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Physical Therapy for Pets

Can Your Pet Benefit?

In human medicine, physical therapy has been a long-standing practice for a variety of disorders with proven results. Today, those same principles of rehabilitation have become integrated into veterinary medicine.The goals are the same and include improving mobility, decreasing pain, and expediting surgical recovery time. Physical therapy can benefit three broad categories in veterinary medicine: senior pets, obese animals, and post-operative orthopedic/ neurologic surgery patients.

Due to advances in veterinary medicine, orthopedic and neurological surgeries are more common today. Many pets suffer from bone fractures, hip dysplasia, prolapsed discs in their back, and even tendon or ligament tears. After surgical correction, physical therapy is instrumental in the recovery process. Using various treatments, the pain and discomfort are alleviated and patients are able to bear weight on the affected limb in a shorter span of time. Through positive reinforcement pets are encouraged to return to their former activity levels.

Our pets are living longer today than ever and as they age, they are prone to weakness and arthritis just as aging humans are. The normal processes of aging can include a reduced metabolism, impaired immune function, and a loss of muscle, bone, and cartilage. Rehabilitative therapy aids the senior pet by focusing on improved balance, strength, and endurance. It also can be mentally stimulating to the patients as they are introduced to new and different challenges. For our senior patients, physical rehabilitation can be instrumental in providing them with an improved quality of life.

Obesity has become a national epidemic and unfortunately our furry family members are not exempt. Just like us, pets experience consequences of obesity including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a shortened life expectancy. Excessive weight can put a strain on tendons, ligaments, and joints. Although successful weight management requires a proper diet And exercise, physical therapy can assist in weight reduction for obese patients through active exercise and conditioning.

The positive outcomes of physical therapy are achieved through multiple techniques and models. Veterinary physical therapists use massage therapy to alleviate pain and increase blood fl ow to affected muscles.Stretching and therapy to improve passive range of motion to joints is also a vital tool in the relief of arthritis and the recovery of post-operative patients. Active therapeutic exercises include treadmill walking, stair climbing, pole weaving, cavaletti rails (horizontal poles that are spaced and slightly elevated), and carrying weights.

Aquatic therapy plays an essential role in veterinary rehabilitation. Water pressure can reduce swelling and heat. Patients weigh less in water and thus the load is reduced on painful joints and muscles. Water resistance encourages muscular strength and endurance. An underwater treadmill is the preferred tool for accomplishing these goals. Swimming is a fun exercise but primarily
benefits only the front limbs. Other tools in veterinary rehabilitation include but are not limited to therapeutic ultrasound, laser therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), therapeutic ultrasound, and shockwave therapy.

Can your pet benefit from physical therapy? As pet owners, we strive to do the best we can for our family members. The next time your pet is afflicted with any one of the conditions discussed here, physical therapy and rehabilitation might be an option to achieve the best outcome.

Jane Hiser, DVM, CCRP, is an associate at Quioccasin Veterinary Hospital. Her areas of interest include internal medicine, physical therapy, and ultrasound. She is married with a six-month-old son.
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