chiropractic problems and treatments in domestic cats

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.

View case studies at