Monthly Archives: December 2014

Horse Welfare 2014 – The Year In Review

Standard

2014 seasons greetings graphic© Heather Clemenceau

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

So we’re concluding the “Year of the Horse,” which technically ends on 02/18/2015, until the next YOTH, in 2026. Will we see the “end times” for horse slaughter before then? While on the subject of the Chinese zodiac, I’m reminded of the phrase “may you live in interesting times,” which according to Wikipedia, is an English expression purporting to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. The nearest related Chinese expression is “宁为太平犬,莫做乱世人” which conveys the sense that it is “better to live as a dog in an era of peace than a man (woman) in times of war.”

Each year spent fighting horse slaughter is proof enough that we live in a time of war – a constant struggle to maintain the de facto ban on domestic horse slaughter in the U.S. With the signing of the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, the U.S. will continue to forbid the domestic slaughter of horses for human consumption. Horse slaughter was effectively blocked via an injunction in New Mexico,  and after exhausting all legal avenues, Valley Meat owner Rick De Los Santos gives up.  As a testament to the durability of the pro-slaughter mindset,  a new owner is still expressing interest in slaughter in that state.

There is continued support for the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which would ban both the slaughter and export of American horses for human consumption. Despite the support of 308 Representatives and 60 Senators behind the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to stop the inhumane practice of “soring” show horses, a small group of obstructionists in Congress prevented a vote on the PAST Act, so this must be revisited in 2015. There is increased outrage against the drugging of horses in the racing industry and TWH soring and attendance at “Big Lick” shows is declining.

The mismanagement of wild horses and burros in the west continues to be predominant, as is the BLM continuing to conduct inhumane round-ups and removals while failing to move decisively toward humane on-the-ground population management strategies built around fertility control. Criticism of Premarin® and Prempro® and similar drugs derived from conjugated equine estrogens continues to be made in 2014.possible impossible

Reverberations of the 2013 horsemeat adulteration scandal are still felt – we are occasionally hearing of instances whereby horsemeat has infiltrated the food supply.  The EU is in the process of revising rules on horse passports, and horsemeat was withdrawn various markets in the EU, resulting in the loss of a contract that was of tremendous importance to Claude Bouvry in Alberta.

An unpopular wild horse capture goes ahead in Alberta, and the protest received a celebrity endorsement by singer Jann Arden.  After months of uncertainty for the hardy protesters who were arrested near the capture site,  the charges were later dismissed.

The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) and its supporters continue to ensure that bad press for the slaughter industry reaches the public. The Global News 16X9 investigation is made with the assistance of the CHDC and supporter/horse rescuer Mindy Lovell and others. The CHDC continues to publish the results of ATI (FOIA) requests, each one revealing grievous departures by the CFIA from established procedures..

Despite intense lobbying, press conferences and huge pushes for Bill C-571, Canadian anti-slaughter advocates were ultimately let down by the NDP party. As a result, the anti-slaughter Bills in Canada ultimately failed.

The poor economic results in the last 6 years helped ensure that all breed organizations experienced a decline in the number of foals, registrations and memberships. If fewer horses are being bred (and ultimately slaughtered), the prospect of turning around the problem of North American horse slaughter is on the horizon. This has not gone unnoticed by those with a vested interest in seeing horse populations increase and the convenience of slaughter continue.  The Ontario Racing Commission recently announced that the province’s standardbred racing industry is about to get a substantial $12 million infusion to its program to encourage breeding, after the cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Programs resulted in the slaughter of thousands of horses, including foals and broodmares. The declining number of horses (rightsizing?) continues to be a hot topic in the U.S as well, where the American Horse Council wondered aloud at their 45th annual meeting what they could do to increase registration (and breeding) from the various equestrian disciplines. The Jockey Club too, are concerned about the drop in racehorse starts.  And lastly, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the AVMA suddenly have a problem with the aspect that fewer horses mean less income for veterinarians and other equine practitioners. If these professional groups were more forward-thinking, they might have given greater consideration to building relationships with their clients rather than promoting slaughter at the expense of humane euthanasia…….

Perhaps the most promising news this year though comes in confirmation that the European Commission, after a recent audit, decided to suspend horsemeat imports from Mexico due to food safety concerns. If Canada is not far behind (indeed our slaughter industry presents the same concerns as Mexico), then the loss of these markets could prove devastating to the horse slaughter industry in Canada, preventing plants from achieving economies of scale and therefore continuing to thrive.

Click here to review some of the highlights (and lowlights) on Storify, in chronological order.

thank you note

 

From Movie Set To Dinner Plates? Heartland Horses Dispersed In Kill Buyer Attended Auctions

Standard
Kevin Rushworth High River Times QMI Agency photo

Photo – KEVIN RUSHWORTH HIGH RIVER TIMES/QMI AGENCY

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

John Scott has had a year of highs and lows – since starting into the movie business in 1969, he has balanced his own cattle, horse and buffalo ranch with work on Academy Award winning movies such as Unforgiven, Lord of the Rings, Legends of the Fall and Days of Heaven, along with other films and series such as Hell on Wheels, the 13th Warrior, Klondike Gold, and the family TV series Heartland. Earlier in 2014, he was awarded a 75th anniversary ATB Agriculture buckle (awarded to farmers and ranchers), and soon afterwards it was rather abruptly announced in the July/August 2014 issue of Horse-Canada magazine that he was no longer wrangler for the TV show Heartland.

The Heartland show is a series chronicling the highs and lows of ranch life and it is filmed in Alberta – feedlot capital of Canada.  The Facebook page is filled with perpetually optimistic fans pleading for better love lives for the characters, and it’s a place where “True Heartlanders” are never bored with reruns.  As far as I know, the closest this series has come to treading on the topic of slaughter is an episode where a dozen wild horses are found in a “feedlot,” which the scriptwriters tell us is a “place where they keep cows before they kill them.

In late 2012, Animals Angels photographed a stock trailer belonging to John Scott Productions at the Bouvry Slaughterhouse in Fort MacLeod Alberta. The feedlots nearby and the Bouvry slaughter plant map of albertawere part of an investigation by Animals Angels; you can read the full report here.  There is also additional footage of the various Alberta feedlots by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition as part of “The True Faces of Horse Slaughter” investigation.

When I wrote my original Heartland blog in March 2013, speculating on whether JSP horses were being sent to slaughter on that day when Scott’s trailer was observed at Bouvry, we didn’t know and still don’t know what species of animal had been taken to the slaughterhouse. Previously, the Heartland show, via their Facebook page, denied that any horses featured in the show had ever gone to slaughter.

But since the announcement that Scott was no longer wrangler for Heartland, it was noticed that horses advertised as being from the series were showing up at various auctions throughout Alberta, in fairly close proximity to the Bouvry slaughterhouse, and usually where kill buyers were present. As well as being a supplier for movies, Scott is also regarded in Alberta as a horse trader.

In addition to the two auctiotop hat tip to Lonin sites mentioned, he also brings horses to the Innisfail auction north of Calgary, where kill buyers are also in attendance. In May and August of this year, John Scott Productions had two partial herd dispersals at Hebson Arena and Irvine Tack and Trailer. The owner of Irvine Tack & Trailer is Scott Irvine – a well known and very active kill buyer in the province. Having auctions of any animal on a kill buyer’s property puts money in their hands and enables them to slaughter more horses in the long run – it’s the same argument some people use for refusing to purchase brokered horses directly from kill buyers.

These two sales, which disposed of dozens of horses and mules, represented a large number of Scott’s usual 150 head of horses. Quarter horses, appys, paints, grade horses, and mules were variously described as having been used as as driving horses (2up, 4up and 6up) reining horses, bucking horses, and used in parades and blacksmith competitions, the Calgary Stampede, various movies including Heartland, and in ranch work. One horse was advertised as being an RCMP horse. Most were in their early to mid-teens, with others being described as “smooth mouth” horses who could no longer take heavy work.

Hebson Arena Sale,  Okotoks,  Alberta

 

 

Irvine Tack and Trailer Sale,  Crossfield, Alberta

 

 

After what appears to have been a lot of hard use, most of these well-broke horses deserved a soft landing  – to new lives as lightly-ridden trail horses for beginner and heartland2intermediate riders. Many of these horses should have been able to bring at least $1,000 each, but obviously Scott would have included some horses who didn’t work out for him or could no longer do heavy ranch work, and therefore aren’t as desirable on the market. Typically the horses described as “best for occasional trail use” don’t do well at auctions because they are often not completely sound.  So it’s unknown how many of these horses went on to new homes and whether any may have been sent on that final trip to Bouvry,  not far from either of the sites.

In any case,  I think it’s wishful thinking to accept the statements of the TV show at face value – “No horse that has ever appeared on Heartland has ever been sent to a slaughterhouse.

Fort McLeod is the capital of horse slaughter in Canada. In their white paper “Horse Slaughter – Its Ethical Impact and Subsequent Response of the Veterinary Profession,” the U.S.-based group Veterinarians for Equine Welfare denounces horse slaughter as inhumane and…

“an unacceptable way to end a horse’s life under any circumstance.”

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Darwin’s Dream – Passionate About Primate Protection

Standard

darwintextWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

Photography © Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary

DarwinsdreamStory Book Farm is one of only two primate sanctuaries in Canada that can care for nonhuman primates who are rejected by their owners or are cast-offs from the biomedical trade. A primate sanctuary is not a zoo. Sanctuaries are dedicated to giving nonhuman primates and other exotic animals a high quality of life via enrichment but without unnecessary human interference.

Founded in 2000, the Sanctuary is of course most famous for caring for Darwin the “IKEA monkey” for the last two years, after Toronto animal services seized him from his owner, Yasmin Nakhuda. Nakhuda later sued the sanctuary to get him back, but her lawsuit ultimately failed. For approximately two years, while awaiting the trial outcome, the Sanctuary and its volunteers and supporters were subjected to a campaign of regular harassment via social media.

Start the Car – The IKEA Monkey Trial Gets Ugly

The sanctuary hopes to raise $490,000 online through its Darwin’s Dream crowdfunding campaign to relocate the primates in its care to the site of the former Northwood Zoo in Seagrave, on the western side of Lake Scugog. Northwood, for sale for nearly $1,000,000, is set on 22 hectares with treed enclosures, buildings for volunteers to reside as well as the opportunity for a vet clinic. Included is an existing population of about 20 primates, including two younger macaques who could form a family troop with Darwin.

Please consider a donation for the purchase of the Northwood Zoo and the continuing care of the primates – support #Darwinsdream Indiegogo campaign

Darwin Funding Breakdown

In addition to Darwin, Pockets Warhol is another famous resident. The adorable capuchin monkey is something of an art sensation in the animal world, using children’s paints to create abstract splashes reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s work.

High-profile stories of exotic or unusual pets either escaping or being set free by their owners are nothing new. And a high percentage of exotic animals die within the first year, assuming that they Story Book Farm 4survive their way to the consumer at all. Despite often having good intentions, many owners just don’t know how to provide quality care. There is a thriving exotic animal trade in Canada —involving everything from constrictors to tigers – the Tiger Paw “Odd and Unusual” auction currently held in Orangeville, features exotic farm animals, primates, and even zebras. Anyone willing to pay the price for these animals is free to take them away, no questions asked. Some of these animals will either die or be rejected by their new owners. Monkeys are less than ideal pets – monkeys that are cute in their infantile stages grow into highly intelligent wild adults who are physically strong and can be aggressive – they often outlive their owners as a result of having life spans that are longer than most traditional domesticated pets. Monkeys kept as private pets are usually forced to wear diapers for their entire lives, while the monkeys at Story Book live as naturalistically as possible

Story Book Volunteers and Board of Directors – a strong history of governance, animal welfare, volunteerism, and social justice.

There are only a patchwork of bylaws to deal with exotics ownership, since a cohesive exotic animal policy does not exist in Canada. Animal welfare groups and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies call for stronger provincial laws to limit or ban the import and sale of exotic species, believing that a ban on those practices is the ideal legal scenario right across the country – the only exceptions being zoos and sanctuaries. Darwin’s case has served to highlight the fact that he is not just a meme,  an IKEA monkey, but a macaque capable of living to his fullest potential in a more natural environment.  We need to educate others and create awareness of illegal pets who need to live their lives as non-human primates. Bravo to Story Book Farm and their volunteers!

 

 

Journey’s End: Trinket’s Story

Standard
Trinket 4

Long overgrown hooves and a mane irretrievably matted with burrs were a testament to Trinket’s neglect. Rescuers and other animal advocates will always have to contend with people who neglect their animals despite the availability of slaughter as a “fix” for for the problem of unwanted horses. The availability of horse slaughter DOES NOT improve horses’ standard of living and will not stop passive neglect such as this.

 

 

Trinket’s Story,  by Little Brook Farm

I have been rescuing horses for 43 years. There always have been – and always will be – ponies like Trinket neglected in back yards. The owners would never, ever consider sending these ponies to auction (slaughter).

Pro-slaughter proponents tell you that re-opening slaughter houses in the US will prevent the “Trinkets” from suffering. That’s not how this works – it’s quite the opposite. Horses going to slaughter are typically not the back yard neglect cases unless a dealer posed as a “good home” and then sent them off to slaughter unbeknownst to the owner.

The horses sold for slaughter are often Thoroughbreds who weren’t fast enough, got injured or couldn’t be bred back, Quarter horses, or Paints without color, for example. They were intentionally bred by owners with the financial resources to euthanize their horses if they no longer wanted them (slaughter is NOT euthanasia). Can you imagine poor, little, elderly Trinket, who could barely stand,  crammed for 24 hours in a cold truck with anxious horses driving to Canada and then waiting in a feed lot for the inevitable? It was kinder to quietly put her down with people she had come to know.

Trinket should never have been allowed to suffer. She had an owner who is horse savvy and has the financial resources to properly care for her. There was a girl desperate to provide her with a good home who repeatedly asked for her if the owner decided she didn’t want her. In addition to the discomfort the pony endured, there were neighbors watching her hobble around year after year, including children. What is the message here?

To read more of Trinket’s sad and lengthy tale of neglect,  please visit Little Brook Farm on Facebook.

May I go Now?
Do you think the time is right?
May I say good-bye to pain filled days
And endless lonely nights?

I’ve lived my life and done my best,
an example tried to be.
So can I take that step beyond
and set my spirit free?

I didn’t want to go at first.
I fought with all my might.
But something seems to draw me now
to a warm and loving light.

I want to go. I really do.
It’s difficult to stay.
But I will try as best I can
to live just one more day.

To give you time to care for me
and share your love and fears.
I know you’re sad and afraid,
because I see your tears.

I’ll not be far, I promise that,
and hope you’ll always know
that my spirit will be close to you,
wherever you may go.

Thank you so for loving me.
You know I love you too,
that’s why it’s hard to say good-bye
and end this life with you.

So hold me now, just one more time
and let me hear you say,
because you care so much for me,
you’ll let me go today.

By Susan A. Jackson

Veterinary Chiropractic – Stigmatized By Pseudoscience

Standard

veterinarian terrierI used to schedule regular chiropractic sessions for my horse because I was convinced this was just another aspect of good horse husbandry. But after observing each of my $175 sessions, I began to have serious doubts. For instance, my veterinary chiropractor, who was also a human chiropractor, explained that with the pressure of two fingers, she could move my horse’s ribs back “into alignment.” Having some knowledge of physical anatomy, I wondered how it was possible to do this, and what would prevent the ribs (or any other aspect of the equine musculoskeletal system) from becoming unaligned 5 minutes after she left? After all, if all it took were two fingers to pop a rib back in place, wouldn’t I be having some counterbalancing effect just by putting a saddle on my horse’s back?  Or what if she just rolled in the pasture?  Would that undo the $175 treatment I had just paid for?

My own opinion is that chiropractors aren’t necessarily producing lasting results because they may not be treating an underlying muscle problem, which I believe is the root cause of most discomfort in horses. Equine Myofascial Release will help move the bone by addressing the actual problem which is the muscle, tendon, ligament. The bone is a slave to the muscle – it can only move if the muscle tells it to move. And, it can only be where the muscle allows it to be. If you can even move the bone, but the horse’s muscle is still tight, the muscle will pull the bone back “out of place.” Why not just go to the source of the problem – the soft tissue or skeletal muscles themselves – with either massage or EMR?

I wondered what I was missing, since other clients in the same barn claimed their horses moved better instantly after receiving their treatments.   Placebo is “the beneficial effect that arises from a patient’s expectations from a treatment, rather than from the treatment itself.” Does the placebo effect exist in animals? Until recently, the presumed answer was a resounding no, because animals were thought to lack the cognitive capacity to understand the intent of medical care or the power of suggestion, or to have hope of recovery.

A veterinary journal article entitled “The placebo effect in animals,” makes a case for the existence of the placebo effect in dogs, among other species. The article suggests that the placebo effect in veterinary medicine can enhance the efficacy of medical treatment, and findings make a “strong scientific argument for encouraging in-hospital visitation by owners when animals are hospitalized.”

I don’t know whether animal chiropractic helps pets or not. But unlike allopathic (conventional) medical treatments, I can’t see the results of long-term therapy.  I prefer to employ massage for horses, since I can see my horse lean into the practitioner, relax her ears, and close her eyes, which is strongly suggestive that the treatment relaxes her and makes her feel good. The massage therapist uses firm hands on large muscle groups.  With the chiro treatments, my horse pinned her ears and generally appeared annoyed or perhaps found the treatments ticklish.  When my regular chiropractor retired,  I still continued on for a while,  and was fortunate enough to be able to use the services of an FEI treating veterinarian who was also an equine chiropractor.  My confidence in equine chiropractic was finally shattered when he told me that he didn’t have any suggestions for my horse’s lameness other than conventional treatments,  which weren’t a guarantee either.  Because…….there are no magic cures.

Happy Dog

The attached was originally written for Science Based Medicine.

Written by:  Brennen McKenzie,  MA, VMD, a 2001 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.  He works as a small animal veterinarian in private practice in California. He has a special interest in promoting science-based veterinary medicine and is currently President-Elect of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medical Association. He has published articles on evidence-based medicine in veterinary science journals, and he also writes about both science-based and “alternative” veterinary medicine as the SkeptVet.

Prior to becoming a veterinarian, Dr. McKenzie completed a Master’s Degree in animal behaviour, studying captive chimpanzees and working as a specialist in environmental enrichment for captive primates.

Dog and ponyPeople are sometimes surprised to learn that all the heavy hitters of alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, etc., are inflicted on animals as well as humans. I’ve written about veterinary homeopathy, and the associated manufactroversyin a previous post, and today I thought I’d take a look at veterinary chiropractic.

The Players

In most states, chiropractic is defined in terms of treatment of humans and chiropractors are thereby licensed only to treat humans. However, there are a variety of ways around this for people who want to subject their animals to this therapy. Some chiropractors will simply treat animals and ignore the fact that it isn’t technically legal for them to do so. And some veterinarians will take one of the many training courses available in animal chiropractic and then employ it as part of their practice of veterinary medicine. A previous SBM article has discussed the lack of consistency or legitimate scientific content in most of these courses.

State veterinary practice acts will also sometimes create legal space for animal chiropractic, often under another name, which avoids the jurisdictional problem of calling it chiropractic when that term is usually legally defined specifically with reference to humans. In California, for example, the practice of “musculoskeletal manipulation” on animals must meet certain requirements specific in the state veterinary practice act:

A veterinarian must examine the animal, determine that musculoskeletal manipulation (MSM) is appropriate and safe, and take official responsibility for supervising the treatment. Then the owner is supposed to sign a form: “The veterinarian shall obtain as part of the patient’s permanent record, a signed acknowledgment from the owner of the patient or his or her authorized representative that MSM is considered to be an alternative (nonstandard) veterinary therapy.”Then a licensed chiropractor can examine the pet, determine that MSM is appropriate, and then consult with the supervising vet before performing treatment.

I know of many chiropractors treating animals in the state, with and without veterinary supervision. I have never seen anyone follow these rules.

The perceived legitimacy of veterinary chiropractic is bolstered by the activities of professional veterinary chiropractic organizations, such as the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association jumping mid air cat(AVCA). This group offers a certification program which allows either chiropractors or veterinarians to claim to be board-certified in animal chiropractic, despite the technicality that the American Board of Veterinary Specialties, which credentials specialty boards, does not recognize this certification and thus it is essentially a fake board certification.

The International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA), based in Europe, is largely indistinguishable from the AVCA in terms of the content and general approach to promoting animal chiropractic and certifying chiropractors, including the lack of recognition of their specialty certification by the European Board of Veterinary Specialisation (EBVS).

These groups are not to be confused with the International Association of Veterinary Chiropractitioners (IAVC), a group of veterinarians, chiropractors, and apparently any other kind of “health care provider” who cares to join, who fix subluxations with methods difficult to distinguish from chiropractic but who claim to be practicing an entirely original form of therapy called Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation (VOM) and who prefer to be referred to by the proprietary term “chiropractitioner.” They do share, however, the lack of any formal recognition as a legitimate specialty that characterizes the work of the AVCA and the IVCA.

Chiro for horsesAnd then, of course, there are all the individual chiropractors and veterinarians practicing some form of manual therapy based on chiropractic, often with their own idiosyncratic theories and techniques. For example, Dr. Hall recently drew my attention to a book called “Like Chiropractic for Elephants” by Norman “Rod” Block D.C. Dr. Block claims to have “an uncanny touch sensory perception that allows him to connect with the person or animal he comes in contact with…It is then that the animal senses his intention of wanting to help and releases inhibitions that allow discovery of where the root cause of the pain, stress or pressure may exist…The doctor uses his uncanny ability to tune into the root cause of animal states of disease without the use of drugs or surgery.”

I confess I have not been able to stomach paying to read Dr. Block’s book, but thanks to his press release and a few reviews, I have at least a small sense of what it offers. Apparently Dr. Block supplements his understanding of the vertebral subluxation and his “uncanny” sensory abilities with the practice of “Quantum Shamanetics.” In this method, “The quantum shamanist learns to trust and be guided by universal wisdom that exists beyond our genetic blueprint. By being part to, and observing, movement, one becomes more sensitive to subtle changes in energy. By following these dynamic changes, the shamanist develops a more expansive relationship with the flow of life and health.”

Sadly, this is not a unique case of a chiropractor leaving the at least marginally plausible terrain of treating musculoskeletal disease in animals and venturing further afield. Last year, I had the opportunity to evaluate the recommendations of Dr. Steven Eisen, a chiropractor who calls himself a “Holistic Dog Cancer Expert” and has a book and series of web videos explaining how to thwart the mischief of incompetent veterinarians and treat canine cancer with his dietary advice and a dedicated avoidance of vaccines and parasite control products. And perhaps not surprisingly, Dr. Eisen did not exhibit the scientific spirit of respect for open inquiry and debate when challenged for his claims. Instead, he threatened to sue me.

What Is Animal Chiropractic?

For the most part, the principles and practices of animal chiropractic are extrapolated and adapted from those applied to humans, despite the obvious biomechanical and anatomic differences between bipedal hominids and quadrupedal veterinary patients. As in human chiropractic, the core concept behind chiropractic for animals is the subluxation, or the vertebral subluxation complex (VSC). The AVCA criteria for certification includes familiarity with, “the anatomical, biomechanical and physiological consequences of the Vertebral Subluxation Complex,” and the organization suggests that in addition to pain and musculoskeletal disorders, treatment of the VSC can be beneficial for “bowel, bladder, and internal medicine disorders…glands and body functions.”

Veterinary journal articles about chiropractic often emphasize that the subluxation “is at the core of chiropractic theory, and it’s detection and correction are central to chiropractic practice.”(1) ChiropracticCatThey then include lengthy, very impressive and sciency descriptions of how subluxations arise, cause disease, and can be treated. These are usually marred only by the small problem that no one has actually been able to show a subluxation exists in any species despite over a century of trying.(2)

Chiropractors working on humans cannot reliably agree on the location of a supposed subluxation despite extensive and involved theoretical and practical training supposedly intended to help them do so.(3-4) You can’t see it on x-rays, it doesn’t pinch nerves, and as the evidence for subluxations as physical abnormalities has failed to materialize, true believers in chiropractic have gone through amazing intellectual contortions to redefine it in ways that can make it sound real while still being undetectable. A dragon in the garage if there ever was one.

What’s the Evidence?

There is at least some reasonable evidence that spinal manipulations such as practiced by chiropractors may benefit humans with back pain, though Cochrane reviews of spinal manipulation and general chiropractic therapy for even this indication find small effects and research with a high risk of bias. There is no good reason to believe chiropractic is useful for any other complaint in humans.

Reviewing the literature on the effects of veterinary chiropractic care is quite easy since there is almost none. A search of the PubMed and VetMed Resource databases identified no controlled clinical trials of chiropractic therapy in any veterinary species.

Apart from a few case reports, there are several studies evaluating the putative effect of spinal manipulations on sensitivity to painful stimulus and on spine and limb movement in horses.(5-7) These papers suffer from significant limitations and risk of bias. They generally show a lack of adequate randomization and blinding, objective outcome measures and control groups. They frequently measure numerous variables of questionable clinical significance and then ignore the majority that show no change while identifying the few that do show statistically significant differences as somehow indicative of a meaningful treatment effect. While they represent a reasonable attempt to identify criteria for evaluating the effects of spinal manipulation on horses, they do not constitute evidence of efficacy for chiropractic therapy for any disease.

Of course, there is the usual mountain of testimonials and anecdotes which suggest miraculous curative results with chiropractic therapy in animals. These are both unreliable, for all the usual reasons, and unfortunately the most compelling kind of evidence for animal owners

What’s the Harm?

animal massageThe risks of chiropractic care in humans fall into the usual categories for harm from alternative therapies; direct harm from the treatment and indirect harm associated with irrational belief systems and avoidance of truly effective care. Of the adverse effects documented in humans, the most significant is that of strokes associated with cervical manipulation.(8) There is no research evaluating the direct risks of veterinary chiropractic, so we can only speculate on the safety of spinal manipulation for animal patients.

The indirect risks of chiropractic therapy come from being exposed to irrational fear of science-based medicine and the use of other unproven or clearly ineffective alternative treatments. Chiropractors treating humans, for example, are often inclined to recommend against vaccination, and it is not uncommon for them to employ therapies far less plausible than chiropractic, such as colon cleansing, homeopathy, and many others.

Chiropractors practicing on animals have also been known to stir up irrational fear of vaccination, claim toxins in pet food are common causes of cancer, and otherwise express disdain for science-based veterinary medicine. And a look at the sponsors for the ACVA annual conference illustrates the frequently close relationship between animal chiropractors and practitioners of other alternative therapies such as Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, Standard Process Supplements, Reiki and homeopathy, and others. Such synergy between chiropractic and other alternative therapies has the potential to harm veterinary patients even if direct spinal manipulation does not.

Since anecdotes are so commonly employed in defense of veterinary chiropractic, I feel justified in sharing one illustrating its risks. I was once asked to examine a rabbit that had come to my hospital to be treated by a chiropractor, at the advice of another veterinarian. The rabbit had been anesthetized for treatment of dental disease earlier in the day and upon waking was paralyzed in its hind legs. Even a cursory familiarity with rabbit medicine would immediately lead one to consider a fracture or dislocation of a lumbar vertebrae since these can happen when rabbits kick their powerful hind legs uncontrollably, and rabbits are susceptible to disorientation and panic when emerging from anesthesia.

The chiropractor had already examined the rabbit and concluded it had a subluxation in its cervical spine. He recommended giving a chiropractic adjustment to the neck and sending the pet home, with additional adjustments likely necessary in the following days or weeks. When I asked how he reconciled his diagnosis with the symptoms, which fit the classic pattern associated with a spinal cord injury in the lower back, the chiropractor informed me that he was familiar with “allopathic” neurology textbooks but had chosen to ignore them because they were not consistent with his daily experience in practice.

The client permitted me to take an x-ray which confirmed a traumatic lumbar vertebral fracture and severe spinal cord trauma. The patient was humanely euthanized in light of the severe lets get a massagesymptoms and poor prognosis. Though this was sad, I consider it a better outcome for the animal than having its neck twisted and being sent home paralyzed and with a fractured spine but without any pain control, as the chiropractor had recommended. Granted, such a story cannot prove anything about the safety or efficacy of animal chiropractic therapy, but it is at least illustrative of some of the risks of substituting a pseudoscientific belief system for science-based medicine.

Bottom Line

Though there is no reliable data, the popularity of chiropractic for treatment of humans appears to translate, to at least some extent, to the treatment of animals. The fundamental theories and practices of animal chiropractic are copied or extrapolated from those employed in treating humans, however there is virtually no reliable scientific evidence to show any benefit from veterinary chiropractic treatment. There is also no controlled evidence identifying the risks of chiropractic therapy of animals, so we can only speculate about the safety of this intervention. It is clear, however, that chiropractic therapy for animals is often associated with opposition to conventional medical care and with other unproven or clearly ineffective alternative therapies, and this presents some risks to patients seeking care from so-called animal chiropractors.

References

  1. Maler, MM. Overview of veterinary chiropractic and its use in pediatric exotic patients. Vet Clin Exot Anim. 2012;15:299-310
  2. Miritz TA. Morgan L. Wyatt LH. Greene L. An epidemiological examination of the subluxation construct using Hill’s criteria of causation. Chiropr Osteopat 2009;2:17-13.
  3. French SD, Green S, Forbes A. Reliability of chiropractic methods commonly used to detect manipulable lesions in patients with chronic low-back pain. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2000 May;23(4):231-8.
  4. Hestbaek L, Leboeuf-Yde C. Are chiropractic tests for the lumbo-pelvic spine reliable and valid? A systematic critical literature review. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2000 May;23(4):258-75.
  5. Haussler, KK. Martin, CE. Hill, AE. Efficacy of spinal manipulation and mobilisation on trunk flexibility and stiffness in horses: a randomised clinical trial. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2010; 48 (Supp. 38):695-702.
  6. Gomez Alvarez, CB. L’Ami, JJ. Moffatt, D. van Weeren, PR. Effect of chiropractic manipulations on the kinematics of back and limbs in horses with clinically diagnosed back problems. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2008;40(2):153-159.
  7. Sullivan, KA. Hill, AE. Haussler, KK. The effect of chiropractic, massage and phenylbutazone on spinal mechanical nociceptive thresholds in horses without clinical signs. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2008;40(1):14-20.
  8. Ernst, E. Adverse effects of spinal manipulation: a systematic review. J R Soc Med July 2007 vol. 100 no. 7 330-338