Jess Whidden the 'Animal Cracker' offers chiropractic care for animals, people

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Does Fido limp, or not jump around like usual, or maybe he’s just not his usual self? He may need an Animal Cracker, and not the wafer-type cracker that comes in a little circus box. 

Jess Whidden, known as the Animal Cracker, does chiropractic work on four-legged animals at Emerald Coast Chiropractic in Destin. 

Whidden has adjusted everything from dogs and cats to horses and goats. 

Dr. Jess Whidden of Emerald Coast Chiropractic stretches and aligns Dr. Indiana Jones, a 170-pound Irish Wolfhound show dog, and receives a kiss for her efforts.

“Any animal I can technically work on … but I draw the line at snakes. I’ve seen it done, but no one has asked,” Whidden said. “I tried to work on this one monkey, but he kept trying to bite me, so we just gave up on that one.” 

However, she is open to working on different animals, like maybe dolphins at the Gulfarium. 

“Why not? They have a spine,” she said. 

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But for now, she is open Monday through Friday in the heart of Destin in Norred Plaza off Melvin Street and is taking patients daily.  

Whidden, a 2008 graduate of Fort Walton Beach High School, has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Auburn University and obtained a doctor of chiropractic degree from Life University in Marietta, Georgia. She is also certified from the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association at Parker University in Dallas, Texas. 

And not only does she work on animals but people as well. 

As a matter of fact, Whidden has patients come in with their dogs, and she sees them both. 

“The person will lay down and the dog will lay down next to them on the floor … then just interchange it,” she said. 

Dr. Jess Whidden of Emerald Coast Chiropractic gives a laser treatment to the hips of Diesel during his treatment in Destin.

“Some owners are a little nervous getting adjusted in general, but put your dog next to you … you kind of calm down. It works out and the dog gets adjusted too,” she said. “It started out just being people or animals, then we started having people ask if they could come at the same time … now it’s just a combo thing."

Whidden said she has even got new human patients because they brought their dogs in to be adjusted. 

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“We all take better care of our animals than we do ourselves,” she said. 

Originally Whidden wanted to be a veterinarian but didn’t think she could deal with having to put animals down. 

So, with a little encouragement from her dad, Ken Whidden, the lead chiropractor at Emerald Coast Chiropractic, she went the animal chiropractic route. 

Dr. Jess Whidden stretches out the hind leg of her patient Dr. Indiana Jones.

When she came back to Destin to work with her dad, “I realized that I like doing animals a little bit more. However, I love that I got good at animals because I believe the animals make me a better human chiropractor. An animal won't complain, but a human won't bite.”  

How do you know if your animal needs an adjustment? 

For Angelina Sims, she knew Diesel, her 3-year-old French Bulldog, needed something when he started slowing down and didn’t want to play. 

She took him in for an X-ray at the vet. Diesel was a 3-year-old with a 10-year-old back and had arthritis. 

Diesel comes in for an adjustment three times a week, plus Whidden does a laser treatment on him as well to calm him down. 

After a treatment, “he will want to go for a walk and play again,” Sims said. 

Whidden said she gets a range of ailments brought to her. 

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“Sometimes the owner knows that particular breed is prone to issues and they bring them in to get used to being adjusted so they don’t have to deal with it down the line … or have a freak out moment down the road,” she said. 

A lot of dogs actually like being adjusted.  

“I have some that run up to me, they are excited. And some that are not my best friend,” she said. 

Dr. Jess Whidden gets on the floor with her patient Dr. Indiana Jones at his recent chiropractic appointment. She has been treating the 170-pound dog for the past year.

She also gets referrals from vets for animals with skeletal issues. 

She works with animals like show dogs or horses that do dressage and jumping. Like human athletes, the animals sometimes get injured. 

John and Hope Misiewicz of Crestview drive their dog, Dr. Indiana Jones, a 2-year-old Irish Wolfhound show dog, down for adjustments on a regular basis. 

“He was limping … and his handler said we needed to get him to a chiropractor,” Hope said. 

The Misiewiczs have been bringing the 170-pound dog to Destin for the past year. 

A whimsical skeleton dog graces the office of Emerald Coast Chiropractic in Destin.

“She’s been keeping him going,” said Hope. 

Dr. Indiana Jones has a show in Fort Meyers at the end of March and is only three points away from receiving champion status. 

She also gives Indy a laser treatment.  

Things to look for 

For the average house dog, they may need an adjustment if they are walking funny. 

“When a dog comes through the door, that’s the first thing I’m looking at … how they are walking,” she said. “Even with people, we look for how they are walking.” 

Another thing to look for is how the dog is sitting. Is it sitting squared up or off to one side?  

“He used to jump on the bed, but doesn’t anymore. The hip could be rotated … (I) can adjust the hip and he’ll jump right up. Just simple things like that,” she said. 

Adjustments can even help attitudes. 

“Some people come in and say he’s got a mean bone. Maybe they just hurt and need an adjustment,” she said. 

Maybe their eating, sleeping or normal habits are off, they may need an adjustment. 

“The thing is the owner is bringing them in because something is off and the animal can’t tell you. It’s a puzzle. When a human walks in, they can tell you what they think is wrong,” she said. 

Be proactive

“I’d love for people to incorporate it into the healthcare of their dog. Dogs get arthritis just like we do. We love our dogs and want them to enjoy while they are here, and at least allow them to feel good,” Whidden said.  

“Treat them like your kid,” she added. 

She encouraged people to come in before they are hurting. 

“Come to me before your back is hurting, that way we can prevent your back from hurting or at least prevent a major blowout,” she said. 

The same is true for active dogs, like hunting dogs that are running and swimming. 

“If they feel better, they’ll perform better,” she said. 

How early should someone bring in a dog? 

"I'll see a puppy or a baby," Whidden said. "Puppies do stupid things; they think they are invincible. 

Dr. Jess Whidden loves working with animals at Emerald Coast Chiropractic in Destin.

“I’d love to see them bring them in, to get used to it, so if they have an issue down the road, your dog doesn’t want to bite me," she added. "It’s more pleasant for everybody.”  

Whidden, however, said chiropractic care for animals is not a replacement for any type of veterinarian care. 

“The same with humans, we don’t want to replace (the doctor), but it is a different alternative to maybe a surgery or maintenance,” she said. 

Whidden compared a chiropractor treatment for humans as being similar to an oil change in a vehicle, Whidden said. 

“One person may put more wear and tear on their body than someone else. Someone who runs marathons all the time may need to come in more often than some who is just casual. It’s all about wear and tear. The same thing with animals,” she said. 

Dr. Indiana Jones, a 170-pound Irish Wolfhound, is a regular patient at Emerald Coast Chiropractic.

Does Emerald Coast Chiropractic have certain days or hours for animals and humans? 

“We don’t have designated only animal or human hours. We still like to mix and mingle. I still love both versions,” she said.