Talking about physical rehabilitation usually brings to mind a person who has been injured playing his or her favorite sport or recovering from surgery. Most likely, the vision of a dog ‘working out’ or trotting on a treadmill doesn’t enter the picture. But more and more pet owners are taking advantage of rehabilitative medicine to help their beloved animals.
“Rehabilitative medicine is about restoring function of the musculoskeletal system and nervous system to pre-injury, pre-surgery status, and maintaining or restoring function in pets with degenerative and aging disorders,” said Dr. Cynthia Maro, veterinarian, Ellwood Animal Hospital.
According to Dr. Maro, in veterinary medicine, the term “rehab” is used for what is referred to in human medicine as physical therapy. And rehab isn’t limited just to dogs.
“All animals from pocket pets to zoo animals can qualify for rehabilitative services, which can take the form of everything from heat/cold therapy to post-surgical rehab, to use of ultrasonic therapies, underwater/swim therapy, passive range of motion and active motion exercises to restore range of motion and health,” she said.
Meredith Wille, clinical director, Steel City Canine Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine, explained that animal rehabilitation is actually the fastest growing specialty in veterinary medicine.
“There are many benefits to rehab, including recovering from a surgical procedure, recovering from a soft tissue injury, maintaining mobility while living with arthritis, and sustaining function when dealing with a neurologic disorder,” she said. “We use a variety of modalities to aid in all of these areas and focus on a non-pharmaceutical approach to healing the body.”
While Steel City Canine, owned by veterinarian Dr. Brian Silvis, focuses on dogs, Wille said she treats many other species in rehab, including goats, pigs, geese, rabbits, cats, cockatoos and more.
Dr. Maro said that just like humans, there are numerous reasons that dogs can benefit from rehab.
“One of the most important benefits of canine rehab is maintaining aging pets’ muscle tone and strength well into their upper teen years,” she said. “Accepting that getting old means your body is going to fall apart is a fallacy. Getting older doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to have a hard time getting around. Don’t accept that for yourself or for your pet.”
Wille said that they see a variety of patients, including athletes. “Some dogs may be recovering from a recent surgical procedure and need help getting back to chasing the ball in the backyard. Others want to return to hiking with the family,” she said, “We also have a large contingency of canine athletes looking to return to a high level of competition in their respective sports.”
Any time that your pet has difficulty with mobility, Dr. Maro recommends a visit to a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about animal chiropractic and rehab therapy to restore and maintain nervous system function. “Surgery or injury is a traumatic physical experience and your pet should be seen by a veterinarian for a neurologic exam to determine if they would benefit from chiropractic or rehabilitative services,” she said.
Another issue that animal rehab can help with is weight loss. According to the American Kennel Club, 56 percent of the dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese, a condition that can shorten their lives or at the very least, make mobility more difficult.
Steel City Canine offers a comprehensive weight loss management program that has helped Wille’s own dog, Bertha. A former shelter dog, Wille spotted Bertha on a Facebook post and offered to help her lose some weight to become more adoptable. The puggle weighed 63 pounds and in the course of a year—thanks to underwater treadmill work and a healthy, restrictive diet—Bertha is now a svelte 27 pounds. She even became famous in the process.
“Bertha has her own Instagram; her handle is ‘Bertha_gets_bitty’ and she has been in People magazine and on Good Morning America,” Wille laughed. And of course she was adopted—by Wille.
As important as rehab can be for pets, it is also important to find qualified treatment. With an influx of rehab services popping up in many clinics, Dr. Maro urged pet owners to make sure that the rehab center has a veterinary chiropractor on staff in order to insure good chiropractic alignment and good pain control.
“Rehab therapy should not be causing pain, and if there is a therapist that advises that your pet ‘tough it out’ through pain, your pet will be slower to heal, if they are able to heal at all,” she said, adding that an ongoing chiropractic preventative health regimen may shorten time in rehab and help your pet receive more benefits from those rehab sessions.
One of Dr. Maro’s many success stories is Maizie, a dog who had lost the use of her back legs.
“We were able to get her back to walking through acupuncture and other forms of rehab,” said Dr. Maro. Maizie’s story has been documented on Instagram at @Maizie_Gracie.
For more information about Dr. Maro’s services, visit https://www.ellwoodvet.com or call 724-758-8882. To reach Wille at Steel City Canine Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine, visit https://steelcityk9rehab.com or call 412-837-2047.