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Struggles to Snuggles: Pet Rehab Therapy

Posted on: August 1st, 2012 by

A dog named Penny works with a helper during her pet therapy.

There’s a new field emerging in veterinary medicine and it’s making a big difference in pet health, including how pets move and function— as well as age.

Physical rehabilitation therapy, or rehab therapy, uses specially designed equipment, exercises, and techniques to help dogs and cats regain physical abilities lost to illness, injury, surgery, or age. (Sound like physical therapy for humans? Basically, it is. But because, in some states, the term “physical therapy” can only be used in reference to humans, most veterinary specialists refer to animal physical therapy as “rehab therapy.”)

How It Works
The goal of pet rehabilitation therapy is to help dogs and cats of all ages learn to move better, function better, and feel better. But the ways that rehab therapists accomplish that goal vary based on each pets’ unique needs and diagnosis.

Pets who are elderly, for example, will have a different treatment plan than those who are recovering from injury or surgery, such as a hemilaminectomy. And pets who are overweight will have a very different plan from animals suffering from chronic or debilitating conditions, such as arthritis or hip dysplasia, or neurological diseases, such as degenerative myelopathy.

A cat named Moki works with a helper during her pet therapy.

What Therapists Do
Because there’s potential to do more harm than good, rehab therapy should only be performed by veterinarians, physical therapists, and licensed veterinary technicians who are specially trained and certified in physical rehabilitation therapy. And while in general, rehab therapy can be expensive without organizations like Scout’s Animal Rehab Therapy Fund, Inc., some pet insurance agencies, like Pets Best Insurance, may help cover costs for rehab therapy.

These rigorous training programs teach therapists how to create treatment plans that are appropriate for each pet’s unique needs, as well as how to determine which modality or technique is right for each stage of a pet’s recovery.

The best rehab therapists have a variety of techniques and equipment at their disposal, including hydrotherapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, land treadmill therapy, therapeutic exercise, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, manual therapy techniques, ultrasound, acupuncture and chiropractic, and low-level laser therapy.

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How do these things help to maintain or improve an animal’s quality of life? Simply put:
• They improve Kitty’s circulation, which in turn accelerates her healing
• They increase Fido’s muscle mass and strength, improving his balance and coordination
• They improve Fluffy’s flexibility and mobility, and in turn increase her functionality
• They minimize— or even eliminate pain, which makes Spot more comfortable and more willing to move

A dog named Purdy learns to walk again during rehab therapy.

Benefits of Rehab Therapy
Even though treatment plans differ, the outcomes may be equally impressive. Studies have shown, for example, that rehab therapy after a dog TPLO surgery recover more quickly and more completely than those who do not. For older pets, rehab therapy can help them regain lost strength and endurance, making it possible for them to walk farther and get up on beds more easily. Even pets who have suffered traumatic injuries and are paralyzed can learn to walk again with the help of rehab therapy. Here is a short video of one dog’s amazing recovery.

Conditions Rehab Therapy Can Help
Rehab therapy can help a wide range of neurological, orthopedic, and age-related conditions, including:

• Arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases
• Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia
• Post-operative recovery, including from laminectomy, TPLO, extracapsular, and FHO surgeries
• Rear limb weakness
• Disk issues, such as intervertebral disk disease (IVDD)
• Degenerative myelopathy (DM)
• Paralysis and other neurological disorders
• Fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE)
• Traumatic injuries, including being hit by car
• Cauda equina syndrome
• Spondylosis
• Sports injuries
• Obesity

If you’re interested in finding out if rehab therapy can help your pet, talk to your veterinarian. Or visit the Canine Rehab Institute for a list of certified rehab therapists in your area.

Lisa Stahr is Executive Director of Scout’s Animal Rehab Therapy Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that underwrites the cost of physical rehabilitation therapy for dogs and cats from low-income families, shelters, and rescue groups, for assistance dogs, and for K9 Unit Dogs from military and law enforcement agencies. Learn more about Scout’s Fund today!

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