Canine physical therapy became commonplace in Europe in the 1980s and interest here in the U.S. started to grow in the 1990s. As many of you who read here regularly know, I’m a huge advocate of rehabilitation therapy for dogs. Just a short list of the benefits of canine physical therapy includes:
|Increased rate of recovery from injury and surgery
|Increased strength and range of motion
|Improved functional abilities
|Performance enhancement of athletic dogs
|Weight loss assistance
The Goal of Rehabilitation
The goal of physical rehab for dogs is three-fold: 1) to regain functional ability, 2) to optimize movement of all body parts and 3) to improve quality of life. If you have a dog that has had surgery, for example, the role of rehabilitation and in particular water therapy can prove invaluable.
Your pet’s muscles will begin to atrophy within just a day or two after an injury or surgery. If rehab isn’t started as soon as possible, the area of the wound or injury will show increased swelling due to lack of movement.
There can also be loss of muscle control, decreased stability in joints and increased stiffness of tendons and muscles.
Weight-bearing activities that would normally arrest and reverse these conditions often can’t be allowed for weeks postoperatively. But your dog can begin physical therapy as soon as his incisions have healed.
Underwater treadmills are an excellent way to make use of your injured pet’s natural functional activities like walking, trotting and running. An underwater treadmill takes advantage of your dog’s natural gait patterns which helps improve his range of motion after an injury or surgery.
At the same time, the water provides gentle resistance, which helps build and maintain his muscle strength.
Types of Canine Rehabilitation Therapy
Manual therapies include exercise, joint mobilization, therapeutic stretches and massage, and are typically performed by certified rehabilitation practitioners highly skilled in these techniques. Some facilities may also offer chiropractic treatments.
Strength, coordination, flexibility and balance therapies use tools like rocker and wobble boards, physioballs, therapy bands and Cavaletti poles. “Unbalancing” exercises like walking on irregular surfaces help your dog learn where her feet are in space and how to keep from falling over with changes in body position.
Aquatic therapy involves underwater treadmills and swimming. The buoyancy of water takes pressure off your dog’s injured or painful joints. Water therapy also improves cardiovascular health, muscle strength and range of motion. Swimming uses natural canine motions to improve mobility.