Did you know that animal chiropractic practice was illegal before? You can actually go to prison for practicing on an animal. Veterinary and chiropractic were two very different things back then. Today, it's all good and legal! Dr. Marc Sommer is here to talk to you all about animal chiropractic. Dr. Sommer is the Founder of Little Critters Chiropractic Services. He provides painless chiropractic treatment to animals of all sizes. In this interview with Dr. Kevin Pecca, Dr. Sommer helps us understand the differences between human and animal bones. Learn why animals need chiropractic sessions and why it's important.
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Animal Chiropractic With Dr. Marc Sommer
Welcome, everyone, to another episode. For weekly episodes, be sure to hit the subscribe button. You can find me on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok @DrKevinPecca and Facebook, Montclair Upper Cervical. If you have any questions or comments about the show, you can email me at DrKevinPecca@Gmail.com. If you are loving the show, feel free to leave us a nice review on iTunes. It helps boost our message and attract more readers. which is great for everyone. I apologize to all our readers. I haven't put out a show in a couple of weeks. We have a lot of great guests lined up, more episodes coming your way, and I'm going to do my best here to start putting out one episode a week. Thank you, everyone, for being patient. We have more episodes coming your way.
This episode is with a very special doctor. It rings close to my heart here with this guy. His name is Dr. Marc Sommer. He is an excellent animal chiropractor. He has been doing it for many years. He saved my dog's life. I have a French bulldog, found him in the backyard one day. He couldn't walk and it was very scary. I had no idea what to do. I didn't feel comfortable adjusting to him myself. I was lucky enough to be referred to Dr. Marc Sommer. I had a weird connection where somebody gave me his name. I went to see him. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Harvey was walking again and pain-free in two sessions. We had no idea what was going on because it wasn't like a big injury that happened. He just sat down and wasn't able to walk. It was very scary. I cannot thank Dr. Sommer enough for getting our pup Harvey back in shape and running around again. He's as good as new. The one thing that strikes me about Dr. Sommer is he absolutely loves what he does more than anybody I know. He is oozing with pride of his adjustments and animal chiropractic. He loves it so much. It was such an honor to have him on the show. Without further ado, please welcome, Dr. Marc Sommer.
We have such a special guest, an amazing doctor of animal chiropractic. This episode rings true and close to my heart. We were fortunate enough to find Dr. Sommer. My dog, Harvey, is a French bulldog. He's 1.5-year-old. We were running around the backyard one day and Harvey was unable to walk after we were tossing a ball in the backyard. It was very scary. He couldn't walk. He was yelping in pain every night. He couldn't sleep. I wasn't sleeping in turn of this. It was a little bit of a medical mystery. We brought him to the vet. Nothing too much showed up on his X-rays. He had a little bit of a kyphotic straight back, they told us. There was nothing they could do for him.
About a week having your dog unable to walk was very scary and I didn't know what to do. I turned back into the great profession that I work in, chiropractic. I knew this was way beyond my scope. I didn't feel confident enough to treat Harvey, my dog myself because he literally couldn't walk. I was given the name Dr. Marc Sommer in Riverdale, New Jersey. I called him up. He was very responsive. He said, “Come in this Tuesday and we will take a look at Harvey.” He had his X-rays. He looked at them beforehand. Within two visits, my dog was walking again like nothing ever happened. At one point, I wasn't sure if he was ever going to walk normally again. It was that bad. I'm so blessed and grateful to have found him. I'm fortunate enough to have him on as a special guest on the show. Without further ado, please welcome Dr. Marc Sommer. How are you?
I'm doing great. How are you doing?
I’m doing well. For a long time now, I have been trying to have somebody explain the miracles of animal chiropractic. It's such a great niche in our profession and there are not a whole lot of people doing it, correct?
No, there isn't. It's not a good business model.
I remember you telling me that the animals hold their adjustments for a long time. What's the special certification people need to look for animal chiropractors because we had this conversation before? Some people say they are doing a type of animal chiropractic but there's a special certification you should look for.
For people looking for somebody trained, certified to treat animals using chiropractic techniques, the organization is the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. To participate in their two-year program, you have to already have either a DC degree or a Veterinary degree. It's a two-year training program. It's obviously interdisciplinary. The chiropractors are teaching veterinarians how to adjust. The veterinarians are teaching chiropractors about Animal Psychology, behavior manifestations, animal pathology, diagnosing animal problems but treating with chiropractic. It's a hybrid of two wonderful professions.
Doc, how long have you been doing this for?
It’s for many years.
When I first met you, you said something very interesting. You didn't even need to say it because the passion oozes out of you. You truly love what you do. You said if you won the lottery, you would still be doing this. I could tell, you truly love what you do. That's such an amazing thing to me and that’s what I look for people. How did you get started on this healing profession?
As a chiropractor, that started back in undergraduate school. I used to play football at the University of Hartford. I was a quarterback. I pitched on the baseball team. By the time I graduated college, I had two years on my lower back and two herniated lumbar discs in my lower back. As a youngster at 19, 20 years old, I was limping around like I was somebody three times my age. I have gone to the neurologist and orthopedist. I went to all the doctors that the team sent me to. After I graduated college, somebody said to me, “Why don't you try going to a chiropractor?” I said, “What do they do?” He said, “They specialize in back problems.” “I had no idea. I have never even heard the term before.”
Within three months, that chiropractor had me doing everything I used to do before I’ve got hurt in college. That's when I shifted gears and said, “This is tremendous. This is what I want to do.” Ten years into my practice, I read an article in one of our professional journals, authored by somebody who identified themselves as an animal chiropractor. That's all I needed to know that there was a mechanism, a training program that would certify me to do what I was doing for animals what I was doing for people. I have always been an animal lover and combining the two loves, one of chiropractic and the other love of animals, putting them together. I haven't felt like I have worked for many years. It truly doesn't feel like work.
How long did it take you to make the transition? Did you completely transfer over to animals at that ten-year mark or did you have a practice where you were seeing people and animals at the same time?
Once I was certified to treat animals and this was in the early ‘90s, it was a very controversial topic. Chiropractors know if that was chiropractic, the veterinarians didn't know if that was veterinary care and crossing lines like that. Eventually, in 1994, a protocol was agreed upon between the boards of both professions for Chiropractic Board in New Jersey and the Veterinary Board in New Jersey reached an agreement whereby chiropractors would be allowed to treat animals using chiropractic care. That agreement was referred to as the New Jersey model and was adopted in many of the states in the country.
Were you certified around that 1994 mark?
I was certified in ‘93 and ‘94 is when this agreement was reached between the two boards here in New Jersey. After I was certified, I continued with the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. I'm still a member. For several years after my certification, I continued to lecture other doctors, teaching chiropractors and veterinarians what I had been taught. One of the subjects, and you can understand this yourself as a chiropractor was Chiropractic Jurisprudence, the legal ramifications of treating without certification versus with certification, with State Agreements versus without State Regulation. That's a very fine area. It's like a lake with ice that you don't know how thick it is.
Did you have any mentors during the transition process that helped you out?
I know when we speak to human chiropractors, if you say, BJ and DD Palmer, I was mentored by the Founder of this highbred profession, Sharon Willoughby. She was a veterinarian back in the late ‘80s, wanted to do more for the animals she was treating, who had spinal problems but she wasn't allowed to because she was not a chiropractor. She then went to chiropractic school after veterinary school. She was a practicing veterinarian who then went to chiropractic school so that she would legally be able to treat animals using chiropractic treatments. She truly was the pioneer. God bless her soul. I know you have heard this in our history. Some chiropractors went to prison so that you, Kevin and I have the right to help the people we help. Sharon Willoughby went to jail so that Harvey would be able to get the treatment he got.
Who was upset with her? Was it more the veterinary side, the chiropractic side or both?
Everybody. She had a huge target on her back but she attracted the most creative, intelligent people I have ever met. I'm referring to the AVCA in those years from 1990 to maybe 1988, the people that were teaching there. I would describe them this way. I once introduced one of my colleagues, a veterinarian, who originally was treating horses at Belmont racetrack and also had the same problem Sharon had. There’s more I can do to help my patients. She then started attending AVCA, American Veterinary Chiropractic Association Certification Modules.
She became another one of my mentors. When I once introduced her at a conference as a speaker, a lecturer, I once described her as having the heart of a veterinarian and the hands of a chiropractor. That became the logo, the model for the kind of people that the AVCA was attracting from both professions that come together for the common good of animals who have spinal, musculoskeletal or even age-appropriate orthopedic problems.
The animal chiropractic profession, did it start with dogs and cats? They do racehorses now. Any animal with a spine is fair game for animal chiropractic. What did early animal chiropractic care look like in the beginning?
I trace it back to DD and BJ Palmer. They advocated the treatment of large animals, especially farm animals. It was not something that was not thought of or heard of but to answer your specific question Sharon was treating both large and small animals. Veterinary care, when you speak to a veterinarian and he or she tells you that's what they do, most veterinarians would ask, “Large, small animals or both? The majority will prefer either one or the other but not both.” At the AVCA, you were required to learn how to treat both. We were treating everything from hamsters to horses in terms of size.
When did you make the full transition? Do you just pretty much treat animals now?
I only treat animals in New Jersey in my practice, not people. There are enough good chiropractors like yourself who know how to treat people and take great care of them. As soon as I started treating animals, I knew this is what I wanted to do full-time. The transition took about five years. As I was treating my human patients on maybe Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. I was treating animals on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then that ratio changed. I was treating animals three times a week, people twice a week. Eventually, I made sure all my human patients had good chiropractors, closed my human practice in 1999 and have been treating animals exclusively ever since. The only time when I do treat people other than an emergency obvious, the only location I have done this is on an Indian reservation in Montana where I go every year.
There's a great organization called the Christian Chiropractors Association. It's the second-largest of all the national chiropractic organizations. They send people all over the world to donate their time in what's called the short-term mission, setting up a free treatment area for a local population. I started doing that in 1992 at the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. That is when I still treat people. I still see them. In fact, in 1998, they adopted me into the tribe. It’s illegal adoption because it's a sovereign nation. When I go back there, even though I treat people with other chiropractors from the Christian Chiropractors Association, I'm going there as part of that as family.
Dr. Marc, tell the people what your practice schedule is now and what your practice looks like? It's even different from what you just mentioned.
Tuesday is dog day.
Do you see any cats?
I’m speaking different languages. You and I know as chiropractors, if we are speaking to a physical therapist or an orthopedist, we might use some different terminology than what we would speak, how we would speak to a colleague chiropractor, the same thing in veterinary care. It's just a lot easier for me to say dog day rather than small animal day. I see small animals on Tuesdays. Horses on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
It was nothing short of a miracle. You gave our dog his life back. He loves running around, playing and he couldn't do that anymore. As a human, you saw the life just gets sucked out from his eyes. It was so hard. You saved him. I'm sure you see that every week. You have very strong chiropractic values for the animals. One of the things you told me was holding is healing. You don't want to see the animals in your office 3 or 4 times a week. You want to get them better and stable. I thought that was truly amazing.
We joked about that in the context that it's not a good business model for chiropractors. Here’s the thing, animals have a horizontal spine. Our spines are vertical. I say animal because this is true of a horse as well as it's true for a chihuahua. An animal spine horizontal is supported by four legs. Your spine is supported by two legs. What does that mean from the perspective of a healthcare professional? In the spines of our animal patients, the stress loads are more evenly distributed. More bluntly, my patients' spines have their stress loads, more evenly distributed than your patients' spines. I do remember in human care when you would be seeing patients three times a week for multiple weeks to stabilize them, unless I'm seeing an animal in a hospital and the animal has such a traumatic event that they are basically a quadriplegic and literally cannot stand on their own. Initially, I might see that animal multiple times in one week.
I'm talking about over 90% of my patients are not seen in a hospital. People like yourself, if your wife brings them in, I cannot tell you how joyful it is. The best comparison is that I haven't raised my fees since 2008. If I won the lottery, I would still be doing this that won't even be a thing. The joy and seeing the quality of life of an animal improve and to see the faces of the people that love them light up as suddenly their paralyzed tail starts wagging or I will get the phone call, “He just jumped up on the couch. He hasn't done that in a certain amount of time.” I will say, “Be careful. Don't let him jump off.” I can't describe that in words. It is greater than any joy I ever anticipated from any profession or any occupation.
It's not a forceful adjustment you do. You are not taken and twisting the necks. What you did with Harvey was so light, gentle and precise. It was amazing. I saw you adjust a couple of other dogs that day and you are not cranking on them. You are not jumping on them. Describe your adjustments for people.
This is the traditional teaching in a lot of different chiropractic techniques. The pelvis is the foundation of the spine. I always start in the pelvic region. In human care, we call the lower back and work my way up between the shoulders, neck and then the head itself. You don't have to use a lot of force. There are different equations that physicists have come up with having to do with force mass acceleration, etc. The faster my hands are, the less force I need to apply to my patient. I take a phrase from the homeopaths who teach and have taught for many years now. Less is more. The less force I can use on a patient, the more effective it's going to be.
You told me something interesting. What I thought was animal chiropractic at my vet use the little clicking instrument. My friend went to another person at their vet, they said they use the clicker and it didn't do much for the dog. What you told me about the clicking instrument was very interesting. It’s something along the lines of, “When the dog feels the clicker on its spine, it tenses up and you are not getting the motion you want in that segment.” Is that true?
That's absolutely true. That instrument that many chiropractors are familiar with and it's called an activator. It's a great technique in human care. I do consider it. If I'm out of town and I've got a patient that needs help, I do know a veterinarian who uses the activator technique and it's better than not being adjusted at all. I do want to give appropriate credit to it. It's helped many animals. Here's the problem though with animals. For the first treatment, they are going to be a little bit tense to begin with, the smell of the hospital. I always draw the analogy. I know how I tense up when I smell my dentist's office. That's the way an animal tenses up when they get to the veterinarian's office. Where possible, I prefer to treat animals in a setting where they are not smelling fear. They are smelling food in the animal nutrition center.
That's why I'm at Mike's Feed Farm in Riverdale for that very reason. I have treated patients in hospitals. I used to go to several hospitals regularly as part of their staff animal hospitals. There was such a difference. The same animal I'm seeing at the Feed Farm, if I see them in their veterinarian's office, I could feel and see the tension in their eyes. More to the activator, that little instrument. The first time it's used on an animal is probably the last time it will be used without the animal expressing fear.
It's the sound of the activator that triggers the anxiety in a dog or a horse. I have seen horses rear up on their hind legs with just the sound of that instrument. I have seen dogs start growling and start urinating with just the sound of the instrument. If an animal can receive a chiropractic adjustment where the chiropractor or veterinarian has been trained properly to gently use your hands and apply a very fast focused, direct chiropractic adjustment, that animal is not going to feel pain. It's not going to have fear or anticipatory anxiety during future appointments. Animals are smart and maybe you have noticed it too. If the first couple of adjustments, once an animal sees me, they greet me and literally turn around, take a position and look over their shoulders like, “I'm ready Doc.” You might have seen some of that.
Harvey was backing up into you as he loved what you were doing. He was literally like, “Just do what you need to do, Doc. I'm here.”
Harvey was just melting.
We were dragging him in the door to the vet. He sprinted into the Feed Farm. I didn't even think about that before.
I had a patient I was treating who was a human servant and a Communications professor at a college. She often said to me, “My dog loves your treatments.” I jokingly said, “How do you know?” She said, “I'm going to bring you the proof.” The next time she came in, she said, “I have it on video look.” She showed me her phone. Now picture she's sitting on a couch and her dog is sitting next to her. Somebody walks in the room and says, “Ditso, do you want a treat?” The dog looked up and back down. “Ditso, do you want to go for a walk?” The dog just looked and looked away.
“Ditso, you want to go in the car for a ride?” These are your favorite things for him to do. The dog was very happy cuddling with the mother. “Do you want to see Dr. Sommer?” The dog jumped out off the couch. I was stunned, ran down a flight of stairs where the last thing you saw was this little button down a flight of stairs, comes up with a leash in his mouth that he was carrying. She got that on video. I was stunned. Don’t ever underestimate the love or the intelligence of an animal.
I want to talk about the many reasons why people seek your care because it's not just back pain or pain in the dogs but it's so much more. Do you see anything for dogs having seizures or neurological conditions? Tell me why people seek your care because I know it could be helpful to many people.
“My dog is limping. My dog has no use for its legs. My dog has lost all bowel and bladder control. I need surgery for the dog and I don't have the money for it.” That’s the most common that I hear in the scenario that you just offered. Very often, if you know something out of desperation, let me try to see if chiropractic can take care of this and we can avoid an expensive $10,000 surgery. That's one of the most common. The other area falls into what you are saying. I know it's happened in your human practice too. I'm treating a dog for lameness. That's a broad term that means one of the legs is not working.
It doesn't matter how many of the four legs are not working properly. The dog is responding. Their gait is improving. The owner says to me, “Something I never mentioned to you that my dog often had diarrhea and now the poops are perfect. Did you do something?” You know the neurology and then I will explain, “The same nerves that go into the back legs of your dog, also go to the organs of the abdomen and help control the end of the digestive process. There are fancy words for that but that's what's happening. That's how I explain it to people.
I'm sure you have seen some great stuff with allergies in that case too then.
Like with people, certain breeds have more problems than other breeds and every breed has a set of its own unique problems that the other breeds don't have. They do very well with allergies.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I certainly wasn't expecting to resolve that fast in two visits with Harvey. Another thing you mentioned too, he was peeing on himself. He lost his bowel movement control because he was in so much pain.
It's the same neurology. The neurology that goes into the legs. As soon as we saw that Harvey’s tail was working, I said that to you and your wife, “I'm optimistic. He is a young dog. His tail is still wagging. The same nerves that go into the tail go down the legs and into the intestines.”
Tell me a little bit more about the horses you adjust. Do you see it mostly for racing or just regular horses? What do you see with the horses?
I do not treat at the track. I know people who do. Here in New Jersey, it's a great horse country. In fact, the US Equestrian Center is in Bedminster, New Jersey, also the Olympic Equestrian Team is here. There are horse farms we call them for retired racehorses. I have treated them. They are magnificent animals from my perspective. You can't go by me because I have never met an animal I didn't love but horses are majestic, graceful, gentle and have a very deep spiritual bond with them. The majority of horses that I treat are those that are used in different horse events like jumpers, dressage horses, barrel racers, pleasure horses. Horses by nature because of the logistics usually are not going to be living in somebody's back yard. Most people who have horses keep them in a stable local to their homes. When I treat a horse, I'm usually going to a stable.
Do you go to a different stable every time like a circuit?
Like a circuit almost. Unless you know and dealt with horses, a lot of people don't know this, the interesting thing about horses is they build up tremendous friendship bonds with people as well as other horses. Any veterinarian and farrier, those are the people who put the shoes on horses, will tell you this. If you have a horse that has a best friend when you take that horse out of the stable, you better take his friend too because they are going to be screaming for each other even if they are not in the same stall, as long as they are in eyesight of each other. If they are not, they get very upset. Often you will be bringing two horses out. One, you are going to treat the other because this is the horse that you are your patient's best friend.
Those are some big animals.
Everyone says that but as big as a horse, I'm still bigger than any one particular bone. There's no bone a horse has that's as big as me. If you remember what I said before, even regarding dogs, it still holds true. Less is more. I don't have to move an entire horse. I only have to move that one bone even though the bone of a horse is not as big as my hand.
Where are you located exactly and how can people find you and make appointments for their beloved animals?
I treat patients at Mike's Feed Farm in Riverdale, New Jersey. That is an animal nutrition center. I'm referring to small patients as I would be finding small patients for you. I can best be reached at my email address is DrBones98@Yahoo.com. My website is LittleCrittersChiropracticServices.com.
Where can people find a certified animal chiropractor near them if they are not near you or not in New Jersey?
The website there would be AnimalChiropractic.org. That's the website for the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association. When you get to their website, there is a link. If you are looking to find a certified doctor near you, you will go to that link, click onto the state that you are residing in, then you will get a list of the doctors trained and certified in your area.
At the end of every episode, I would like to ask all my guests, what is one piece of advice that has resonated with you through the years that you would like to give the readers? It could be absolutely anything.
What I tell younger people and at my age, that means almost everybody I meet but especially high school, college-age, young people, young adults, if there's something that you love so much, you would do it for free but if you can support your family doing it, it's called a passion. It's what you were created to do. You will never feel like you are going to work. The days that you are working will become your favorite days of the week. Doing what God created you to do will bring you joy beyond that you can even describe in words. It's called passion. Follow what you love.
That's coming from a man that is living and breathing his own words right there. Doc, thank you so much for coming on. I love your story. I'm fascinated with all the great things you are doing and I would love to have you back at any time.
Anytime. I appreciate your time. It was so great getting to meet you, your wife and Harvey. You have no idea the joy it brings me to know how well Harvey is doing.
I know I could see it in you. You don't even have to tell me. It's what you love most in this world. I can't thank you enough for giving us our pup back.
Thank you for the opportunity. It's an absolute privilege.
About Dr. Marc Sommer
“For the little critters you love, and the big ones too.”
Founded by Marc L. Sommer, DC, DAAPM, CAC in 1993, Little Critters Chiropractic Services provides gentle, painless chiropractic treatment to animals varying in size from hamsters to horses, and all sizes in between. Dr. Sommer earned his B.A. from the University of Hartford and his Doctor of Chiropractic Degree from the New York Chiropractic College.
In 1993, he pursued advanced training in animal chiropractic, receiving his Diplomate as a Certified Animal Chiropractor from the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.
Some of the conditions from which animals may suffer which usually respond well to gentle chiropractic treatments are: arthritis, disc problems, back and joint pain and stiffness, unequal limb weight distribution (limping), ataxia (reduced balance and equilibrium), neuropathies and myelopathies, lameness, altered gait, musculoskelatal problems, and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) strains and sprains. These conditions usually manifest as some form of an alteration in the proper use of body mechanics. It is the job of the Doctor of Chiropractic to determine if any bones are out of their normal position (misaligned or subluxated), and are causing pressure to be placed on a nerve, that can alter normal function and health. The affected bones are gently placed back into their normal position with an gentle adjustment.
It is been our experience over the past 20 years that animals usually respond dramatically faster than people do, for the same condition, possibly because their spines are horizontal and supported by four legs and our spines are vertical and supported by two legs.
On the first visit, we will conduct a consultation, perform a bio mechanical evaluation and provide gentle chiropractic treatment. Please bring with you, if available, any x-rays previously taken, the most recent blood tests, a list of medicines and supplements being taken and a description of the food and exercise you provide.
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