeping our focus calmly on the animal we are working with, but we are also reassuring and supporting the owner. Additionally, the animal is not a decision maker in their care so helping the owner understand the benefits, helps them make the right choices for their pet.

On the other hand, it is not risk free. You must be a calm person and able to focus on the job at hand, always observing the animal’s behaviour and body language, and always staying alert to dangers. You are at risk of being bitten, scratched, kicked and knocked around if you aren’t very careful, especially on your first session when the animal doesn’t know you and doesn’t understand what you are doing.

Initially, working out how to balance working with humans and animals was something I wasn’t sure how to do. However, the clinic closing during the first lockdown gave me the opportunity to spend time creating an online profile for the business and start getting some experience. At the moment the path for chiropractors qualified in animal manipulation is as self-employed therapists, responsible for finding their own patients. Generally speaking, a lot of work is done on a word-of-mouth basis, but your initial challenge is getting started.

If you already have contacts in the animal world then you are definitely at an advantage. I personally don’t as I don’t ride and do not take part in dog showing, but if you have these types of contacts that is a fantastic place to start!

The real challenge I have found is marketing chiropractic to dog owners. Many have never considered chiropractic as a choice, whereas in the horse community having a therapist check over horses is a regular occurrence. Many stables and livery yards have their own people who come in, so these opportunities can be extremely beneficial.

The opportunities to connect with clubs for different dog breeds that show agility and fly ball have not been there during the pandemic, which has also hampered my progression; however now things are easing up these are good opportunities to promote canine chiropractic. In a way, the fact that it has been a challenge has made me think of new ways to promote the profession as a whole, such as writing for Edition Dog magazine and setting up a Facebook group connecting animal chiropractors from all of the courses plus linking with other people who are passionate about promoting care for animals; and there are a lot more ideas in the pipeline!

If you are thinking of training to treat animals, I can highly recommend it. It’s a young part of our profession with plenty of opportunities to develop and promote chiropractic care to become an essential complimentary component of healthcare for animals; promoting performance, wellness and health, whilst reducing the amount of unnecessary imaging, medication and invasive procedures such as surgery. You do need to be motivated and have lots of fresh ideas to promote yourself, which is time consuming and requires dedication as you will be building a patient base from scratch in an environment where the benefits of chiropractic for animals may be completely unknown.

Fitness is very important as well because treating a horse can feel like a workout, whilst treating small animals often entails working very low to the ground; it is not uncommon to end up lying on the floor!

Additionally if you like variety in your working day, animal chiropractic is great! You are often out and about, visiting new places and meeting new people. You get the opportunity to go to some beautiful places and of course to treat fantastic animals.