Chiropractic problems and treatments in domestic cats

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Chiropractic problems are often found as the underlying reason feline patients are presented. If more veterinarians were trained to recognize this component of cat health in physical exams, and to realize the wide variety of conditions chiropractic can help, we would be able to assist in many cases.

Very few studies relate to chiropractic issues in cats. Anecdotally, we see and treat them frequently, so this article shows both the incidence of these problems in cats, and some of the treatment approaches we use.

Background information

A search of the literature revealed no published data relating specifically to chiropractic issues in domestic cats, but it did offer a body of information on arthritis/DJD/spondylosis. The first, in 1964, was a radiographic presentation of spondylosis. The next grouping of reports ranged from the late 1990s to a 2001 study looking at the efficacy of Meloxicam in pain control for arthritic cats. There have been other reports of arthritis pain management since, but nothing relating to chiropractic problems or treatment (that we could find).

The general conclusion of these studies was that cats get radiographically visible arthritis by the age ten to 12 on average, with some as young as six, and that more joints are affected as they get older.

Our incidence study


Using some of these arthritis studies as a model, I (Dr. Thompson) evaluated the next 200 cats that came into the hospital for any reason, sick or well, indoor and/or outdoor, and of any age, from eight weeks to 20 years old. These cats included hospital patients, vaccination clinic animals, and barn cats seen on equine ambulatory calls.

Each was palpated for both static mal-alignments and changes in motion at the same locations as in the arthritis studies, namely along the entire spine, elbows, shoulders and hips. I added the sternum, as I have found in clinical practice that this is a common and significant site for arthritic changes, and is not looked at by radiologists.


  1. I found one eight-week-old kitten with no discernable subluxation complexes. A subluxation complex refers to a joint with abnormal or restricted motion and all of its surrounding soft tissue support structures. This would include the muscles, their attachments, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, lymphatics, nerves, joint capsule, etc.
  2. Subluxation complexes were more common with age.
  3. These complexes were present at younger ages than at which arthritis was found in previous studies.
  4. 5% of cats had sternum involvement; those cats alsohad a statistically significant increase in subluxation complexes than those of the same age without sternum involvement.
  5. This increase is seen in both spinal segments and extremities.


As the sole practitioner gathering data, there should be consistency in the data from animal to animal. It would have been beneficial to have multiple practitioners gathering data in additional locations to get a better variety of cat populations and a larger number of participating cats. This would require that we all agreed on and practiced our protocol before collecting data.

The information we gathered sparks a number of additional questions to be answered:

  1. Is there a difference between indoor and outdoor kept cats?
  2. Can we effect a change in the development of arthritis in older cats by keeping them regularly adjusted with chiropractic from a young age?
  3. If yes, what is the optimal maintenance protocol?
  4. Do these trends hold true in other species?

As chiropractic practitioners, we know our treatments can have an important impact on the lives of our patients, and their owners. It is my hope that this basic information provides a starting point for further research that will help all of us educate and encourage our colleagues, co-workers and owners about the benefits of early chiropractic treatment and continued preventative maintenance in our feline patients.


Most of my patients are referred in-hospital to me by the other practitioners, while some come from other practices. Colleagues who have utilized my suggestions for incorporating a few easy additions to their physical exam routines often find muscular/skeletal problems.

I offer free chiropractic exams to any puppy or kitten I see and check all litters and their moms during wellness appointments. This allows us to start the conversation about lifetime preventative chiropractic maintenance.

Once existing problems are resolved, we evaluate maintenance needs for the animal. Often, twice yearly chiropractic treatments keep them comfortable. I see active working or competitive animals more frequently, once every four to six weeks as needed, depending on their workloads or show schedules.

As the case studies below will show, many chiropractic problems are a part of (or the only) reason some of our patients are presented. So if more veterinarians were trained to recognize this component in physical exams, and to realize the wide variety of conditions that chiropractic can help, we would be able to assist in many cases. Chiropractic is a wonderful addition to any practitioner’s treatment options.

Case studies

For those not familiar with the notations used for recording chiropractic findings and treatments, here are a few hints. It all started with human anatomical terminology and is now a blend of human and animal terminology since we veterinarians have been taught chiropractic by human chiropractors. The notations indicate the location and direction of correction of a subluxation complex.


C1PL = C1 posterior (dorsal) on the left side

C1SR = C1 superior (cranial) on the right.

C1 = Atlas

C2 =Axis

P = posterior = dorsal

A = anterior = ventral

S = superior = cranial

I = inferior = caudal

L = left

R = right

PI and AS refer to Iliac spine

1. Gillyweed

Gillyweed, a female DSH, was first seen at eight weeks of age (4/2013) at her post adoption exam by one veterinarian at the practice. She was found to have a congenital deformity of her left front leg, including a missing radius, a short and twisted ulna, and a few missing carpals. She was spayed at 11 months (1/2014) with no complications.

When seen at 16 months (6/2014) for her annual exam, she was referred for chiropractic treatment. Two weeks prior to the chiropractic appointment, she stopped climbing on her cat tree and seemed painful when picked up.

At her conventional exam (7/2014), Gillyweed was found to be depressed and dehydrated with a moderately painful abdomen, an arched back and tight spinal muscles. IV fluids overnight improved her attitude and hydration, but she was still resistant to being handled. Permission for a chiropractic exam and treatment was obtained. Subluxations were found and treated with manual adjustments at C7BR, C6BL, T1PR, T8PL, T12P, L1PL, L2P, L6PL, Sternum R, and R femoral head cranial.

At Gillyweed’s check two weeks later (8/2014), her owner reported improvement in her activity level and attitude and that she was using her left elbow when she ran. At her chiropractic exam, she was stiff in both extension/flexion and lateral/flexion mid-back with a stiff and high right pelvis. TX: T6P, T8PL, T12P, T13PR, L1PL, RPI.

Two weeks later (9/2014), her owner reported that Gillyweed was better overall, but starting to seem stiff again. She was found to be stiff with motion palpation in all three main areas: cervical/thoracic/lumbar-pelvis. TX: C7BR, T1PL, T8PL, T11PR, T12P, T13PL, L4PL, RPI, Sternum L.

Two weeks later, Gillyweed was improved in attitude and behavior. A chiropractic exam showed VSC cervical/thoracic/lumbar-pelvis (VSC=vertebral sub-luxation complex). TX: C5BR, T5PR, T12P, L1PL, L2PR, SAR, SBPL (SA=sacral apex, SB=sacral base).

At another recheck in two weeks, she was much improved, purring again and sociable with all family members. The exam showed VSC cervical/mid-back .TX: C1PR, C2P, C6BL, T5PL, T13PR, L4PL.

She was rechecked again in two weeks (10/2014) at which she was reported to be more active and social. During the exam, her back was found to be flat — for the first time since was first seen for abdominal pain. VSC was found in cervical/mid-back areas. TX: C7BR, T1PL, T6P, T12PL, L1PR, L5PL.

Another recheck in three weeks (11/2014) found Gillyweed doing well. TX: T2PL, T4PL, L3P, L6P, RPI (PI= sacral-iliac joint stuck in flexion, AS=sacral- iliac joint stuck in extension).

Gillyweed continues to be a long-term patient and is comfortable and active with maintenance chiropractic treatments three or four times a year. Her main trouble areas have stayed consistent, probably due to her compensations for her deformed left front leg. So far, her follow-up radiographs have not shown any signs of arthritic changes.

2. Harry Pawter

Harry Pawter, a neutered male Maine Coon born in 2000, was first referred for chiropractic care at his annual exam on 7/11/2014. His owner reported that he was arthritic and he was found to have tense back muscles and pain with palpation. Other findings included being overweight, a benign mass on his ventral abdomen, and early stage renal disease.

A later chiropractic exam found that Harry had decreased lateral/flexion cervical and thoracic and decreased extension/flexion in his lumbar segments.

Manual adjustments were performed at the following segments: C1PR, C7BL, T1PR, T4PL, T12 and T13PR, L1PR, L4P, L6PL, SAL, Sternum L, left ribs 11 and12 P, R rib 9 dorsal/caudal.

A recheck was suggested in two weeks; the appointment made was for three weeks later (9/23/2014). Harry’s neck was stiff to the left, and he had decreased lateral/flexion mid-back, stiff ribs on the L, and decreased motion in his pelvis. TX: C7BL, T1PR, T6PL, T12PR, L2PL, L6PR, R SA, caudal sternum L, Right rib10 P.

On 5/1/15, Harry’s owner reported that was lying down slowly and carefully, and had been chewing at his mid-back area a few days earlier. A chiropractic exam found a slightly oily area dorsal mid-back with a strong panniculus response at T10-L1, stiff ribs on the L, sternum shifted L, L pelvis high, decreased lateral/flexion cranial lumbar through mid-thorax, and decreased motion L and R cervical. TX: C1PR, C2P, C3BR, C7BL, T4PR, T6PL, T9PR, T11PL, T13PR, L1P, L3PR, L PI, SA L, sternum L. RX:

Dasuquin Cats #60 1 SID on food. A recheck with bloodwork was suggested for seven to ten days later.

Harry was seen again on 7/28/15; his owner reported that he had been doing well up until a couple of weeks prior. The exam showed decreased lateral/flexion and extension/flexion mid-back and lumbar with a strong panniculus response mid-back, and a pain response with palpation over his pelvis and hip joints. Harry’s coat was thin and oily along his dorsal midline and pelvis. He had an increased heart rate with normal rhythm along with weight loss. Bloodwork showed a slight decrease in WBC and an increased T4. RX: Methimazole transdermal gel 5mg SID, and a continuation of Dasuquin. TX: C2P, C6BR, T1PL, T6P, sternum R, T11PL, T12P, L1PL, L3PL, L5PR, R SA. We discussed adding low dose Meloxicam when traveling and/or Body Sore (Chinese herb mixture). A chiropractic recheck and a check for T4 was recommended in a month’s time.

Harry was seen a month later for a T4 re-check only. The Methimazole was increased to BID.

He was next seen for chiropractic care on 7/7/16. He was found to have back muscles and a painful back. A chiropractic exam revealed even ribs, decreased lateral/flexion mid-back and lumbar, and a neck stiff to the L. TX: C7BL, T1PL, T5PR, T6PR, T8PL, T10P, T12PL, T13PR, L2PR, L3PL, L5PR, L6PL, R rib 7P, R radial head lateral, L femoral head caudal.

I continue to see Harry Pawter once or twice a year as needed. Unfortunately, this isn’t often enough to help increase the stability of his back, but it does seem to keep him comfortable for significant periods of time. His symptoms are interesting because the first thing his owner noticed were the changes in his coat and grooming behavior.

Dr. Sue Thompson graduated from UC Davis with a BS in Physiology, and graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1987. She went to Options for Animals school of animal chiropractic in 2006, becoming certified by the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association (IVCA) in 2007, and completed the advanced course in animal chiropractic in 2016. She is currently seeing chiropractic patients (dogs, cats and horses) at Animal Hospital on the Ridge in Paradise, California from May through October, and does barn outcalls for equine patients (