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Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy

Category: News


In human medicine, rehabilitation and physical therapy developed out of necessity due to severe physical impairments that occurred during World War I and the first polio outbreak.  From that time on rehabilitation and physical therapy has developed as an important part of treating people with physical disabilities and people recovering from surgeries that affect mobility or movement.  Starting in the 1980s or even earlier with canine athletes, the veterinary community started to recognize that the same benefits may be seen with dogs and other animals that have some injury or impediment that they were born with that make normal mobility or physical activities difficult.

What do we see dogs (or cats) for in the Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy Department?

Because I work at a facility where a large amount of surgery is done, particularly orthopedic (bone related), I frequently see patients to help them recover from surgery.  Our facility believes in the importance of rehabilitation and physical therapy so an initial evaluation in our department is done on post-operative patients that have had surgical correction of a cruciate ligament injury, repair of a kneecap that is unstable, or removal of the head of the thigh bone.  We also treat animals that have had surgery for fractures and back injuries.  Some patients come to see us because of mobility issues that they were born with or musculoskeletal injuries that do not need surgical intervention.  Animals that have a limb amputated sometimes need re-training in walking to compensate with the other three limbs, without putting too much pressure on the back muscles and leading to other injuries.  Animals also experience degenerative diseases (from osteoarthritis to degenerative myelopathy) that can be treated with rehabilitation and physical therapy.  Canine athletes and working dogs can also experience great benefit from our training and often remain active for a longer period than they would otherwise.

What do we use to treat our patients?

One of the things that I do as a rehabilitation practitioner is assess the patient for pain.  If the patient is painful, we need to treat the pain before asking the patient to be more mobile.  So, sometimes adjustment of the medication the patient is already on is the first step to treating the patient.  We utilize a variety of modalities in addition to medicine to treat pain.  Therapeutic laser, therapeutic ultrasound, trans-cutaneous electrical stimulation, and hyperbaric oxygen treatment are all modalities that can be used for the treatment of pain at our facility.  Depending on the injury (and time since initial injury), hot and cold therapy can be used at home and are frequently used in the hospital in the immediate recovery period after surgery.  If pain control is adequate, we can start getting the patient to move.  We discuss exercises to do at home that will depend on the patients stage in the recovery process.  At CARE, we have an underwater treadmill, ground treadmill, and various exercise equipment to challenge our patients' balance.

How long are patients under treatment?

Treatment plans are patient specific, but we also do our best to accommodate the owners' needs (financial and time wise).  Post-operative patients will often see us on a weekly basis (or every other week) for an average of six visits.  But, patients with arthritis may see us weekly for a few weeks, then move to every other week, and eventually have appointments further and further apart except when they have flare ups of pain related to the arthritis.  At the initial evaluation, we try to set up expectations for the owner as far as what the patient will need.

At this time, the rehabilitation and physical therapy department is open Tuesday through Friday.  If you wonder if your pet could benefit from therapy, you or your veterinarian is welcome to call and discuss what has been going on with your pet.

Jennifer King, DVM, CCRP

CARE Veterinary Center

Rehabilitation Department