Is your dog limping, having trouble getting around, or inexplicably sore? No matter your dog’s age, it might be time to consider canine rehabilitation. Essentially physical therapy for dogs, canine rehab can help with many different doggy afflictions. People are often surprised to hear that rehab is an option for their own dog, and we are frequently asked how rehab works or why someone should consider it for their furry friend.
WHAT IS CANINE REHAB?
Canine rehab is a field of veterinary medicine that focuses on soft tissue injuries (muscle pains, ligament tears, and tendon strains, for example). Rehab is a way for dogs to reinforce normal neurological pathways, to gain strength and coordination, and to increase joint range of motion. It identifies painful or problematic areas; rehab vets can help with those undiagnosed lameness cases for which other vets may prescribe just R & R (or “rest and Rimadyl,” in the veterinary world).
Regular appointments are required for dogs in canine rehab. Depending on your dog’s particular situation, appointments may be as often as three times per week or as rare as once a month. These appointments should not interfere with your regular vet appointments; even if your primary veterinarian or surgeon is at a different clinic, your dog can receive rehab treatments at Two Rivers. We will work with your primary vet via regular phone calls and emails to ensure that everyone in your dog’s wellness team is on the same page. For any non-rehab issues, we always refer you back to your primary vet.
There are a few methods that rehab uses to help your dog feel better:
Exercises are the core of canine rehab. Just like with people, dogs respond well to small amounts of consistent exercise. Your rehab vet will send you home with exercises that you will then have your dog do daily. They are often basic movements that should not take longer than about 5-10 minutes a day, and they help your dog improve its coordination, strength, body awareness (proprioception), and flexibility. We will alter your dog’s exercises to keep it challenged as it progresses through rehab.
Canine rehab incorporates different modalities to offer a well-rounded treatment plan. These include cold laser, therapeutic ultrasound, and muscular electrostimulation. Each of them reduces pain, stimulates blood flow, and increases the rate of healing. Used alone or in conjunction with exercises, almost every patient feels the benefits of these modalities.
We have an underwater treadmill. The low-impact and high-resistance environment benefits a wide range of patients.
WHO NEEDS REHAB?
Any dog can benefit from rehab. Typical patients include post-operative and geriatric dogs, but we also have young, healthy pups. If your dog is in agility and you’re looking to improve her weave-pole time, we can help with that. If your puppy is too uncoordinated to function all four limbs at once, we can help with that, as well.
Post-operative patients (especially all you TPLO’s out there) are the most obvious rehab candidates. Just like in people, dogs need more than just strict rest to fully recover from orthopedic procedures. Surgeons have learned that eight weeks of strict cage rest after slicing-and-dicing does not result in healthy dogs or happy owners. Rehab helps ease a dog back into normal activities by safely strengthening muscles around compromised bones or joints.
Pre-operative patients are less obvious rehab candidates. If your dog just “blew out a knee” and had corrective surgery, the surgeon likely told you that more than 80% of such patients end up “blowing out” their other knee. Rehab will help your dog strengthen BOTH legs before OR after the first surgery to help protect both knees, thereby decreasing the risk of a second surgery (and a second surgery bill). This is true for non-knee anatomy, as well: wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, ankles, and spines can benefit from a little extra muscular support.
If your dog is scheduled for surgery, but you won’t be able to make it to a rehab appointment within the first two weeks following, please bring your dog by before surgery. We will sit down with you and show you gentle range-of-motion exercises that you will need to use during the hours and days immediately post-operatively.
Young and old dogs alike are both known for their lack of limb-control (known as proprioception). In older patients, it’s likely due to a medical condition, such as arthritis or a neurological disease; in puppies, it’s due to…well, being a puppy! Exercises to help your dog place its paws accurately and work on balance can make a significant difference in your and your dog’s lives. Take dogs diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, for example. This debilitating neurological condition has a 6-month prognosis from the time of diagnosis without rehab. With it, dogs can stay comfortable for over twice that time.
Dogs with a bum leg or two also find rehab useful. Some dogs are born with inherently bad joints: think bulldogs, dachshunds, and German shepherds. Some are born with angular limb deformities, which occur when bones do not develop and meet correctly within the joint. These dogs often have compensatory pain, from having to cope with moving awkwardly. Rehab can increase their flexibility and strength, and help manage their pain.
Healthy dogs can benefit from rehab, as well, for all of the same reasons just listed. It can help agility or working dogs strengthen muscles and avoid injuries. Hunting dogs can improve their retrieval times and decrease risk of injury by improving their proprioception. Even if your dog is just your walking buddy who likes to play fetch, rehab can help improve their overall fitness level to help prevent any number of metabolic and orthopedic complications that accompany an aging animal. Just like exercises keeps your own cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems in better shape, they help your dog in the same ways.
WHAT DOES A REHAB APPOINTMENT ENTAIL?
At Two Rivers Veterinary Hospital, your first appointment will be an evaluation. A rehab vet examines your dog as a whole, feeling each palpable muscle, tendon, ligament, and joint. This gives the vet a complete picture of what is painful for your dog and how to best approach treatment. The vet then demonstrates and helps you practice various simple exercises for you to do with your dog at home. The vet also lays out a general game plan for rehab, and you both discuss how that does or doesn’t work with your own goals or schedule. In order for a rehab program to be successful, it has to work with YOUR schedule. Ensuing appointments can include any of the methods discussed above: exercises and/or manual modalities.
WHO IS YOUR REHAB TEAM?
YOU: During each appointment, you are right there with your dog. We do not whisk your dog away “to the back” for treatments; you are an integral part of each step along the way in your dog’s rehab program. Canine rehab truly requires a team effort, and without your dedication, it would be a slow and less successful process.
REHAB VET: Any veterinarian can legally offer animal rehab, but it is not a subject covered in vet school; additional training is required for a vet to know even the basics of rehabilitation. A rehab vet is a one who pursued certification beyond the four years of vet school. Letters after their name include both “DVM” and “CCRT” or “CCRP” (depending on where they were certified). Your rehab vet will keep in touch with your primary veterinarian throughout the rehab process, as established above, to ensure that your dog receives the best care possible.
VET TECHS: As with any aspect of veterinary medicine, our team would not be complete without the help of licensed veterinary technicians. These caring individuals make it all possible, from communicating with you, the owner, when the veterinarian is busy with other patients, to comforting your companion during examinations.
WHAT IF I WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Give us a call (701-356-5588), or come visit us at Two Rivers! We’re happy to answer any questions or help determine if your pet could use some form of rehab.
Please note: though our most common rehab patients are dogs, we offer the same services to non-canine companions, too!