As an animal chiropractor, Julie Graves can’t talk with horses, dogs, or bunnies about their aches and pains. But animals communicate through their body language – limping or lameness; less flexibility and weakness; a tail that is off-balance; soiling their bed. “As a practitioner I need to be in tune with the animal’s energy and what they are feeling,” said Graves, who has a private animal chiropractic practice in Wellesley and is also affiliated with Wellesley Animal Hospital. Graves started as a human chiropractor two decades ago and became interested in animal biomechanics when she saw horses being worked on in a barn. “I was very intrigued – the thought of working on different species inspired me,” said Graves. She spoke with Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about how chiropractic adjustments on animals can unlock their natural ability to heal.
“I started my chiropractic work on horses, although at first I had my doubts as to whether I could work with equines. I am not a big woman – 5’4, 125 pounds – and horses can be thousands of pounds. But I discovered there are intrinsic conditions, like arthritis, that can be similar to the human endoskeleton. The techniques are different – with some horses I tend to do stretching and releasing of the muscle and acupressure – but there is often a relaxation response and easing of problematic joints. Animals are often very in tune with the approach I am taking, and as a long-time human chiropractor, I found that working with animals validates the efficacy of what we are doing. People can be very skeptical of chiropractic and have preconceived ideas, but animals don’t have this filter. When I started working with dogs and bunnies, for example, I found that they are very amendable and responsive. Bunnies are interesting – people think a bunny is just a bunny, but they are actually very clear communicators. As a prey animals, bunnies are always a little worried or jumpy but they love body work and turn into big mush piles on the table. I had no idea that one day I would be adjusting bunnies or even dogs but it was such a great segue at this point in my career. I still have a human practice, so I juggle the two, with two different schedules for humans and animals. Tomorrow is an animal day; I will see dogs and bunny rabbits at the clinic then go to a few horse clients in the afternoon. Is there any species I haven’t worked on? I helped a miniature kangaroo at an Australian farm that didn’t seem to be jumping properly. And recently I was hiking up a mountainside in Montana and saw a billy goat with a lame leg. I would have liked to try to manipulate him, but he was a wild animal. And you know what? It might sound crazy, but it would be cool to adjust a giraffe. With their long cervical spine, that would be a challenge. But I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get that kind of opportunity.”