Chiropractic for Ducks: Yes, That’s Really What I Said!

I’ve written extensively about the use of chiropractic in animals as well as humans. The bottom line is that the underlying theory is nonsense, and at best the evidence suggests it might offer some benefit for people with back pain, though no more than conventional therapy. This is hardly enough to balance the completely bogus claims for chiropractic therapy, the dangers of neck manipulation, and the nonsense like colonic irrigation and opposition to vaccines so often offered by chiropractors alongside back manipulation.

There is no convincing evidence that the therapy is beneficial for veterinary patients, and it is bizarre that chiropractors claim the problems animals experience, and the therapy they offer, are the same as for humans when the spinal anatomy of human beings is so dramatically different from most other species. Even if chiropractic manipulation of a persons back relieves pain, what possible relevance could this have to twisting a dog’s neck to treat seizures and neurologic problems or chronic internal medicine disorders, as claimed by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association?

An illustration of the extent to which chiropractors practicing on animals so readily leave reality behind is the video below showing chiropractic manipulation of the neck of an injured duck. For the most part, critics of chiropractic are posting this as a joke, with lots of remarks about “quacks.” The problem is that the humor is diminished for me by the cruelty. Taking a frightened wild animal that has been hit by a car and subjecting it to cervical spinal manipulations for which there is not the slightest rational justification is ultimately a form of animal cruelty. It is a far cry from treating a consenting adult human being with back pain, and it illustrates why irrational approaches to medicine not supported by real evidence are not just silly or harmless. Once we head down the rabbit hole and suspend our skepticism and reliance on scientific evidence, we can quickly go from the merely unproven or unlikely to the outright crazy.



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39 Responses to Chiropractic for Ducks: Yes, That’s Really What I Said!

  1. Rita says:

    I’ve recently had a correspondence with someone pushing chiro for horses (again): we were each supposed to contact vets to get opinions: I got one (extremely sceptical) but the College of Equine Vets won’t give me any position statement: the other side has contributed no opinions at all. This wretched messing about should be clearly commented on by responsible bodies: as you so truly say, it can end up in real cruelty: better these people devote their time to ending foie gras farms if they want to help ducks!

  2. v.t. says:

    Skeptvet, has the EBVMA addressed the “cruelty” aspect of CAVM in their engagements and presentations?

  3. skeptvet says:

    Apart from endorsing the statement on homeopathy associated with the recent House of Delegates resolution on the subject, the EBVMA takes no official position on CAVM. Individual members, of course, do, and I frequently speak about the ethical issues of applying unproven or outright ineffective and unsafe therapies to veterinary patients, and of not providing adequate informed consent to animal owners when making unsubstantiated claims about these therapies. I believe this is an improtant point that doens’t get enough attention.

    I also tried to interest the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics interested in the subject during the debate on homeopathy, but I didn’t get any response. Noted ethicist Bernard Rollin has written about this issue, for example in Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine Considered.

  4. v.t. says:

    Well, I hope the “no response” at least gave cause for thought. I can’t imagine too many vets could overlook that important point, when it is so obvious. Thanks for all the hard work and effort you’re putting into it, as grueling as the work may be.

  5. Art says:

    I wonder how intelegent aliens would react to the video. For for the good of the human race i hope they would not think it was funny. Anyone know how to make a copy of The video? My guess is the video will be removed soon from utube. Hopefully the students at the Colorado and Florida vet school can document some of the acupunture animal abuse that is going on there. Pictures of needles in the necks of chickens have been removed from the Internet but animal abuse needling barnyard animals with acupuncture needles still continues in from to students.
    Art Malernee Dvm
    Lic 1820

  6. Art says:

    Should read
    In front of students

  7. Murray Webb says:

    Hi there,

    My experience with chiropractic therapies and animals is diferent from your own. In New Zealand, chiropractors do not pitch their services as having the potential to solve anything apart from musculoskeletal issues – i.e. they take a relatively conservative standpoint on the utility value of what they do, like most physical therapists.

    With dogs and cats, I have found chiropractors to be remarkably effective – bearing in mind that I’m working with a small treatment population of my own pets – 1 cat and 3 dogs. As an example, one of my dogs (a male Great Pyrenees) damaged a metacarpal in his right front foot – the vet wanted to operate immediately, as the dog had significant lameness. Having had chiropractic treatment myself – and benefited – I took the dog to my chiropractor and had his foot “adjusted”, hoping for a simpler, less invasive solution than surgery. The dog lost his lameness immediately and permanently, and avoided an unnecessary surgical intervention.

    I have had several similar situations, chiropractic treatments and rapid problem resolutions with my other pets, usually because they’ve injured their necks or backs in some way; we live on a significant acreage and the animals are very active. As a non-medical person, I see what chiropractors do with necks, spines and extremities as being a bit like correcting a partially dislocated shoulder – just on a rather smaller, more precise scale, and with little force but great dexterity being involved in terms of the corrective actions.

    In summary, my pets have received several chiropractic adjustments over the last 14-15 years – with the treatment protocols well-tolerated/accepted by them all, and the clinical outcomes in terms of freedom from pain/restoration of mobility being excellent.

    I would add that I am not anti-vet in any way, but use my own judgement and experiences to select treatment providers for my pets. In some cases, my vet and chiropractor have worked hand-in-hand, with the vet taking x-rays and highlighting the problem, and the chiropractor implementing the solution. There doesn’t have to be a “them and us” issue.

  8. skeptvet says:

    Certailny, there are chiropractors who limit their practice to musculoskeletal problems, and there is at least some scientific evidence to support that.

    Unfortunately, anecdotes like these simply don’t tell us anything useful. There is not, for example, any plausible reason why back manipulation would have any effect on a damaged metacarpal. It is possible in the same way that magic is possible: you can never prove something is impossible, but for it to happen would require us to ignore an awful lot of the well-established knowledge and understanding upon which we have based therapies that have been proven successful inc ontrolled studies. So the question is then whether your dog got better because of the therapy or simply after the therapy. Most medical conditions, including musculoskeltal injuries, heal on their own given enough time. Though it is less satasfying, and I don’t expect it to seem convincing to you, it is far more likely that your pets simply got better with time and happened to have had an irrelevant treatment along the way. There are hundreds of examples of this in medicine, where doctors swore by a therapy for decades which later turned out to be useless but which seemed to work because it happened to be used before the patient got better on their own. If this wasn’t a problem, we wouldn’t need science at all.

    Just something to consider.

  9. Murray Webb says:


    I can appreciate that both humans and animals often get better on their own. And yes, there is a deep body of evidence that supports chiropractic care for musculoskeletal issues; in New Zealand, our government actually subsidises chiropractic care for humans to the tune of about 80% of the cost of treatment.

    With the damaged metacarpal situation, the chiropractor didn’t touch his back – only the metacarpals themselves. Basically, if it’s a localised problem it’s a usually a localised solution. The dog had been limping for about a week, and it was getting worse – not better. Within 5 minutes of the chiropractic treatment he had full mobility restored and did not limp thereafter. Note that animals, unlike humans, do not “benefit” from a placebo effect, so the result cannot be attributed to that.

    This has been my consistent experience with other animals and other types of injuries, so naturally I will continue to use this particular chiropractor’s services.

    And while the situation clearly exists where “doctors swore by a therapy for decades which later turned out to be useless”, the converse also exists: interventions that were routinely disputed by the medical profession can turn out, ultimately, to have great worth. As an example, in the 1840s, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis proposed the idea of handwashing/disinfection to reduce the incidence of puerperal fever in obstetric clinics. The medical community of the time was greatly offended by his suggestion, and Semmelweis himself could offer no scientific explanation for his “anecdotal” findings. Of course, some decades later, when Pasteur and Lister confirmed germ theory, the practice of handwashing was uniformly and enthusiastically accepted.

    Just something to consider! 🙂

  10. Art says:

    I did not know chiropractors “adjust” feet. Do human chiropractors in New Zealand take your shoes and socks off and crack your toes?

  11. skeptvet says:

    “e chiropractor didn’t touch his back – only the metacarpals themselves. ”

    At which point, I’m not sure what makes this chiropractic. All the major chiro organizations and schools teach the vertebral subluxation complex as the source of Dz and chiropractic is defined in terms of this proposed (and ultimately false) relationship. The New Zealand Chiropractic Organization seems to share this emphasis: “Chiropractic care is primarily aimed at the detection and correction of abnormal spinal movement and position (termed the vertebral subluxation). After thorough examination and analysis, chiropractors use carefully controlled and directed pressure (adjustments) to restore proper spinal function and thereby reduce interference to the vital nervous system.”

    “Note that animals, unlike humans, do not “benefit” from a placebo effect, so the result cannot be attributed to that.”
    Actually not entirely ture. Apart from non-specific effects such as conditioning and human contact (which can explain responses to many manual therapies), there is a significant problem with caregiver placebo effects. 40-50% of vets and clients report significant improvement in lameness and other symptoms of arthritis when their pets are given a placebo treatment in clinical trials. So the fact that something was done and the pet appeared to improve is not a reliable indicator that the something done was effective. Here’s more detail on this problem.

    “interventions that were routinely disputed by the medical profession can turn out, ultimately, to have great worth. ”
    Yes. And how did the emdical community come to realize the value of these things? Through objective scientific study. Science is quite open-minded, and it accepts therapies that are initially scoffed at if they can prove their worth. The idea that ulcers in humans could be caused by Helicobacter infections went from laughable to worthy of a Nobel prize within the lifetime of its discoverers because they were able to generate the evidence, and others were able to replicate it. This hasn’t happened for chiro (apart, as I said, from some value for back pain) despite over a century of effort. Chiro simple hasn’t been able to generate real proof of most of its claims, despite many stories like yours.

  12. Murray Webb says:

    Some chiropractors complete post-graduate training in treating extremeties, hence the ability to adjust elbows, feet, hands etc, and the analagous structures in animals. My chiropractor has completed such training.

    I would add that the chiropractic community has its own peer-reviewed research journals, where studies are held to the same scientific standards as research in any other other discipline. There is thus plenty of formal evidence that chiropractic alleviates various musculoskeletal issues; therapeutic claims beyond these issues may well be wishful thinking on behalf of a small minority of well-meaning evangelists.

    On the placebo topic, this presupposes that any “treatment” will do. However, my experience is that a good chiropractor will get a good treatment result for certain types of musculoskeletal issues, where other treatment modalities have failed (both on the real AND placebo front).

  13. Art says:

    hence the ability to adjust elbows, feet, hands etc, and the analagous structures in animals. My chiropractor has completed such training.>>>>>

    I would be interested in reading about post graduate studies chiropractors have done adjusting areas of the body other than the spine. This might open up a new area of chiropractic treatments for invertebrates.

  14. Vogel says:

    Murray, I keep tripping over more of your intellectually weak statements, but was particularly struck by your false assertion that “animals, unlike humans, do not ‘benefit’ from a placebo effect, so the result cannot be attributed to that”.

    You are under no obligation to fact-check the accuracy of the thoughts that occur to you before regurgitating them here, but I can’t help but wonder why you aren’t intellectually curious enough to do a simple Google search (or savvy enough to have heard of Pavlov’s dog).

    Please be more mindful about the quality of your contributions here. People have low tolerance for white noise.

  15. skeptvet says:

    “Some chiropractors complete post-graduate training in treating extremeties, hence the ability to adjust elbows, feet, hands etc, and the analagous structures in animals”

    The first question this raises is, ‘What is this therapy?” Apart from being performed by a chiropractor, it is not consistent with the definitions or practices of chiropractic as proponents and colleges of chiro define them, so it must be something else. Whatever it is, and whether or not it is effective, it doesn’t have any bearing then on whether or not chiropractic therapy works. This is a bit of a bait-and-switch of the kind where electrical currents are passed through needles placed in the skin (known to science as “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation”) and the treatment is called “acupuncture” and used to claim acupuncture “works.”

    The second question, then, is does this manipulative therapy, whatever it is, actually work, and again the answer requeires some sort of structured scientific investigation, not simply anecdotes. So in any case, if the manipulation was local not in the spine then it was something other than classical chiropractic, and it still isn’t clear whether it had any effects.

    “I would add that the chiropractic community has its own peer-reviewed research journals, where studies are held to the same scientific standards as research in any other other discipline. There is thus plenty of formal evidence that chiropractic alleviates various musculoskeletal issues”
    There are chiropractic journals, but I don’t agree that the standards are the same as those of conventional medicine. The whole reason such journals exist is to create a parallel, “separate-but-equal” system for publishing chiropractic studies that can meet the standards of mainstream journals. Thos that can are publiushed in conventional journals, and there really isn’t any value to having this parallel system.

    And bear in mind that homeopaths have their own journals too, but extensive evaluation of the papers publishe din them shows that they are more propoganda pieces than legitimate research, and they prove nothing. For that matter, there is a Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, and JOurnal of Religion and Health, and even a Journal of Astrology. The existence of such things doesn’t mean there is legitimate scientific research validating these methods. There happens to be, as I’ve said, some legitimate research support for some applications of spinal manipulative therapies, but that only serves to validate those specific therapies in that particular population, not the general use of chiro for anything else. The fact that there is scientific evidence to support the use of penicillin for certain infections doesn’t mean penicillin “works” and can be applied to any infection or to any other problem.

    “On the placebo topic, this presupposes that any “treatment” will do. However, my experience is that a good chiropractor will get a good treatment result for certain types of musculoskeletal issues, where other treatment modalities have failed (both on the real AND placebo front).”
    The key phrase here is “my experience.” Unfortunately, extensive research into the placebo effect does not agree with your experience, so we have to decide which is more reliable.

  16. I have a chiropractor that comes to adjust my horses once a month – has done them a world of good but you absolutely MUST get a chiropractor with years of experience!

  17. Rita says:

    If he needs to do his stuff every month, it can’t be much use. And what about the poor victims whilst the “years of experience” are being acquired?

  18. Rita says:

    Ah, but I see there is, at least, a disinterested side to horse chiropractors: The page declares that chiropractic for horses is “complimentary” – this means they are not charging for it. I suggest everyone tries this out for themselves…..

  19. Joseph Zappulla says:

    At the end of the treatment the duck did not say thanks, it just said QUACK !!!

  20. Dane O'Brien says:

    Chiropractors are here to stay. A lot of conservative therapy for humans that physical therapists and medical doctors use on a regular basis is not backed up by scientific evidence. Who cares! The whole point is to keep people off addictive drugs that can cause more problems. Medical Doctors are handing prescriptions out like candy. It seems like Chiropractic is very challenging to set-up a quality research study for. Medications can easily be tested and drug companies are happy to help fund these studies. I could go on and on about the problems the medical community needs to fix. The truth is every profession should be focusing on fixing their own problems instead of going around pointing fingers. Its only going to hurt you later.
    And I agree adjusting horses does sound like a bunch of crap. But we don’t need to discredit conservative therapy methods for humans.

  21. skeptvet says:

    Chiropractic is not at all difficult to study scientifically, and it has been extensively studied. As you will see in my other articles on the subject, the results are clear:

    1. The underlying theory is nonsense as there is no such thing as a vertebral subluxation complex.

    2. There is weak positive evidence for chiropractic manipulations as effective therapy for back pain, equivalent to but no better than conventional care.

    3. There is no convincing evidence for any other use.

    4. There is real risk, especially for chiro manipulation of children and for neck manipulations.

    5. There is an unfortunate tendancy for chiropractors to oppose vaccinations and other conventional care and to promote all manner of bogus alternative therapies.

    There is a small cadre of chiropractors who responsibly treat back pain, and I have no objection to that. Unfortunately, the profession routinely goes way beyond anything jsutified by the evidence, including treatment of veterinary patients, and it is perfectly appropriate to object to this.

  22. v.t. says:

    Looks like the NY Times is still trying to recover from the hack earlier (link not accessible).

  23. Rita says:

    Oh, worked for me just now. I think I mentioned that I had agreed with someone who was pushing chiro for horses amongst other, errr, therapies in a “holistic horse” seminar, that we would each seek out veterinary testimonies/opinions about this? I produced one vehement “anti-” article and was unable to get the Cllege of Veterinaries to opine: the other side produced nothing at all….and is now posting pictures of the various sessions, including chiro all over FB………one really has to suspect that money is the root of yet another evil here.

  24. v.t. says:

    Or highly inflated ego.

  25. My specialty as an anatomist and paleontologist is high speed locomotion in mammals and the spine of cursorial mammals is essential to understanding this subject. I have also taught human anatomy in a medical school as well as veterinary anatomy at U Pennsylvania.

    Although quadrupedal mammals share having a spine with bipedal humans the detailed anatomy is quite different and the biomechanics of the spine is very different. The spines of large herbivorous mammals such as horses and antelopes are designed for a great deal of rigidity – even the synovial joints between the vertebrae are formed to resist twisting and lateral ranges of motion that occur in humans. The ligaments are massive and the muscle mass is tremendous – (picture a whole tenderloin in the supermarket – that is only a portion of the lumbar musculature of a cow). To think that human hands can manipulate the vertebrae in a live horse is pretty far out.

    Dogs and other cursorial carnivores have spines of a different sort where dorso-ventral flexion of the loin is an important component to producing speed. But the muscle mass is still much more substantial than that in human backs.

    In my experience with the anatomy of fast dogs, the commonest source of back problem related locomotory abnormalities are congenital anatomical anomalies, such as transitional vertebrae, hemi-vertebrae and fusions of the vertebral spines at the “anticlinal” thoracic vertebrae. These are not things that chiropractic manipulation can correct.

    Neck anatomy in quadrupedal mammals is also very different from that of humans.

    I am going to see if this comment posts ok without being labeled as “spam”.

  26. Olive says:

    Just wondering if a million people were cured of an illness by some fruit that had never been tested in a lab…would that mean that they they weren’t really well?

  27. skeptvet says:

    It depends on how they determined they were cured. If you get a cold, eat the fruit, and your cold goes away a few days later, that’s not proof the fruit cured you. Your cold probably would have gone away on its own. If you think you have cancer but never get a biopsy, eat the fruit, and then don’t die of cancer, that’s not proof either. The confusion here, I think, is that you believe enough individual anecdotes add up to proof. But since each individual anecdote is subject to any of a hundred errors that could create the false impression of an effective therapy, adding them up doesn’t give us any more reliable evidence. Clinical trials, with all the mechanisms built into them to control such errors, does give us something more reliable, though by no means perfect. Millions of people believed for thousands of years they had been cured by bloodletting or magic, but clinical trials showed these didn’t help and made many people worse. So the answer is it depends on the details, because they matter.

  28. P. M. Bennett, DVM. (ret'd) says:

    Proof of a ‘cure’, mandates the prior proof of the malady.
    Relief of a sore back may be, as an old, crusty professor of equine medicine so often offered, simply the “tincture of Time”.

  29. Kimber's Mom says:

    There are quacks in every profession…. but there are also people who truly want to make a difference to enable that person or animal to live a quality life. When my German Shepherd dog was stricken with the incurable spinal cord disease degenerative myelopathy, there was little help with the medical establishment. Medically, an MRI was done. The surgeon at the facility we took our girl to said she had a protruding disk and that she needed surgery. He said that if her symptoms wouldn’t go away after the surgery, then her lameness was the result of DM. So under his professional guidance, we allowed him to do a dorsal laminectomy. Long story short: there never was any improvement as her symptoms had progressed. With this paralyzing disease, our girl had lost the ability to urinate on her own, and so we had learned how to express her bladder, as this is critical for a DM dog. There were times when the urine would not come out…. so we would take her to a chiropractor…. and after her adjustment with the activator aligning her vertebrae, she would be able to urinate, which gave her quality of life in her condition when the medical establsihment’s only option for her was euthanasia. Yes….there are chiropractic quacks out there just as there are incompetent veterinarians out there, too….. but God bless the ones who are able to help when there are no medical treatments or hope. I, myself was skeptical of chiropractors as I was never exposed to them until I met my husband, whom insisted that I see one after I had an injury. I was under the assumption they were back cracking quacks. Thank God my eyes were opened…. and thank God for the chiropractor I go to who has made my life so much better with his care.

  30. Art says:

    Looks like those pesky subluxations in your dog need “adjusted” about every three months. What’s a poor duck to do without regular chiropractic care?

  31. Julie Hau says:

    My cat was hit by a car years ago which gave her quite a limp. After about a few weeks of recovering, I brought her to an animal chiropractor and immediately after the adjustment her limp was 50 % better. Brought her back a couple weeks later for another adjustment and the remaining limp was essentially gone afterward. Those were immediate and very noticeable changes, so that sold me on it, at least for that kind of injury.

    A couple years later she had another kind of accident, brought her back for 2 more treatments w/ the same results. I’m glad she didn’t have to live the rest of her life w/ long-term consequences from those accidents.

  32. skeptvet says:

    Sadly, such anecdotes are unreliable since they exist for every therapy ever tried, including many proven not to work. It is just too easy to see what we want and expect to see. Here are some further discussions, and some humor, illustrating why:

    Why Anecdotes Can’t Be Trusted

  33. Julie Hau says:

    Thank you for your response, although I find it surprising that you completely wrote off my direct experience of what happened w/ my cat. Of course you don’t know that I tend to be skeptical myself and more science oriented in my evaluation of things. I’d never had chiropractic treatments myself and had no opinion about their efficacy. I had no expectations that anything would change for my cat, so when there were immediate changes, and the limp was basically eradicated in just 2 visits, I was stunned. To me that was impressive evidence. Yes, it’s anecdotal, but it was also real. Does it apply to every situation, of course I don’t know, but I know that I would try that kind of treatment again if a cat was limping as severely as mine was after those accidents.

  34. skeptvet says:

    I promise, I don’t reject anecdotes lightly However, what most people don’t know is that the reliability of such experiences has been studied and evaluated extensively, and for many reasons what seems to be true and even obvious in our daily experience often simply isn’t true. I urge you to take a look at some of the articles I linked to explaining why this is the case. And I would be very careful of chiropractors, many of whom offer not just manipulation but supplements, herbs, and many other unproven treatments and many of whom actively discourage scientific medical care. I’ve seen patients suffer from the anti-scientific beliefs and practices of some chiropractors.

  35. art malernee dvm says:

    Just got in the mail a RACE approved sales pitch for IVMI manipulation ce course located in the Ocala fla area. There are pictures of greyhounds being manipulated. The last race approved ce I went to in wpb had A greyhound on a underwater tread mill. More race approved fake. CE.

  36. Great stuff, pseudoscientific stuff seems to rule, great to see such clarity of thought!

  37. Evan says:

    Ive certainly had many patients with lamenesses of various types improve after the manipulations required just to examine them. So its not surprising some people think that a chiropractic manipulation, combined with good timing and rest, accomplishes something special. I sometimes make some comedy reference to my faith healing abilities, but its easy to see how an unscrupulous quack would maximise the co-incidence and grab some credibility from such incidental responses.

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