What is physical rehabilitation for dogs?
Canine or veterinary physical rehabilitation for dogs uses many of the same techniques to improve an animal's physical wellbeing as physiotherapy does for humans. In fact, the two are similar in almost every way. So why don't we just say physical therapy, or physiotherapy for animals? In most states, the specific term “physical therapy” is applied to licensed physical therapists who work exclusively with people, and so when these methods and techniques are applied to animals we use the term physical rehabilitation.
Does physical rehab work for pets the same way as physiotherapy for people?
Research suggests that physical rehab for dogs has very similar benefits as physiotherapy does for people. It is also the case that animals, like humans, benefit significantly from beginning treatment early before the condition becomes severe, and continuing the program over a sustained period of time as the pet continues to show even small improvements in reduced pain or increased mobility.
Why would my dog benefit from physical rehabilitation?
Physical rehabilitation can be used to help to restore function to an injured or diseased pet through a combination of treatments such as massage, heat treatment, electrical stimulation and acupuncture combined with hydrotherapy and exercise. This combined approach may help relieve pain, improve joint and muscle health and aid the rehabilitation of pets following an injury, disease or surgery. In some cases vets recommend canine physical rehabilitation as an alternative to surgery, or as a way to stimulate elderly dogs’ brains and give them a renewed sense of purpose.
How do you do physical rehabilitation for dogs?
Begin by visiting your veterinarian or finding a certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner near you. Your pet rehab professional will review your dog's overall condition and create a personalized treatment plan to help address your dog's specific concerns. Beyond treatments administered by at the rehab facility, you will likely be given a number of at-home exercises to do with your pet to help continue your pet's progress between appointments.
Are veterinary rehab exercises only used to treat injured or recovering dogs?
No! Pet exercises developed to improve balance, strength, endurance, and flexibility can benefit even healthy dogs. Many senior dogs enjoy the mental challenge of performing age-appropriate rehab exercises.
What are the different methods used in physical rehabilitation for dogs?
The type of physical rehab recommended for your dog will be based on a number of factors including your dog's age, overall condition, and weight as well as the type of injury or condition being treated. Below are a few possible methods that could be used when dogs attend a physical rehab appointment.
- Cold laser therapy. These treatments are used to help stimulate cell regeneration, improve circulation and reduce inflammation and pain. Cold laser treatments are often used to help pets suffering from arthritis, tendon injuries and more.
- Therapeutic exercises. If therapeutic exercise is recommended for your pup, a qualified canine rehabilitation professional or veterinary technician will create a customized movement or exercise plan for your dog. Therapeutic exercise is often a great rehab option for dogs with injuries, arthritis, and other mobility restrictions, or that are recovering from surgery.
- Underwater treadmill. Working out on an underwater treadmill can help to reduce discomfort and build range of motion in dogs recovering from surgery. This method of physical rehab for dogs can also be used to help reduce weight, as well as improve strength, range of motion, and overall fitness level. Your pet will move on the treadmill with the added benefits water offers.
- Swimming. Many dogs enjoy swimming making this form of physical rehabilitation a fun way for your dog to lose weight, build muscle mass, and improve agility.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture for pets is a form of alternative medicine intended to help treat and manage the symptoms of several illnesses and disorders. It is performed by inserting extremely thin needles into specific points in the body where the pet's blood vessels and nerves convene. Endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers, are released, helping to relieve acute and chronic pain and discomfort.
Canine Physical Rehabilitation Exercises to do at Home
These exercises can be a fun way to engage with your pet while improving their overall wellbeing, however it's important to consult your veterinarian before trying any of these exercises with your pet.
Plank: This exercise is a basic stand, which can be surprisingly difficult for many dogs. If your dog 'fidgets' when standing this is an excellent exercise to help improve their balance. Simply have your dog stand still, aiming for 10 seconds without movement and head up.
Core balancing: Place your dog on wobble boards, a small physio ball or cushions and encourage your pet to keep their balance. You can gently tickle your dog's tummy to help your pet engage their core muscles and make the exercise fun for you and your dog.
Sit to Stand: Begin the exercise by backing your dog’s hind end into a corner. Using a treat as encouragement, ask your pet to stand, then slowly return to sitting. This exercise can be repeated 10 times, twice per day provided your dog is not experiencing any pain.
Back Extension: Have your dog stand with their front feet on a raised surface, step or platform that’s about the height of your dog's ankle. Keep your pet's head and neck neutral and in a straight line with their back. Encourage your pet to hold the position for 5-10 seconds then help them to safely step back down.
Dancing: Hold your pet's front paws or legs just above the elbow and bring your dog up into a standing dance position. Sway from side to side, and then progress by step dancing forward, backward and sideways.
Cookie Stretch: Have your dog stand comfortably then, using a treat lure your dog's nose toward their shoulder, then toward their hip, then between their front legs. Do both sides. Try to prevent your pet from stepping out of place. The goal is to have your dogs stand still and stretch.
Improve Cardiovascular Fitness
Controlled Leash Walking: Using both a chest harness and a regular collar and leash, walk your dog keeping a controlled pace. If your dog is pain-free and strong enough, you can insert brief intervals of jogging or faster paced walking to help improve your dog's fitness.
If your dog is ready for full body exercises consider activities such as swimming or agility course training using hurdles, weave poles, and Cavaletti rails. Many dogs enjoy these activities for the physical benefits as well as the increased time they get to spend with their people.
How quickly will I see improvements in my dog's health?
Every dog is unique, with different health challenging and abilities which is why only your vet or Canine Physical Rehabilitation professional will be able to give you an idea of when you could start to see an improvement in your dog's condition.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.