Paws for fitness: How physical therapy helps
Over the past 10 years, pet rehabilitation has emerged from boutique services to what is fast becoming a mainstream treatment option in veterinary medicine. Not surprisingly, people the world over are recognizing that physical therapy is not just for people but can also mean pain relief, increased mobility, and a better life for their pet.
Horse owners and sporting dog enthusiasts have long understood the value of rehabilitation in nursing an injured animal back to health. But only recently have pet owners in general come to expect the same kinds of quality medical options for pets that are available to humans in the family.
Physical rehabilitation can be helpful for animals that are recovering from surgery for orthopedic or neurologic problems, have incurred injuries to joints or soft tissue, or suffer from arthritis and chronic pain.
Pets that receive rehab generally recover faster, increase their mobility and flexibility, improve their endurance and agility, and often are able to reduce their need for pain medication. Physical therapy before surgery can help pets lose weight, reduce pain and gain muscle, all of which can improve the success of surgery or sometimes eliminate the need for it altogether. It is also an increasingly popular tool for conditioning athletic or working dogs and senior pets.
The best evidence of what good physical therapy can do is in the stories of animals whose lives got better as a result.
If Gracie could talk she’d tell you herself. The miniature dachshund came to Dr. Sybil Davis for treatment after inter-vertebral disc rupture and back surgery. Although she was recovering and able to move her rear legs, after six weeks she could not stand or walk. Her owners were becoming discouraged as Gracie just dragged herself around and no longer tried to push herself up. Even when placed in a cart she did not walk with the rear legs, Dr. Davis recalls.
“We worked on improving her strength and balance and retraining her to stand and walk. She spent a lot of time working in the underwater treadmill. Everyone was excited when she began to take small steps on her own. Walking was easier for her due to the buoyancy of the water, and the treadmill helped move her legs normally.”
Gradually, Gracie relearned proper walking technique and tried to walk on her own — a feat she finally accomplished after a month or so of therapy, Dr. Davis said. “We also gave her ‘parents’ an exercise program to follow at home between therapy sessions. As she spent more time on her feet she became stronger, and has continued to improve thanks to her owners’ daily adherence to her exercise program.”
Gracie‘s story speaks eloquently about what pet rehabilitation can do.