Holistic medicine is a form of healing that focuses on the whole pet—body, mind and spirit—in the quest to achieve optimal pet health. As a branch of holistic medicine, osteopathic treatment is a drug-free approach to pet health that corrects body structure for proper function and self-healing.
What Is Canine Osteopathy?
An animal osteopath provides an alternative for pet parents who wish to forgo pharmaceutical treatment. Osteopathy can be categorized by two different techniques—direct and indirect. Both are non-invasive and manual.
Direct osteopathic techniques involve heavy thrusts through the body’s restrictive barrier. This includes chiropractic and muscle energy techniques. Indirect techniques involve the practitioner working away from the restrictive barrier to allow the tissues to unwind and move through the restrictive barrier on their own. Indirect osteopathic techniques include craniosacral, energy engaging, myofascial release, nerve release, vascular and visceral manipulation.
While these techniques are widely used by physical therapists, they are not yet widely used in veterinary medicine, as osteopathy is an emerging technique in animal rehabilitation.
History of Osteopathic Medicine
In the 19th century, Dr. Andrew Still discovered a direct relationship between the musculoskeletal system and how the rest of the body functions. He believed that if the body’s structure was incorrect, other parts of the body would not operate correctly.
According to Dr. Still, the three functional systems of the body—the circulatory system, nervous system and fascia—organize the body into a unified whole. If there is dysfunction occurring in any of these systems, there will be dysfunction in other parts of the body that can eventually lead to disease the whole body or part of it.
The animal osteopathic practitioners of today embrace Dr. Still’s theory, using massage to manipulate a pet’s muscles and joints back to good health. Canine osteopathy advocates that a body in proper form will function properly and heal itself.
Benefits of Canine Osteopathy
Canine osteopathy has been used to address shoulder and back problems for agility, racing, and for elderly and service dogs. Osteopathic treatment can also be used to address hip problems, digestive problems, joint pain, arthritis, muscle spasms and stiffness, neck pain, and postoperative issues. A dog osteopath will use special massage techniques to address injuries caused by traumas, accidents or falls. Without treatment, dogs may have difficulty walking up the stairs, getting into cars or even lying down.
“Osteopathy has a significant role in the care of horses and small animals,” says Sally Morgan, a pet holistic physical therapist with over 30 years of experience. Morgan has helped dogs and cats with a variety of ailments ranging from Lyme’s disease to laryngeal paralysis, and problems found in senior pets such as arthritis and joint issues.
“This gentle hands-on therapy allows for the pet’s body to use its own self-healing mechanisms to regain a homeostatic balance,” says Morgan. “The technique is so gentle that it does not engage the body’s defense mechanism.”
Osteopathic Treatment for Dogs
Your osteopath, or holistic vet, will design a treatment plan based on your dog’s medical history, age and physical demands. For example, an elderly dog may need more frequent treatment to soothe stiff joints and increase mobility. Treatment often begins with a complete examination of the body to identify the areas with the most dysfunction. The osteopath then addresses those areas as well as the areas that have the most influence on other systems. Next, the practitioner will work through smaller restrictions to help the body return to normal function. This technique is known as “sequencing.”
“I combine osteopathic techniques with orthopedic manipulation (gentle chiro) and other hands-on healing techniques such as myofascial release [to address the pet’s ailments],” explains Morgan. “The animals I have treated sleep quite deeply after the session, and then regain function and vibrancy the next day.”
How to Prepare for Your Visit
Be sure to provide your osteopath, or holistic vet, with your pup’s complete medical history, including any injuries she’s sustained, treatments and medications she’s under, and her daily activities. Your canine’s treatment plan can include massages, stretching, articulation, cranial work and joint manipulation. Osteopathy is by nature a hands-on healing process, “which mostly requires your trained hands,” says Morgan.
Many dogs experience drowsiness after treatment, so avoid planning activities after scheduled sessions. This is a good time to allow your furry friend to rest and heal.
Morgan recommends glucosamine supplements like Zesty Paws Mobility Bites with glucosamine for dogs with arthritis and other osteopathic issues. If your pup prefers liquid supplements, Liquid Health Pets Original K9 Glucosamine Dog Supplement provides the joint-protecting glucosamine your dog needs.
As a pet parent, it’s important to know your options. Your pets rely on you to make important decisions that affect their health and overall quality of life. Holistic medical treatments like osteopathy give pet parents non-invasive, pharmaceutical-free alternatives to consider when a four-legged friend is in pain. Be sure to consult your veterinarian to see if holistic medical treatments are appropriate for your pet.
Michelle McKinley is dedicated to creating informative pieces that help pet parents train, care for and love their cuddly companions. She operates a digital ad agency providing content to enterprise and small businesses. As a writer for Chewy, Michelle delights in sharing tips and techniques that strengthen the relationship between owner and pet. She works with experienced veterinarians, knowledgeable pet behaviorists and pet brands to bring the best in pet to readers.