Are you thinking of taking your cat to see a chiropractor but want to know more about the possible benefits of chiropractic adjustments in cats?
It’s becoming more common for pet parents to seek out alternatives to conventional veterinary medicine, and complementary therapies such as animal chiropractic care are becoming more and more popular.1
It is clear to see why alternative therapies might be popular – after all, the promise of improving your cat’s quality of life without the side effects of drugs or the invasiveness of surgery, is indeed a very attractive prospect.
But can chiropractic even be performed in cats? Is it safe, and does it work? If you’re considering taking your cat to see a doctor of chiropractor, make sure you’re clued up on the facts so you can make the right decision for your pet.
What Is Chiropractic Care?
The chiropractic profession dates back to 1895 when it was first introduced and used by a man called Daniel David Palmer.2 Although the practice has evolved over the years, it still operates on the main principle that misalignment of the spinal column (called vertebral subluxation) is responsible for ill health and disease.
According to the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association, animal chiropractic “focuses on the biomechanical dysfunction of the spine and its effect on the entire nervous system throughout the body”. The theory is that misalignments of the vertebrae (spinal bones) causes the animal pain, muscle tension and reduced flexibility. Chiropractors say that these subluxations can put pressure on nearby nerves and interfere with normal function and the transfer of information around the body.
Chiropractic treatment involves spinal manipulations to help restore proper alignment and range of motion, and to relieve pressure on associated nerves.
Is Chiropractic Good for Cats?
It is thought that chiropractic manipulation can provide relief from:
- Chronic pain that occurs with long term conditions such as osteoarthritis
- Pain associated with injuries to muscles, ligaments or joints
Veterinary chiropractors claim that it can also:
- Promote fitness and mobility (especially in older cats)
- Speed up recovery from injury or surgery
The Royal College of Chiropractors provide some specific guidance on the sorts of instances when chiropractic care might be considered in animals (see page 9).
What Is Chiropractic Care Used For?
In human health care, chiropractic treatment is used mostly to help with musculoskeletal issues, especially neck pain, back pain and sports injuries.
Veterinary chiropractic applies the principles and techniques of chiropractic to animals. Veterinary chiropractors use it alongside conventional veterinary medicine, to help treat problems such as:
- Osteoarthritis– a degenerative, inflammatory condition of the joints that is common in elderly cats.
- Hip dysplasia– a condition which is more common in large, purebred and overweight cats and can result in painful hip osteoarthritis.
- Spondylosis– a degenerative condition characterized by the formation of bone spurs on the vertebrae (spinal bones).
- Intervertebral disc disease– an uncommon but serious condition that causes pain, weakness and even paralysis.
- Urinary incontinence– cats that leak urine due to spinal damage or neurological disease.
It is often used along other complementary therapies such as acupuncture.
Does Chiropractic Work for Cats?
There is a lot of debate about how effective chiropractic is, even in humans.3-5 Most animal chiropractic success stories you’ll find come from case reports or practitioners’ own observations, and mainly from horses, dogs or laboratory animals. There is a real lack of information about chiropractic in cats in the veterinary literature.6
True research studies into the safety or effectiveness of animal chiropractic are rare and those studies that have been carried out have been criticised as being “of questionable quality, and fraught with serious methodological shortcomings”.7 So far, scientists have failed to find evidence that so-called ‘vertebral subluxations’ exist, even using advanced imaging modalities such as x-rays or MRI scans.
Is Chiropractic Safe in Cats?
In people, chiropractic is considered safe when performed correctly by a trained and registered chiropractor. Negative effects are common but mild and include soreness and discomfort, stiffness, headache and tiredness.8 Serious side effects are rare but can be significant.
There are definite instances where chiropractic would NOT be safe to carry out in your cat, including recent trauma, fractures, tumours, bone infections and herniated discs, so always book a visit with your DVM/veterinarian for a check-up before considering alternative treatments such as chiropractic.9,10
I Think My Cat Needs Chiropractic Adjustment – What Should I Do?
If you think your cat might be suffering from a problem that could be treated with chiropractic, first take them to see your veterinarian.
Your veterinarian will be able to:
- Examine your cat
- Help reach a diagnosis
- Identify conditions which may mean chiropractic manipulation is not safe for your cat
- Rule out other health problems
- Talk to you about conventional treatment methods
If you wish to use manual therapies such as chiropractic for your cat, you should only do so alongside conventional veterinary medicine and after discussion with your cat’s vet.
Although they are not without risk or side effect, medications and surgery have been tried and tested, and used to treat health conditions in cats with proven success. They should therefore always be the first port of call.
Above All Else, Do No Harm.
If you plan to use additional or complementary therapies such as chiropractic for your cat, first consider:
- Is it appropriate for my cat’s condition? (speak to your veterinarian)
- Will my cat tolerate handling and manipulation, without becoming stressed?
- What are the potential (and likely) benefits?
- What are the risks?
Remember, there is no scientific evidence that chiropractic in cats is safe or effective. You must therefore carefully consider whether the risk of potential negative effects (stress, discomfort, more serious side effects) are worth taking for your cat.
There are many conventional treatments that are proven to reduce pain and inflammation in cats that your vet will recommend. Speak to your vet for advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do chiropractors adjust cats?
When you visit a chiropractor, they will start by taking a history to find out more about your cat’s condition, their general health and any treatments they are on. They will review any clinical notes provided by your cat’s veterinarian.
They will carry out a physical examination, paying special attention to your cat’s mobility (movement) and posture to try and identify their problem.
Once they have located what they believe to be the source of the problem, they will carry out a chiropractic adjustment. Chiropractic adjustments are a low force, high velocity, thrust motions applied in a very specific location. The adjustments will probably need to be repeated – speak to the chiropractor about how many sessions might be needed.
Do I need a vet referral to take my cat to see a chiropractor?
Whether or not you need a referral from your veterinarian before the chiropractor will treat your cat, depends on which country/state you live in. Even if it’s not required, it is a good idea to involve your vet in the decision to see a chiropractor. They can help you ensure you find someone with the proper training and knowledge.
How much does chiropractic in cats cost?
Most chiropractic adjustments are carried out over a period of weeks and so you will need to commit to a course of treatment. Individual practitioners will set their own prices so the price of chiropractic treatment will vary. Contact your local animal chiropractor to find out their prices.
How do I know if my cat needs a chiropractor?
Chiropractic is most commonly used to treat pain. Signs of pain in cats can be subtle and difficult to spot, or simply dismissed as being “due to old age”.
Signs your cat might be in pain include:
- Not moving around as much
- Going outside less than normal
- Being less playful
- Toileting outside the litter box
- Stiffness in the back legs
- Lameness, limping
- Reluctance to be touched
- Muscle spasms
- Being slow to move especially after rest
- Reduced appetite
- Change in temperament or behaviour
- Reduced or excessive grooming
- Change in facial expression (squinty eyes, flat ears)
Always get any signs of pain or ill health in your cat checked out by a vet.
How do I find an animal chiropractor?
Your vet might be able to recommend and make a referral to a chiropractor. If sourcing one yourself, be sure to find someone who has undergone proper training.
Complete approved postgraduate veterinary chiropractic training
Adhere to membership rules and regulations
Ensure the practice meets certain standards
Can I adjust my cat’s back?
Manipulating the spine of an animal is not without risk, so it’s best to leave it to the professionals.
Rome, PL and McKibbin, M. A review of chiropractic veterinary science: An emerging profession with somatic and somatovisceral anecdotal histories. Chiropractic Journal of Australia. 2011; 41. 127-139.
Homola S. Chiropractic: history and overview of theories and methods. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. 2006; 444:236-42
Salehi A, Hashemi N, Imanieh MH, Saber M. Chiropractic: Is it Efficient in Treatment of Diseases? Review of Systematic Reviews. International Journal of Community Based Nursing & Midwifery. 2015;3(4):244-54
Blanchette MA, Stochkendahl MJ, Borges Da Silva R, Boruff J, Harrison P, Bussières A. Effectiveness and Economic Evaluation of Chiropractic Care for the Treatment of Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review of Pragmatic Studies. PLoS One. 2016; ;11(8):e0160037.
Rubinstein SM, Terwee CB, Assendelft WJ, de Boer MR, van Tulder MW. Spinal manipulative therapy for acute low-back pain. Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews. 2012; 9:CD008880.
Johnson, K.A Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Where Things Stand for Feline Health,Science & Technology Libraries. 2018; 37:4, 338-376.
Taylor, Manipulation treatments. In No way to treat a friend: Lifting the lid on complementary and alternative veterinary medicine, ed. N. Taylor and A. Gough. 2017; 231–57. Sheffield, UK: 5m Publishing.
Ernst E. Chiropractic: a critical evaluation. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 2008;35(5):544-62.
Taylor, LLand Romano, L Veterinary chiropractic. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 1999;40 (10):732–35.
Kamen, The well adjusted cat: Feline chiropractic methods you can do. 1997. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.