On the History of Animal Chiropractic

Chiropractic, as a whole, is a distinctive healthcare discipline focused on spinal health and its impact on overall well-being. It has a rich and intriguing history that spans over a century. Rooted in principles of natural healing and body mechanics, chiropractic has evolved from its humble beginnings into a globally recognized healthcare profession.

The inception of chiropractic can be attributed to Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer, a magnetic healer, and Harvey Lillard, a janitor, who became the first recipient of what would later be known as a chiropractic adjustment. In 1895, Palmer’s successful manipulation of Lillard’s spine resulted in a significant improvement in Lillard’s hearing. This marked the birth of chiropractic and laid the foundation for a new approach to healthcare.

Palmer’s son, B.J. Palmer, played an instrumental role in refining and expanding chiropractic‘s principles. Under B.J. Palmer’s guidance, the Palmer School of Chiropractic (now Palmer College of Chiropractic) was established in Davenport, Iowa in 1897. This institution became a pivotal hub for training and disseminating chiropractic knowledge, driving the growth of the profession.

Animal chiropractic has been around since the early 1900’s, with the opening of the animal clinic at the Palmer School of Chiropractic. The founders of chiropractic, 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.

Early founders 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 chiropractic treatments on several of her complex animal 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.

Animal chiropractic was new to many people, and Dr. Willoughby 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, Dr. Willoughby dropped her vet license when she began her animal chiropractic practice. This began a ten year battle with the Illinois Chiropractic Board. 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 renew her vet’s license.  Sharon wrote, “my ultimate goal is to bring relief of pain and suffering for animals through the benefits of chiropractic care”.

During this time, Sharon continued forward with her dream of opening a school so that other vets and chiropractors could learn and experience the wonderful new profession of animal chiropractic

In 1987, Dr. Sharon Willoughby started Options for Animals Foundation. This was her ultimate gift to the world. Today Options for Animals remains the premier source of animal chiropractic education in the world. (This is where I completed my initial training in animal chiropractic). The main campus along with two affiliate campuses in Germany and in England, graduates approximately 175 animal chiropractors a year. The handful of other schools worldwide, all run by Options graduates, graduate approximately 90 more. Students must be licensed chiropractors or veterinarians.

The history of chiropractic is one of innovation, resilience, and evolution. From its origins in the hands of D.D. Palmer to the expansion of the profession by his son B.J. Palmer to the courageous Sharon Willoughby, its modern incarnation as a recognized and respected healthcare discipline, chiropractic has come a long way. The profession’s unwavering dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, scientific inquiry, and patient well-being continues to shape its trajectory, ensuring that the principles established by its pioneers remain integral to the practice of chiropractic and animal chiropractic today.