What Does an Animal Chiropractor Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Melissa Ling. © The Balance 2019

Animal chiropractors specialize in treating the neurological and musculoskeletal systems of animals by performing adjustments to their joints and vertebrae to alleviate pain, restore balance, and improve performance. Patients may include pets, zoo animals, livestock, and racehorses.

Chiropractic treatment may be delivered by a chiropractor-certified veterinarian or an animal chiropractor who works with a veterinarian.

Animal chiropractors treat patients for a variety of reasons that include:

  • Baseline evaluation for a young pet to allow for proper development of its neurologic system
  • Curvature or hunching of the spine
  • Recovery from undergoing anesthesia or sedation for surgery, dental cleaning, or other procedures
  • Athletic animal checkup to ensure optimum performance and be less prone to injury
  • Back pain, including suspicion of disc herniation
  • Arthritis, general weakness, lack of coordination, and organ dysfunction that are common to senior animals

Animal Chiropractor Duties & Responsibilities

Patient care includes:

  • Taking an assessment by consulting the owner to learn the animal's detailed medical history
  • Reviewing x-rays or prior written records provided by the animal’s regular veterinarian
  • Observing the animal both at rest and in motion to determine what adjustments may be necessary
  • Palpating the spine and other areas that seem to be a source of pain or discomfort 
  • Performing the necessary adjustments

After treatment, chiropractors may advise owners on therapeutic exercises that can help keep their animal healthy. Routine follow-up visits may be necessary as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Animal Chiropractor Salary

The specific level of earnings can depend on the number of clients a practitioner is able to attract, the hourly rate the practitioner can command, years of experience in the field, and the geographic area in which the practice is located. Most animal chiropractors charge a per-session fee.

Veterinarians and human chiropractors may use their animal chiropractic work as a supplementary source of income, adding to the fairly substantial salaries already associated with those professions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, does not provide a separate classification for animal chiropractors but does include one for veterinarians and one for chiropractors.

Veterinarians earned the following:

  • Median Annual Salary: $90,420 ($43.47/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $159,320 ($76.60/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $53,980 ($25.95/hour)

Chiropractors earned the following:

  • Median Annual Salary: $68,640 ($33.00/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $144,730 ($69.58/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $34,550 ($16.61/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

The American Chiropractic Certification Commission (ACCC) of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) is the most prominent certification group for animal chiropractors in North America. Candidates must hold a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, pass a comprehensive written exam, and complete an intensive practical skills exam. 

Once achieved, the AVCA certification status is valid for a period of three years. To maintain their certification status, the practitioner must complete at least 30 hours of approved continuing education credit hours during a three-year period.

Very strong knowledge of animal anatomy and physiology is necessary to be successful in this career path. Several recommended postgraduate animal chiropractic programs are listed on the AVCA website.

Animal Chiropractor Skills & Competencies

Required skills for the position of animal chiropractor include:

  • High degree of manual dexterity: Gentle, smooth movements and a calm demeanor help soothe nervous animals that may be in pain and ensure they don't experience further discomfort.
  • Love of animals: Kindness also helps to calm a nervous animal.
  • Knowledge of animal behavior: Understanding animal behavior can help to efficiently diagnosis and treat illness or disease.
  • Familiarity with safe handling techniques: Handling animals safely can ensure that both you and the animal do not suffer unnecessary injury.
  • Decision-making and problem-solving abilities: Knowing how to treat and prevent illness and disease, or when to stop doing so, may require making difficult decisions.
  • Focused on details: Maintaining accurate records of the work performed on patients as well as the results of their treatment can assist in any future treatment including those of other animals. 

Other helpful competencies include:

  • Patience: The animal may be nervous and in pain. Therefore, it's important to give the animal time to adjust to strange surroundings.
  • Focus: Closely observing the animal during an examination can help to determine a diagnosis and proper treatment.
  • Analytical thinking: Sometimes illnesses are not obvious and it may take asking the right questions of the owner to determine a root cause.
  • Empathy: A nervous animal that is in pain may stay calm if treated with understanding and comfort.

Job Outlook

Animal chiropractic has been popular for some time in the equine industry, particularly with show and performance horses. According to a report by the AVCA, there have been more than 1,100 professionals certified in this field since the certification program was officially established in 1989. Through the last decade, this field has expanded due to increased public demand for animal chiropractic services. Those with significant experience, certification, and education will continue to enjoy the best job prospects in this field.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not separately classify animal chiropractors, it does provide information on chiropractors and veterinarians. From 2016 to 2026, employment of chiropractors is expected to grow 12 percent, and for veterinarians, employment is expected to grow 19 percent.

Work Environment

Animal chiropractors can operate out of a veterinary facility or a mobile clinic that visits clients where they live. An animal chiropractor, depending on specialty, may work at zoos, racetracks, farms, animal hospitals, or educational institutions.

Work Schedule

Work hours vary according to the specialty and place of employment. Animal chiropractors in private practice determine their own hours, which are likely similar to those of other private practitioners. However, those who work for educational institutions or zoos generally to work the hours specified by their employer.

How to Get the Job

APPLY

Look at resources such as iHireVeterinary, Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com, for the latest job postings. These sites also provide tips on resume and cover letter writing, as well as guidance on preparing for and mastering an interview.

JOIN AN ORGANIZATION

Become a member of an organization and meet others in the industry to inquire about possible employment. The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) lists jobs in the veterinary chiropractor field; while the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) offers training, volunteer, and networking opportunities to its members. Options for Animals also provides U.S. job postings.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in working with animals or osteology should consider the following careers. Here's a list of similar jobs, along with the median annual salary: