The chiropractor who gets touchy-feely with Toronto's pets.
“I’m so old, I remember when the Dead Sea was just sick,” jokes Dr. Leo Rosenberg. We’re chatting by phone about his five decades as a chiropractor, and in particular about the last dozen or so years, which have seen him offering his services to Toronto-area dogs, cats, and horses. Rosenberg is jovial and funny, with an energy that belies his 75 years, and he soon drops the Catskills-comedian schtick and provides a nuanced and thoughtful overview of his work with animals at his Pets in Motion clinic.
Rosenberg, a graduate of the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto, was one of the first to be certified as an animal chiropractor. Rosenberg graduated from Options for Animals in Western Illinois in 2002; now he does about 30 hours of continuing education each year, and attends conferences to deepen his skill set and give lectures. “The goal is simple: better quality of life for the animal. I’m still excited, and it’s amazing.”
While his clinic takes human patients, Rosenberg himself no longer does, but he accepts referrals for four-legged clients through word-of-mouth recommendations, and from people like dog-walkers and “vets who do animal acupuncture and naturopathy.”
Our interview with Rosenberg—about treatments, listening to patients, and why it’s easier to adjust a horse than a human—is below.
Torontoist: Animal chiropractor seems like such an unusual job title. When you tell people at cocktail parties that you’re a pet chiropractor, how do they usually react?
Leo Rosenberg: They generally react by saying, “I didn’t know that existed!” The second most common reaction is, “How would a person know when a person needs to see an animal chiropractor?” The answer is that it’s usually an older dog with lameness, or a cat who won’t jump on the couch anymore. There are more involved cases with pinched nerves where there’s loss of urine and bowel control, and it’s amazing to see the animals be able to walk again and not have to take drugs.
People who are animal lovers think it’s amazing. They think it’s exciting. Non-animal lovers just say, “Wow, I’ve never heard of that,” and they leave it at that. When I talk about being a human chiropractor, people will sometimes say, “Oh, you know, my mother went to a chiropractor and she didn’t do so well,” but we don’t hear that with the animals.
To be an animal chiropractor, you need to be a chiropractor or a vet, because you need to be accountable to a board, so that people have recourse should you be unethical. I’m past president of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario. In 1995, we had a committee that met with a committee of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario to agree on a standard of practice, so there are regulations that apply and standards that practitioners must follow.
I think people generally understand basic veterinary care—immunization and injuries and diet advice—but they might be confused by the idea of chiropractic care for animals. Who is your typical patient, and what does the typical treatment course look like?
Patients comes in, and they sign an informed consent that says that they know I’m not a vet, and they give me the right to treat their animal. It’s a waiver like any vet or physician would have. We then do a consultation, and we find out the chief complaint, if there are secondary complaints, how long it’s being going on, and if it was sudden or acute.
Then we do an exam: we observe their gait, to see if one hip is higher, if the stride varies from side to side, if the back is arched, or if the tail goes to one side and not the other. We check for rashes and things like that, and then come to a diagnosis. If it’s an internal problem, we refer them to the vet. You might have nerve interference that looks like an internal problem, like the bowels, which will improve with manipulation. Pinched nerves can cause dry spots, hot spots, flaking of the skin. So then when we find these areas, it’s subluxation—something’s out of joint. It might only be out a minor amount, but it affects nerve functions.
There’s one major difference between human and animal structure in this respect: with most quadrupeds, the interference is often where the ribs end, where the thoracic meets the lumbar spine. Where the two come together, you get a challenge in the joints because the joints face in opposite directions. A quadruped usually gets pinched there, while a human usually gets pinched down by the belt line in the lumbar-sacral area.
How do you connect with patients who can’t tell you what’s wrong?
As with humans, we have signs and we have symptoms. Symptoms are what patients observe and tell us about. Signs are what a doctor observes, like a shortened stride or a tail to one side. So the dog tells us by showing us.
One must always listen to the owner. The owner knows when they’re not eating the same amount of food, or having a little diarrhea. Many years ago, a doctor told me, “Listen to the patient—she’s giving you the diagnosis.” To this day, I extrapolate from that. I check for smells, like an animal that’s been lying in their poop. Animals will give you the treatment plan if you listen. So often I get animals who are scheduled for a $2,000 MRI and a $5,000 surgery, and they’ll be running again after eight chiropractic sessions for a fraction of the cost. In human practice, so often the patient will go in for expensive tests. And they’re often unnecessary if doctors just paid attention: checking a gait, looking for eye colour change. I’m not against diagnostic procedures, but I’m against doctors ordering these tests just to cover their bums.
You’re certified under the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. Tell me a little bit about the training.
For the training, you need 210 hours of animal chiropractics courses. You’re studying the treatments of spinal adjustment of subluxations. There’s some animal dissection, but mostly there are dogs and horses on site for you to learn palpating—to feel what’s out of alignment or what’s not moving. You get into position, and you need that training to be safe when you’re dealing with a horse.
They take the chiropractic students aside and teach about veterinary basics: treatments, zoonotic diseases, the anatomy of various animals—cats and dogs are very similar, by the way, which always comes as a surprise to people. A horse is very different, of course. Physiology, theory, and neurology are very important parts of what we do; for instance, one of the common things we treat is a pinched nerve in the neck or the spine, and it causes lameness in different ways depending on where that pinched nerve is. And they take the vets aside, and they teach them more about palpations, because they’re not used to touching the animals like that. I could be blind and be a chiropractor: I’m like the Yellow Pages—I let my fingers do the talking.
Then we have volunteers for local rescue groups bring animals in, and we donate to their groups and treat their animals. The main thing we learn is how to manipulate: how deep, what strength. It’s a win-win situation, because they’re getting first-class care from certified doctors at a post-grad conference, and we get to practice.
What’s the best part of this job?
It’s the results. It’s the satisfaction of being able to help. And it might be an ego thing, but especially after everything else has failed. I regularly see dogs who were going to be put down because they can no longer walk, and after a few sessions, they have another two years of quality life. I’m not a wealthy man, but I’m wealthy in my life.
It’s easier for me to adjust a horse than a human, because a horse doesn’t resist. The second time I do an adjustment, they lean into me. They like it. Animals know who wants to help them, and they know who’s afraid of them. You need to tune in to that animal and let them know you want to help them.
This post originally stated that Dr. Rosenberg graduated from Options for Animals in 1995; in fact, he graduated in 2002. It also stated that Dr. Rosenberg no longer takes on human patients—while that is the case, other practitioners at the clinic do.