Could physical therapy be the answer for your dog? Here are a some conditions that physical therapy can assist with according to the American Animal Hospital Association.
- Those of us who have experienced an injury or surgery know just how beneficial physical therapy can be. Rehabilitation exercises lessen pain, strengthen muscles, and speed up the recovery process, helping the body to get back into shape after a traumatic event.
But physical therapy isn’t just for humans anymore. Rehabilitation is increasingly prescribed for our canine companions to address issues such as mobility, pain, and joint damage due to orthopedic surgery, musculoskeletal injury, arthritis, obesity, paralysis, neurological disease, and more.
If you’ve seen one of those cute videos of a dog trying to walk on an underwater treadmill or balance on a big exercise ball, you have seen a small part of canine physical therapy at work. Common conditions that benefit from physical therapy may include:
• Arthritis and degenerative joint disease
• Postsurgical recovery of the knee, hip, back, or neck
• Amputation recovery
• Traumatic injuries, such as being hit by a car
• Soft tissue injuries of the tendons, ligaments, and muscles
• Hip and elbow dysplasia
• Rear limb weakness
• Neurological disorders, such as degenerative myelopathy
• Spinal disorders, such as intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
• Nerve disorders, such as fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) and vestibular disease
• Physical therapy techniques
There are many different physical therapy techniques available for pets, including:
Underwater treadmill therapy: This low-impact treatment improves a dog’s strength, balance, and ability to bear weight on weak or injured limbs.
Swim therapy: This technique enables dogs to work large muscle groups while using the buoyancy of the water to reduce stress on their joints.
Range of motion: In this passive, therapeutic form of exercise, the physical therapist gently rotates the dog’s limbs to keep the muscles and joints flexible.
Massage: This form of therapy is widely used to increase a dog’s circulation, which in turn promotes healing and decreases pain.
Active exercises: Intended for the later stages of recovery, these exercises assist dogs in gaining strength, balance, and flexibility. Under the guidance of a physical therapist, dogs use balance boards, physio-balls, stairs, and weight bands to perform specific exercises on their own.
Where to find a physical therapist
Veterinary physical therapy is a relatively young profession. Some of the first specialists were physical therapists for humans who wanted to share their skills with animals. Today, private and university-based programs certify veterinary professionals and physical therapists in animal rehabilitation.
Despite being a relatively new form of treatment, rehabilitation is a growing resource for dogs and their owners and practitioners can be found in most major cities. Talk to your veterinarian to determine whether physical therapy is a good fit for your dog. If so, she can provide a referral or you can find a local qualified therapist through an online directory, such as Canine Rehabilitation Institute’s Find a Therapist tool.
Sharon Seltzer is a freelance writer and founder of Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog, a website for owners of dogs with paralysis and other mobility disorders. She’s pet mom to a Rottweiler puppy named Bailey and two semi-feral cats.