Can Geriatric Dogs Benefit from Chiropractic Care?

Geriatric dogs are often prone to a host of health problems, from arthritis to kidney disease to cognitive decline. Here’s how chiropractic adjustments can help with these issues, and more.

As dogs age, they often develop health problems. Their joints get stiff and sore, their kidneys don’t work as well as they used to, and they may develop diabetes, dental disease, or dementia. Taking a holistic or integrative approach to these issues helps improve a geriatric dog’s health and longevity, and including chiropractic care enhances that process. Read on to find out how chiropractic adjustments can benefit some of the age-related problems that might afflict your dog as he gets older.


Because chiropractic care focuses on the spine, it’s natural to assume that it can only help with problems such as back or neck pain, and sore muscles. But there is much more to it than this.

Messages travel from around the body, up the spinal cord and into the brain. The brain processes those messages and sends replies back down the spinal cord to tell the body how to respond. This central nervous system (CNS) is one big information highway, and carries vital messages to every part of the body.

This means that an adjustment and its immediate response are not the goal of chiropractic care. In actuality, the adjustment provides energy for the CNS to use in the way it is supposed to. The real goal is to allow the body to sustain ease; or in other words, normal movement, normal physiology, and normal development. The aim is to allow the CNS to optimize and become better able to handle the stresses of life.

Note: Chiropractors don’t fix or heal animals; they help them function better.


Let’s look at five problems often attributed to age in dogs, and what chiropractic adjustments can do to benefit them.

1. Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints, often causing swelling, stiffness, and pain. Symptoms may include limping or gait changes, reluctance to move, aversion to stairs, difficulty standing or walking, and exhibiting pain when picked up. A dog may lick or chew at the aching joint and can show irritability or aggression. The less a joint moves, the more inflamed it becomes.

What chiropractic can do: Chiropractic is aimed at restoring motion to joints that aren’t moving properly. When done correctly, it ensures the joint is able to receive proper nutrition and remove waste products from the tissues, allowing for a decrease in inflammation. Proper adjustments won’t return your older canine companion to puppyhood, but it has allowed numerous patients to enjoy a better quality of life in their twilight years

2. Dental problems, including bad breath and gum disease, usually start with inflammation of the gums, caused when oral bacteria turn into plaque on the teeth. Left untreated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, leading to sore, red, bleeding gums and tooth loss. Dental disease can spread infection to the bloodstream and cause serious organ damage.

What chiropractic can do: The CNS controls every function in the body, and that includes the production of immune cells and maintaining a healthy environment in the mouth. Chiropractic adjustments have been shown to enhance the immune system’s ability to fight off pathogens, helping to keep the bacteria in the mouth below problematic levels.

Note: Studies have shown that chiropractic may influence T and B lymphocytes, natural killer cell numbers, antibody levels, phagocytic activity, and plasma beta-endorphin levels.

3. Diabetes is caused by the poor production and functioning of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. Insulin’s job is to help move glucose from the blood into the body’s cells, where it is then used for energy.

What chiropractic can do: The pancreas is controlled by the CNS. Chiropractic adjustment helps remove nervous system interference from the body. This allows the brain to communicate more freely and accurately with all the organs, including the pancreas.

4. Kidney disease is common in older dogs. The kidneys remove waste and maintain balance in the body, so when they lose their ability to perform, waste and toxins can build up and wreak havoc. This poisoning of the system is referred to as kidney failure.

What chiropractic can do: The chiropractic adjustment allows the brain to handle all the functions of the body more efficiently, including waste removal. Providing chiropractic adjustments to a dog with kidney problems will help the kidney tissue he has left work more effectively.

5. Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), or canine dementia, causes memory loss, personality changes, confusion, and disorientation. Alzheimer’s disease in humans is almost the same as CDS. Senior dogs with CDS will seem to lose their memory, awareness, and ability to learn, and their senses of sight and hearing can deteriorate.

Note: When the spine experiences a chiropractic adjustment, the movement of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) increases.

The benefits of enhanced CSF circulation are numerous, but primarily include more neurotransmitter activity in the CNS, improved oxygenation of the brain, and increased blood circulation to the brain and spine.

What chiropractic can do: Chiropractic care can increase brain function, but may also improve the musculoskeletal system, making it easier for dogs with CDS to stay mobile and active, and continue doing the things they enjoy.

The goals of chiropractic care are to improve function, reduce pain and muscle spasm, optimize performance, and stimulate neurological reflexes (improving speed and accuracy of movement). It enhances the nervous system’s ability to coordinate the healing process, reduces the likelihood and frequency of injury, and promotes full healing — all very important to the geriatric dog.

Dr. Bill Ormston graduated from Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1988. After attending Options For Animals in 1998 he received certification from the AVCA and began using chiropractic to treat his animal patients. Jubilee Animal Health is a mobile mixed animal practice in the Dallas Metroplex area where he cares for pets and horses using mostly alternative methods. He is one of the founding instructors of the post graduate course in Animal Chiropractic at Parker Chiropractic College in Dallas. Dr.O has lectured both nationally and internationally on Animal Chiropractic and biomechanics and gait analysis in the quadruped. He has written booklets on chiropractic care in the dog and horse and a book about blending traditional and alternative care in pets.

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About the Author: Tony Ramos

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