By Dr. Cindy Krane, DVM
Calusa Veterinary Center
Guest author, Andrew Turkell DVM, CVA
The new veterinary specialty, canine rehabilitation, is blossoming around the country and is changing the way dogs are recovering from surgery and injury. The old approaches where animals were kept inactive through cage confinement or rested for weeks with minimal activity are being replaced by a much more favorable promising approach adapted from the gold standard of human physical therapy.
Veterinarians are now looking for more than just a successful surgical outcome. They’re seeking an enhanced maximum medical improvement with early return to normal function and they are accomplishing this through active commitment of both the patient and client.
Veterinary rehabilitation procedures commonly practiced on dogs include the same modalities commonly used in the human sector such as underwater or standard land type treadmill exercises, therapeutic ultrasound, electro muscle stimulation, low level laser therapy, magnetic field therapy and a plethora of stretching, passive range of motion, and proprioceptive techniques determined by the situation and expertise of the rehab therapy team.
Even though evidence is up and coming in human physical therapy and veterinary rehabilitation, the physical therapists and canine rehabilitators alike acknowledge the lack of high quality, controlled studies that individually evaluate the components of a rehab protocol. However, studies do indicate that a structured physio- or rehab therapy protocol may provide advantages over typical restricted exercise routines. Dogs receiving veterinary rehabilitation treatments after stifle surgery demonstrated increased muscle size in the thigh, fewer degenerative bony changes on radiographs, higher scores on lameness evaluations, improved limb function and greater range of motion of the joint.
Rehabilitation programs must be individually tailored to the patient and never approached as a one size fits all treatment. The benefits to be recognized must be balanced with the patient risks, patient condition and intensity of exercise before beginning any rehab program. Dogs with cardiovascular disease, degenerative joint disease, neurological compromise or body deconditioning like obesity have additional challenges.
The veterinarians that are in charge of animals undergoing rehabilitation play an important role before, during, and after therapy. They must carefully evaluate their patients prior to beginning a series of physical exercises. Intermittent reevaluations of the patient will ensure that recovery is progressing and that parallel conditions such as arthritis in other joints are not being aggravated by the treatments. Reviewing records, objectives, and progress along with dialog with clients asking how they think the patient is doing in the program is vital Clients should be allowed to attend the sessions to support and encourage their pet and interact with the therapy team. The client understands the idiosyncrasies and behavior pattern of the patient and is critical in making them feel comfortable in their new exercise program.
In every case the rehab team should rely on the referring veterinarian’s diagnosis to develop a therapy plan that’s just right for the patient’s individual problem. The equipment and therapies that are selected for each case will increase circulation which accelerates healing, increase muscle mass and strength which improves balance and coordination, improves flexibility and mobility which increases functionality and finally it will minimize pain which will improve your pets quality of life.