A Grizzly Adjustment

Listen to Interview with the “Bear Chiropractor!”

Grizzly Bear[originally published in KCN, September 2000]

Now I’ve heard that neck pain can be a bear —but can a bear have neck pain?  Apparently so.  Just ask Fred.  Fred, by the way, is a long-time resident of Montana’s Grizzly Discovery Center — that’s right, Fred is a grizzly bear.

Dr. Gale Ford, veterinarian and executive director of the center, told Dynamic Chiropractic (one of our popular trade publications) that Fred’s neck was most likely injured rough housing with one or more of his playmates.  Much to Fred’s frustration, Dr. Ford’s initial treatment, which consisted mainly of antibiotics, offered no relief for his aching neck.  Not giving up on her 700 pound, hairy patient, Dr. Ford did what she considered to be the next “logical” step — she called a chiropractor.


Listen to Interview with Animal Chiropractor, author and instructor, Dr. Kamen!

Let’s divert from our story for just a minute — which by the way is absolutely true (check it out for yourself at www.chiroweb.com/archives/18/15/10.html).  While I’ll admit that calling upon a chiropractor to adjust a bear might seem a bit strange, not to mention risky (for the chiropractor, that is), the idea of adjusting animals isn’t.  Animals in all Animal Groupshapes and sizes have been enjoying the same benefits of chiropractic care that we humans have and, no doubt, for just about as long.  Interestingly, however, while human chiropractic has seen great strides in its public perception in the past few decades, animal chiropractic has yet to share the same glory.  Dr. Daniel Kamen, a notable chiropractor in the animal chiropractic field, has stated that for all intents and purposes, animal chiropractic is still stuck in 1895 [the founding year of our profession].  For the most part, he’s right.  The laws governing its practice vary greatly from state to state.  Some states allow it, some don’t.  And some states make no reference to it either way.  Ironically, in the states where chiropractors are forbidden to practice it, any non-chiropractor could the way the laws are written.  Add this to the fact that adequate research is lacking to support the great results we witness and the  “disapproving eye” of some in the veterinary profession, and it becomes clear that animal chiropractic has some tough roads ahead of it.

Labrador retriver creamNevertheless, this hasn’t stopped animal-lovers from seeking out chiropractic care for their pets.  Despite its political youthfulness,  these people know that it simply works — period.  And with animals, we don’t have to halfheartedly chalk up our successes to a possible “mind over matter” or placebo effect.   Among these people that know it works are open-minded veterinarians that are practicing animal chiropractic, themselves!  As a matter of fact, some veterinarians are practicing it under a name that separates itself from the chiropractic profession, and thus the perceptions that go along with it, altogether.  They call it Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation (V.O.M.™).

Horse skeleton I Antique Scientific IllustrationsBut whatever you decide to call it, it is still operating off of the same fundamental principles we see in human chiropractic.    As in human chiropractic, the spine is composed of many movable bones called vertebrae.  Between each vertebrae, spinal nerves exit.  Theses nerves branch out, eventually reaching every cell in the body.  If one of these bones loses its normal motion or position, not only will the health of the joint and surrounding muscles become an issue, but the delicate nerve tissue and the systems it helps support can be adversely affected as well.  You see, this is what your pets have been trying to tell you all along.

So what are some things you can be watchful of that might indicate the need for an animal chiropractic treatment?  One animal chiropractic web page I found lists the following signs and symptoms as responding well to adjustments:  back pain, sciatica, leg pain, lameness, neck pain [from a sudden collar or choke chain pull], head tilt and other changes in posture, sensitivity to touch, injuries from falls, jumps or accidents, pain associated with hip dysplasia, and changes in activity levels.

KittenOkay, so you’ve finally succumbed to Fluffy’s insistent “Meows” that she needs to see a chiropractor, “pronto”   — what’s your next move?  Well, your first step is to find a doctor that has some experience under his belt.  Seeking out the chiropractor down the street is not necessarily the best option.  The techniques that we use on humans are not always directly applicable to our animal friends.   A chiropractor needs to appreciate and understand the differences in quadruped anatomy, physiology, and pathology before undertaking patients that bite and slobber.  A good place to start your search is with the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.  They can supply you with the name of a certified chiropractor, or veterinarian, in your vicinity who has been through their training courses.  The only problem that you might run into, however, is that there aren’t too many certified doctors out there.   [Note:  UPDATE 2009.   The list has grown by leaps and bounds since this article first ran in 2000 — making your search a bit easier]. If you are lucky enough to have a good pool to pull from though, you’re faced with the option of either choosing  a veterinarian or a chiropractor.  While technically you could  go to either (provided that the laws allow it), especially if they’ve been through the training, I feel that a “team approach”works best in this situation.

The veterinarian is a key “team  member” in that he is the only professional that has the knowledge base and clinical skills to DC-DVM teamrender a differential diagnosis for your pet — a chiropractor cannot do this.  Having this aspect in the clinical management of your pet is essential, because not only will it let us know when adjusting would be okay, but more importantly, it will tell us when it would not be okay.  The chiropractor, on the other hand, can bring to the “team” the skill of manipulation (adjusting) that he has undergone thousand of hours acquiring in chiropractic college and then later perfecting in clinical practice.  Unfortunately, this is something that would be very difficult and frustrating to become proficient in through a 150-hour accreditation course.  It is essential that the professional adjusting your pet be highly skilled in the art —this is something the chiropractor, with a knowledge of animal anatomy, can provide.  Using this approach, you and your pet really get the best of both worlds:  having the expertise of two trained professionals complementing each other for the benefit of your pet.

The accreditation courses that are offered to veterinarians and chiropractors, while very through, cannot duplicate what each professional has learned in his schooling.  What ends of happening is each gets a cursory understanding of the other’s field — enough, in my opinion,  to potentially be dangerous if flying solo, but  a valuable asset in lending to an appreciation of the need for each other’s profession in a team environment.    Of course the best scenario would be to find a doctor that holds both degrees.  And yes, believe it or not, there are a few D.C., D.V.M.’s out there.

So what animals usually get adjusted?  Dogs, cats, and horses are the big three, and for the most part they really seem to “enjoy” their adjustments.  My dog Rusty responded once with a rapid wagging of the tail after his first adjustment; my cat thanked me with several licks on my hand after I treated her neck; and my chiropractic college adjusting instructor told me once in a conversation that he’d never seen a horse smile until he adjusted its atlas.

Animal chiropractic can also mean big bucks for animal owners.  Owners that show their pets (dogsRace Horse and horses, for example) find that their well-adjusted pets hold themselves up better with aesthetically-pleasing posture.  And savvy race horse owners know that a well-adjusted horse can run faster — Dr. Kamen claims one to three lengths (and the beauty of it is that this advantage is undetectable in the animal’s blood stream).  By the way, for entertainment value, you can visit Dr. Kamen’s web site (www. animalchiropractic.com) and watch video clips of him adjusting horses.

Aside from our popular domesticated animals, adjusting other animals, while done, is less common.  I’ve read about birds, lizards, llamas, lions, giraffes, and various farm animals being adjusted.  One web site (www.animalchiropracticzone.com) [2009 UPDATE: unfortunately this site no longer exists] has a picture of a vet adjusting a cow.  She claims that adjusting a cow can sometimes “make the difference between having a productive milk cow in the barn or having to ship her.”


Kyle Goltz, D.C. consults with his sedated patient, Fred.

Which brings us back to our story about Fred.  With West Yellowstone chiropractor, Dr. Kyle Goltz on the scene [check out his website by clicking here], Dr. Ford delivered a sedative blowgun dart to Fred’s side.  Fifteen minutes later the bear was in a deep slumber.  Dr. Goltz told Dynamic Chiropractic’s reporter that he was naturally hesitant at first and a bit nervous.  He was assured however by Dr. Ford that Fred was definitely “under” —  which I’m sure were probably words of comfort for him as he recalled hearing the bear sigh every so often.


Dr. Goltz prepares Fred the Bear for a neck x-ray.

Drs. Ford and Goltz proceeded to X-ray Fred’s spine.  Through their collaboration, it was determined that C4 was the culprit vertebra and an adjustive maneuver was decided upon by Dr. Goltz.    According to the report, “Dr. Goltz knew he needed to do the procedure correctly the first time.”  [It’s my guess that bears are patients that do not appreciate multiple chiropractic visits].  With Fred snoring away, Dr. Goltz proceeded to render probably the most memorable adjustment of his career.


Dr. Goltz renders a chiropractic adjustment to the fourth cervical vertebra of his slumbering patient.

So what happened when Fred woke up?  Well, he was given some muscle relaxants with peanut butter and took it easy for a while.  During his recovery period, Dr. Ford declared that Fred was “doing quite well,” and was improving noticeably.  So it’s back to the usual bear games for Fred — participating in the activities he enjoys —thanks to the bold clinical decision making of a veterinarian and one very brave chiropractor.


Sources used for this article:
Harrison.  DC makes grizzly discovery.  Dynamic Chiropractic. (www. chiroweb.com/archives/18/15/10.html)  18(15) 14,54.  2000.
Animal Chiropractic and Manipulation.  (www.familyvet.com/chiro.html) downloaded 08/14/00. AVCA.
Animal Veterinarian Chiropractic Association’s web site. www.animalchiropractic.org (viewed 08/17/00).
DrGat PCC.  Dogpile.askme.com —view a conversation.  Question on chiropractic and animals (04/03/00).  downloaded 08/12/00.
Kamen.  Animal Chiropractic:  “Learn the methods seminar”.  (notes taken at seminar) Anaheim, CA.  03/26/96.
Kamen, D.C.  (web page) (www. animalchiropractic.com). downloaded 08/12/00.
Kerns.  Making Critical Adjustments:  the art and science of equine chiropractic arouses strong opinions.  The Whole Horse Journal.  pp. 19-21.  August 1999.
Kaufman.  Chiropractic care for dogs and cats.  (www.animalchiropracticzone.com/basics.html) downloaded 08/12/00.
McDonald Animal Hospital (web page).  Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation. (www.dr4pets.com/page3.html) downloaded 08/12/00.
Options for Animals. AVAC sponsored certification program.  (www.animalchiro.com) downloaded 08/14/00.
Priest, DVM.  Chiropractic.  (www.homevet.com/petcare/chiro.html) downloaded 08/14/00.Ramey, DVM.
Veterinary chiropractic. (www.chirobase.org/06DD/chirovet.html).  downloaded 08/12/00.
RMIT University, Australia (web page) —animal chiropractic degree programs. (www.bh.rmit.edu.au/cocm/chiroprospectus/animal/animalchiro.html) downloaded 08/12/00.
Schilling, DVM.  Dr. Jan Schilling’s cow chiropractic page.  (www.animalchiropracticzone.com/cowpage.html) downloaded 08/12/00.

Special Thanks to Dr. Kyle Goltz of West Yellowstone Neck and Back Clinic in West Yellowstone, Montana for granting us permission to use his bear adjusting photos. (11/02/2009)

Update (06/26/10): Listen to my SpinalColumnRadio interview with renowned Animal Chiropractor, Dr. Daniel Kamen.

Update (07/09/10): Listen to my SpinalColumnRadio interview with the chiropractor that adjusted Fred the Bear.

Explore posts in the same categories: adjustment, animal, animal chiropractic, neck pain, subluxation

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