Our pets play, run, and jump off furniture. Some pets even compete in physical competitions. All these activities can result in injuries, breaks, sprains, and age-related physical challenges. Fortunately, your veterinarian has options specifically tailored to meet your pet’s physical needs.
Physical rehabilitation is a branch of veterinary medicine that can enhance and/or restore function and improve quality of life for animals with injuries or who experience age-related challenges and/or physical impairments.
Dr. Pam Nichols owns the AAHA-accredited Animal Care Center in West Bountiful, Utah, and the K-9 Rehab Center, which focuses on pain management and therapeutic rehabilitation. She’s a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner (CCRP) and a nationally recognized speaker on the importance of rehabilitation in veterinary medicine.
Dr. Nichols’ K-9 Rehabilitation Center offers a variety of therapeutic services. Nichols says, “The most common injuries we see in large dogs are stifle (knee) injuries, and in small dogs we see intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) and patellar luxation.” Patellar luxation, commonly called slipped knee cap, is a dislocation or displacement of the patella bone from the knee joint. She says, “Each patient is examined to determine what kind of therapy meets his or her unique needs. We offer hydrotherapy with underwater treadmills and underwater electrical stimulation, weight pulls, massage, ice and heat treatments, and cold laser therapy for treating pain and inflammation.”
Hydrotherapy, the therapeutic use of water, is used to treat chronic conditions, to aid recovery from injury or surgery, and to treat obesity by providing fitness training for pets. Nichols says, “Hydrotherapy, as part of a treatment regimen, may reduce recovery time after surgery and/or slow the progression of degenerative conditions.”
Using an underwater treadmill provides pressure from the warm water, resistance, and buoyancy during exercise, reducing tension and swelling. It also helps strengthen muscles and reduces the impact on joints. This warm water is great for controlled exercise, especially for obese, arthritic, or injured animals and for those recovering from orthopedic surgeries.
Nichols recommends rehab when pets are overweight. She says, “We recommend hydrotherapy for many of our obese patients as it helps them safely lose weight and become more fit.” Hydrotherapy is also a great part of a fitness routine for competitive, hunting, police, and service dogs.
Hydrotherapy supports movement in a comfortable and buoyant environment, which makes it a great option for spinal injuries that cause impaired motor function. In addition to underwater treadmill hydrotherapy, Dr. Nichols uses an underwater electrical stimulation tank (e-stim tank). This therapy is also used after orthopedic surgeries to stimulate nerves and muscles, reducing pain and inflammation.
Another treatment Dr. Nichols uses is cold laser treatment. This type of treatment reduces pain and inflammation and is effective in treating acute pain from chronic conditions and for pain management after orthopedic surgeries. This therapy helps the body to heal from within by stimulating cellular activity. It’s safe, painless, and fast, only taking about 10 minutes per session. Nichols says, “During cold laser treatment, patients seem to relax and enjoy the process and some even fall asleep.” The treatments initiate a healing process that continues to reduce inflammation for up to 24 hours, and many pets show improvement after just a few sessions.
She also uses shockwave therapy, where high-energy sound waves stimulate cells to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, and enhance healing. “For some types of injuries, shockwave therapy can be an affordable alternative to surgery or the long-term use of anti-inflammatory medications and requires fewer treatments than other therapies,” says Dr. Nichols.
Dr. Nichols’ practice is a national leader in regenerative medicine for pets. Regenerative medicine assists the body in repairing, replacing, restoring, and regenerating damaged or diseased tissues. Cells are capable of regenerating a variety of tissue types, such as tendon, ligament, bone, and cartilage, providing pain relief for hip and elbow dysplasia and other degenerative conditions. Using new, advanced therapies with stem cells helps pets suffering from degenerative joint diseases (DJD), such as arthritis. It’s estimated that 20 percent of dogs older than one year have some form of DJD, and one study shows 90 percent of cats over 12 years of age show evidence of DJD on X-rays.
Canine physical therapy and rehabilitation helps to reduce pain, enhances recovery from injury or surgery, and provides support for age-related and degenerative diseases, as well as obesity. While most physical therapy and rehabilitation is geared toward dogs, techniques used in this discipline can also be applied to other animals.
“Every day I see patients who improve dramatically, even after one session of rehabilitation,” says Dr. Nichols. “One paralyzed dog I saw recently, a Pekingese named Caesar, had been recommended for euthanasia by two different veterinarians. After a week of pretty intensive rehab, he was able to walk. Now, eight weeks after his initial injury, Caesar has a normal life with almost no evidence of lameness or ongoing neurologic dysfunction.”
Physical therapy and rehabilitation services have proved to be successful in decreasing pain, speeding up the healing process, and improving quality of life for many patients. If your pet is feeling pain or suffering from injury or arthritis, talk to your veterinarian about your options.
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