My name is Dr. Ellen Neal, and I have more than 20 years of experience as a chiropractic physician. I became passionate about sharing the benefits of proper spinal alignment in animals after seeing the difference it made in my seven month old puppy with hip dysplasia. My husband and I have raised five guide-dog puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs. One of the five Labrador puppies I raised showed signs of serious hip dysplasia early on. After seeing remarkable results in her ability to function without medication from chiropractic treatment (see Stevie’s Story below), I decided to learn more about veterinary spinal manipulation. I studied extensively, and passed the Board Exam to complete a certification with the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA).
AVCA certification is awarded to licensed doctors of chiropractic and/or veterinary medicine who have passed a postgraduate program in animal chiropractic accredited by the Animal Chiropractic Accreditation Commission (ACAC) of the AVCA, passed both the written comprehensive and clinical competency examinations offered by the Animal Chiropractic Certification Commission (ACCC) of the AVCA and completed an internship program.
It’s a physical job being a guide dog for a blind person. Maybe not on the level of a greyhound racer or an Alaskan Iditarod sled dog, but a guide dog is an active dog. The career life of a racing dog is rarely more than 3½ years. A guide dog for the blind will work an average of 8 years before retiring. With all the training required, it’s quite expensive to raise and train a guide dog for the blind (they are often called $60,000 dogs), so every dog training to become a guide dog is closely screened for any physical disability that would shorten its life.
That’s how we got Stevie. My husband and I began raising guide dog puppies for Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc (SEGDI) in 2008. The puppy training is the first step in teaching a dog to become a seeing-eye dog (guide dog for the blind). As they mature, they are carefully scrutinized for temperament, working ability, stamina, and health. Stevie was a chocolate lab and was part of a litter of four females donated to SEGDI. They were named Stevie, Janis, Carly (are you noticing a 1970’s female vocalist trend here?) and Trisha.
Stevie was quieter and less rambunctious than our first Labrador, and she didn’t like stairs. This is a significant sign that the puppy may have a hind-end problem. Often, puppy owners describe their puppy with hip dysplasia as the best puppy they’ve ever had because they’re not so rambunctious.
At 5 months of age, she began showing signs of pain after running or playing. Stevie would lie down and whine after exercise. She developed a “roached” back – a slight hump in her lower back -which is commonly seen when dogs have injury in their low back or pelvis.
She was put on Rymadyl ( an anti-inflammatory) for pain which she needed regularly. At 7 months, I made an appointment for an orthopedic consultation. It was scheduled for 6 weeks out, and in the meantime, a fellow trainer who worked with me, asked if I had tried a chiropractor. I laughed and said, “I am a chiropractor!” I argued that realignment of the spine could not change a congenital problem like this dog’s hip dysplasia. “You can’t unboil a hard boiled egg,” I said.
She referred me to see the doc that worked on her horses and dogs. Stevie surprised me with excellent results from his treatment. I realized that this puppy who had stolen my heart, was no longer eligible as a guide dog candidate and I not only wanted to adopt her but wanted to learn how to help her live a healthy, high quality life. Life changes were in store for both of us.
In 2010 I became AVCA certified. What an adventure it was to travel every month to study the course work and treatment labs to learn veterinary chiropractic. Many of the professors I had were veterinarians who were so passionate about the tools that chiropractic therapy offered, they dedicated their practice to natural care. What a challenge it was to pass the board exam to become certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association!
Many of my first clients were local performance dogs because their owners know how much spinal problems can affect the athletic level in their dogs. The spinal alignment work helps their canine athletes stay in good form.
Stevie, now almost 8 years old, continues to do remarkably well with the spinal alignment, massage, rehabilitative exercises, and a healthy diet. She still has hip dysplasia – it isn’t something that can be reversed – but the functional limitations and painful degenerative changes in the spine that can result from this condition, have not manifested.
It’s worth a try to see if spinal manipulative therapy can help your dog.