Chiropractic, veterinary groups negotiate roles in animal care

Recent cases led to 2009 law in Colorado, stalemate in New Mexico
Published on February 18, 2010
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Veterinary and chiropractic organizations are negotiating adjustments to state laws to define their respective roles in animal health. 

Those efforts, for example, led to a law in Colorado that allows chiropractic treatment on dogs and horses in the state when prescribed by veterinarians. But similar negotiations in New Mexico led to a stalemate that will not likely end this year.

Dr. Gene F. Giggleman, president of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, performs a
spinal adjustment on a dog at his clinic on the campus of Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas.

Ralph Johnson, executive director of the Colorado VMA, said a law passed in summer 2009 requires chiropractors in his state to receive education and certification prior to working on animals and to only work on an animal after obtaining a referral from a veterinarian. Chiropractors in the state can work only on horses and dogs.

"Even though they asked about cats, it didn't take very many stories before convincing them that they really didn't want to do chiropractic on cats," Johnson said.

The 2009 law amended the state's chiropractic act to grant special permission for animal chiropractic practice. The Colorado VMA and the Colorado Chiropractic Association discussed the issue for years prior to reaching an agreement and proposing the state legislation, Johnson said.

Dr. T. Murt Byrne, who helped negotiate with the New Mexico Chiropractic Association on behalf of the New Mexico VMA, said the negotiations in his state ended with disagreements over whether chiropractors should be able to practice on animals without referrals and whether they should be allowed to administer or use herbs or other products to, for example, calm animals during spinal adjustments.

Dr. Byrne had hoped the two organizations would reach a deal in time for the 2009 legislative session. Because New Mexico's legislature has short, budget-oriented sessions on even-numbered years, he does not expect the issue will resurface until 2011.

Robert Jones, DC, vice president of the New Mexico Chiropractic Association, thinks negotiators for his association and the New Mexico VMA were still willing to work together, but their associations came to a stalemate.

"I think that there are individuals within each profession who do not want to see this piece of legislation come together, which is too bad because the legislation would give protection to the providers. They would know each of their roles and the consequences of going beyond that," Dr. Jones said.

Both parties agreed animal owners should have primary care veterinarians for their animals, and chiropractors should advise owners to see a veterinarian for primary care. The professions also agreed that chiropractors who work on animals in the state should be required to have subspecialty certification for animal care.

"The veterinarians wanted to have the language in such a way that a chiropractor had to have a direct referral and could only see an animal on a direct referral," Dr. Jones said. "And that's basically the stopping point."

Chiropractors in the state questioned why they would support writing a law that would hinder their practices, Dr. Jones said, but he thinks it was shortsighted by members of both professions not to complete and support some legislation on the issue.

Dr. Byrne said veterinarians are the professionals most adept at identifying rabies or West Nile virus infection in horses or plague in cats, for example, and he would be concerned about zoonotic disease risk if chiropractors were seeing animals without referrals.

Dr. Gene F. Giggleman, a veterinarian and the president of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, said chiropractors in animal care are trained to recognize disease, and AVCA education stresses the importance of contacting veterinarians when chiropractors encounter anything unusual. He said that chiropractors can serve as an extra set of eyes for veterinarians.

Dr. Giggleman believes that these legislative efforts are attempts to define the scope of each type of practice and provide a path for chiropractors to care for animals. Most states require that a veterinarian examine an animal prior to chiropractic treatment, he said, while some require veterinarian supervision during chiropractic care.

The AVCA advocates for close work between chiropractors and veterinarians and adherence to the law in states where veterinarian referrals are required. Dr. Giggleman is aware of only one state—Oklahoma—that allows animal chiropractic care without a referral, but that state requires relevant postgraduate training.

Dr. Giggleman said it is incumbent on veterinarians to be educated on alternative treatments available for animals.

The AVMA Model Veterinary Practice Act states that the practice of veterinary medicine includes the use of "complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies."