It is said that every revolutionary idea, regardless if in science, politics, art, or whatever; there are always three stages of reaction to it. They may best be summed up by these three phrases:

1. “It is impossible — don’t waste my time.”
2. “It is possible, but it is not worth doing.”
3. “I said it was a good idea all along.”

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, there are now more people seeking alternative treatments for their health care issues than those who look to their medical doctors for the answer. There are approximately 388 million medical visits to family doctors and internists each year and 425 million visits to alternative health care professionals which include doctors of chiropractic, homeopathic doctors, herbalists, and acupuncturists.

With more people realizing the benefits of alternative treatment for their health problems; why should our pet’s health care be limited to drugs and surgery? The human spinal column has 24 moving bones called vertebrae, while the canine spine is comprised of 27. In both man and dog the vertebrae have a similar shape and function. The human and canine spine is designed to act as a protective, yet flexible conduit for the spinal cord which is an essential pathway for communication between the brain and the body. Because the spine is so flexible, it is susceptible to injury. When a spinal segment looses its normal motion or position, it can effect the delicate structures of the nerves which pass through it leading to subjective complaints of pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness.

Unlike people, dogs cannot communicate their discomfort verbally when they are hurting. Therefore, we must observe the subtle changes in their behavior and movement patterns. Just like people, a dog’s spinal column can become misaligned which can lead to various compromised health conditions.

Most dogs develop misalignments of their spine stemming from the behavior of their demanding owners and from the improper use of collars, which is the number one cause of cervical (neck) misalignments in dogs. The neck area, especially the vertebrae near the skull are most vulnerable to injury.

While almost all dog owners use some type of collar on their pet, the average dog owner merely guesses what type to use – usually the one that’s on sale, or the one the store has in stock. The collar should fit the dog’s job, breed, and height, as well as the dog’s size in relation to the owner. A study of 400 show dogs in Sweden reported that 90% of all misalignments to the upper bones of the dog’s neck were the direct result of improper training corrections by dog handlers and owners jerking on leashes and collars.

There are four major types of dog collars: the flat collar, the choke collar, the prong collar, and the harness.  The flat collar is the most common type, and can be dangerous if misused. It simply acts as an attachment for the leash so the dog won’t get loose during daily walks. It should not be used for obedience training, since it does not guide the dog in a specific direction when yanked.

The second type of collar is the choke collar.  While this collar successfully restrains the dog and is recommended by dog trainers, there is no limit how much this collar will choke. If a dog is excited, the choking effect can cause injury to the neck area.

The third type is the prong collar. This device is designed to distribute pressure evenly around the neck and literature suggests that this is the most effective and least dangerous of restraining collars.

The fourth type is the harness, commonly used to restrain small dogs. Although harnesses are normally thought of as being easier on the neck, they can be hard on the front half of the body, including the chest and forelegs.

Some obedience schools insist that dogs walk to the left of the owner during training. Furthermore, the dog is instructed to look at the owner’s belt, thus causing the animal to constantly crane its head to the right. This chronically held position can lead to imbalances in the dog’s neck.

Other causes of spinal problems in dogs include obesity, improper bedding, training and play practices, breed limitations, leash length, caged dogs, and fleas.  Obesity exerts pressure on the spine, which in turn causes weak muscles and ligaments. Coupled with the stresses in a dog’s environment can lead to poor spinal hygiene.

Improper bedding. Dogs should get used to one comfortable place to sleep, preferably a flat surface with moderately firm padding, like a wrestling mat. Studies have shown that dogs need support when they sleep, just like people do.  Harmful training and play practices. Frustrated owners can jerk a leash, unwittingly whiplashing their dog
which can have deleterious effects on the spine. Rough and vigorous play can lead to injury as well.  Breed limitations. A bulldog, for instance, does not have the same leg structure as a greyhound, so don’t expect it to run as fast or as long.  Leash length. Holding a dog too close with a short leash will limit the dog’s stride and cause chronic postural stress.

Caged dogs. Where there is no room to move around, there is no way to relieve muscular stress. Confinement can lead to spinal misalignment.  Fleas and mites cause spinal misalignments because the dog is always scratching his itches in awkward positions.

How does one tell if their dog is injured. These are signs to look for: If the hind limbs get crossed during walking, this could indicate lower back pain. Weaving during walking or running could be injury to one of the dog’s “elbow” joints. Limping or lameness could be a limb or back injury. Constant shifting of the limbs while standing could be neck, back, or a limb problem. Head bobbing is another indication that something is amiss with your canine’s musculoskeletal system.

Like a human who has spine or joint problems, correction of the condition entails professional evaluation and treatment. Maintaining your dog’s spine can be just as important as keeping up on your pet’s vaccinations for optimum health.

Like any revolutionary idea, acceptance is a matter or perception. If you have any questions about this article or any other health issue, please feel free to contact Dr. Tereo at 6287 Jarvis Avenue, Newark, CA 94560, by phone at 510-795-2700, by FAX at 795-2845 or by e-mail.

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