April 9, 2014

Spinal Adjustments For Pets, Not Just People

Photo Credit: Rebecca McCarthy

Kasey Stopp

One day, Alyssa DuVall’s dog Zeus, a 12-year-old miniature pincher, just stopped walking. He had been healthy his whole life, so this was shocking. He’d try to stand and his legs would splay out on either side. The family started to carry Zeus outside to relieve himself and inside to sip water.

The dog’s veterinarian in the Cat and Dog Clinic on Hawthorne Avenue suggested the family let Kasey Stopp, also in the practice, see Zeus. She examined him and determined that the little nine-pound dog had a tumor growing on his spine that was pressing on his spinal cord and blocking nerves.

So she did a chiropractic adjustment, DuVall says. “And it was amazing—he could stand up,” she says. “I didn’t expect it to work at all, but Zeus was able to stand up for at least an entire day.” Moreover, Stopp’s gentle way with animals “made her the first vet Zeus really trusted. She would touch him and his whole body would relax.”

The tumor kept growing. DuVall knew the case was a terminal one, but she also knows that chiropractic treatments greatly increased Zeus’s quality of life as he was failing.

A 2013 graduate of the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, Stopp learned about doing adjustments for animals more than 10 years ago. She watched her mentor, Robert Gaston, a veterinarian in her native Cincinnati, solve problems and restore animals to a healthy state with chiropractic. She knew she wanted to include chiropractic—and eventually, acupuncture—in her professional practice.

She had learned first-hand how beneficial chiropractic could be for herself. Believing getting an adjustment was “all a bunch of fooey,” she says, she nevertheless sought relief from migraine headaches in a chiropractic office after traditional medicine didn’t help her. After one visit, her migraine disappeared.

Animal chiropractic helped reduce and then eliminate problems with a bout of incontinence that was plaguing Stopp’s elderly dog in Cincinnati. She became a believer in chiropractic—for everyone.

Trina Morris decided to try chiropractic on her dog after she, like Stopp, received help at a chiropractor’s office. She had injured her neck playing roller derby and found that a few adjustments improved things markedly.

So it seemed like a great idea to take her 14-year-old dog, Sequoia, in for an adjustment with Stopp. Part border collie, part Labrador retriever and part some sort of shepherd, the dog weighs between 60–70 pounds and has had hip problems for a while. She started having trouble jumping in and out of cars, Morris says, and developed incontinence. Hormones seemed to make that problem better, but Morris wondered if more could be done.

As Stopp was adjusting the dog, “she didn’t love it,” Morris says. “I think it felt weird to her and was a little uncomfortable.” But when the dog got down from the table, she was “just peppier, moving better and looking better.”

At home, the pep continued, with the dog running all over her yard. Morris says that after the second treatment, he and Sequoia took a three-mile jog, “something she hadn’t done in three years. I think she feels really good. She’s even playing with my sister’s dog, who’s much younger.”

Determined to learn chiropractic as well as traditional medicine, Stopp did some research and decided to attend Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic in Wellsville, KS. After graduating from the University of Georgia in 2013, Stopp headed west for an intense five-week course. She learned how to do adjustments for horses and other large animals as well as dogs and cats, “and I really added to my knowledge of animal anatomy.” 

She has feline as well as canine clients. A woman came home from work one day to find her young cat limping. Just out of kitten-hood, he had been very active, leaping effortlessly from couch to floor to chair. A visit to Stopp resulted in a prescription for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine. His limp disappeared for a while, but when it returned, the owner brought the cat back to Stopp.

She told the owner she was going to try chiropractic and why, and then she put her hands on the cat’s head, feeling his skull. Her fingers moved to the neck, where she found a vertebra out of alignment. She adjusted the vertebra, moving it slightly so that it could have full range of motion again, and then she did the same thing on the cat’s shoulder, then examined all the animal’s joints.

When the owner took her cat home, he jumped up on the couch, the limp gone. “She told me if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes, she wouldn’t have believed it,” Stopp says. “Now he comes in about every two months for an adjustment.”

Though there are other veterinarians doing chiropractic on horses in the Athens area, Stopp believes she’s the only one serving smaller companion animals as well as horses. She is certified through the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association. 

Robbie Hroza, vice president for operations at Options for Animals, says there are an estimated 4,000 animal chiropractors in the world. The U.S. has three schools offering certification. “Younger vet students are kind of pushing for integrative health practices for animals, like acupuncture and massage,” Hroza says. But she doubts whether chiropractic will become part of the standard curriculum of a veterinary college.

As a member of the team at the Cat and Dog Clinic, Stopp says she assesses the comfort level of a pet owner before broaching the subject of chiropractic. Most people just “don’t believe in it,” she says. But if they are interested, she educates them about the benefits of opening neural pathways and restoring full range of motion in joints. After one or two treatments, after they see improvement in their pet’s mobility and overall health, she says they’re usually hooked. 

“I had a cat who was growling and hissing when I started working on her,” Stopp says. “I think she was uncomfortable with the close contact. By the time I got to her tail, she was purring. When I finished, she jumped off the table, curled up and went to sleep.”