The History of Animal Chiropractic

Animal chiropractic has been around since the early 1900’s, with the opening of the animal clinic at the Palmer School and Infirmary of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. The founder of chiropractic, D.D. Palmer, and his son, B.J. Palmer, believed that chiropractic was as useful to animals with spines as it was to humans. The clinic was very successful, and doctors completing the Palmer School were also awarded degrees in Doctor of Chiropractic Veterinary, D.C.V. Even though few people are aware, animal chiropractic is not new. There have been animal chiropractors as long as there have been chiropractors. But it wasn’t until 1986 that distinct, uniform education in animal chiropractic began.

Modern chiropractic was founded with a vision that animal chiropractic is an integral part of the animal health care system. The early founders of this education studied, researched, taught and wrote to inspire future animal chiropractors. They created and developed a new profession of animal health care, synthesized from the combination of their chiropractic and veterinary practices. Their ultimate goal was to relieve the pain and suffering of animals. The melding of the chiropractic and veterinary professions provides a more quality, complete and integrated approach to the animal patient’s needs.

The modern animal chiropractic curriculum was created by the tireless journey and personal sacrifice of Dr. Sharon Willoughby-Blake, who passed away November 10, 2010 at age 64. Sharon graduated from vet school at Michigan State University in 1970. As she practiced veterinary medicine, she was constantly looking for better treatments for her patients. She observed human chiropractic treatments on several complex cases that she was having difficulty with. When these patients improved, she had very mixed emotions; she was happy and frustrated at the same time. Since she was devoted to the animals’ needs, she decided to attend Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport Iowa. After graduating in 1986, Sharon became a faculty member, eventually joined the administration, and most importantly, started an animal chiropractic practice in Byron, Illinois. As she shared animal chiropractic with vets, osteopaths, and chiropractors, the flames of animal chiropractic were fueled. Someone needed to start formal education for this profession.

Because animal chiropractic was new to many people, and Sharon was getting very positive results, the vet field began to worry. Who was this woman with this powerful new tool and why wasn’t she licensed as a vet? You see, Sharon dropped her vet license when she began animal chiropractic practice. This began a ten year battle with the Illinois Division of Professional Regulation. Numerous court battles, thousands of dollars, hours of worry, anger, fear, and heartbreak later, they revoked Dr. Willoughby’s license to practice chiropractic. In spite of winning every hearing in front of a judge, she refused to cave in and get her vet’s license renewed. She stuck to this principal only because of the animals! Sharon wrote, “my ultimate goal is to bring relief of pain and suffering for animals through the benefits of chiropractic care”.

During this chaotic time, Sharon forged forward to start a school so that other vets and chiropractors could learn and experience the wonderful new profession of animal chiropractic. She writes, “my hope is that all individuals will strive to constantly increase their knowledge of the organism in order that the best possible care is available to the animals under our domain”. “(I) will promote the highest standard of care in animal chiropractic by offering the best education. (I) will strive to become a model and prototype for animal chiropractic education.” She did just that. This was her ultimate gift to the world.

In 1987, Dr. Sharon Willoughby started Options for Animals Foundation. Today Options for Animals remains the premier source of animal chiropractic education in the world. Their new, beautiful, and functional facility resides in Wellsville, Kansas. The main campus along with two affiliate campuses in Germany and in England, graduates approximately 175 animal chiropractors a year. Four other schools worldwide, all run by Options graduates, graduate approximately 90 more.  Students must be licensed chiropractors or veterinarians.