Rehab Can Change Your Injured Dog’s Life

Physical therapy can help severely injured and paralyzed dogs live on.

Dog geting a massageYou find your dog unable to walk and rush him to your veterinarian. A specialist performs surgery on your dog’s back and although you were told he has a good chance of recovery, it’s not going to happen by itself. Getting your dog walking again will require patience and weeks of rehabilitation. So, what’s next?

Just like with people, physical therapy can help dog’s recover from a myriad of injuries and ailments. But what is it exactly? Physical therapy is the use of noninvasive techniques other than veterinary chiropractic for the rehabilitation of injuries.

Common techniques can include:

  • Stretching
  • Massage
  • Stimulation by use of low-level lasersl
  • Ectrical sources, magnetic fields, and ultrasound
  • Rehabilitative exercises
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Applications of heat and cold

When you look for a physical therapist for your dog, Denis Marcellin-Little, DVM, American College of Veterinary Surgeons diplomate, and co-founder of the Animal Rehabilitation and Wellness Hospital, suggests choosing only a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner.

In regards to helping  a dog recover from back surgery, David Levine, P.T., Ph.D., a professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, says three types of rehabilitation help dogs after back surgery: aquatic therapy, therapeutic exercises, and gait training. All three help build strength and endurance, while the first two assist with balance and the latter with awareness of limbs and their location (proprioception).

Therapeutic exercise may include:

  • Standing exercises
  • Slow walks
  • Stair climbing
  • Treadmill activity
  • Wheelbarrowing
  • “Dancing”
  • Jogging
  • Sit-to-stand exercises
  • Pulling or carrying weights
  • Walking and trotting across rails
  • Playing ball 

Aquatic therapy usually involves an underwater treadmill or swimming in a pool with guidance for optimal exercise of the injured limb.

The rehab period depends on the severity of your dog’s impairments, says Joanna M. Freeman, B.Sc., P.T., C.S.C.S., but it generally lasts at least four to six weeks. Treatment sessions range from $30 to $60, depending on the injury, rehabilitation needed, and the facility’s location. Most dogs require daily therapy for a few days, followed by two to three times a week for the duration of the four- to six-week period. A weekly session can be enough for maintenance and weight loss, Levine says.

According to Marcellin-Little, “Rehabilitation gives animals the best chance of recovering as fully as possible. If your dog is destined not to walk because of profound damage to the spinal cord, the therapist will help your deal with avoiding bedsores, eliminating muscle spasm, and fitting the dog in a custom ambulation cart.”

Veterinary physical therapy should be performed by a licensed veterinarian or, if allowed by state law, a licensed, certified, or registered veterinary or animal health technician educated in veterinary physical therapy or a licensed physical therapist educated in animal anatomy and physiology.  

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