Swim & Play
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If your dog is young, old, post-operative, or arthritic, it might be time to consider canine rehabilitation. Essentially physical therapy for dogs, canine rehab can help with many different doggy afflictions. People often are 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 companion.
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 lamenesses for which other vets may prescribe just R & R (or “rest and Rimadyl,” in the veterinary world). Canine rehab utilizes three main treatment options:
Exercises are at the core of canine rehab. Just like people, dogs respond well to small amounts of consistent exercise. If you want to tone your biceps, for example, you focus on high repetitions, low weights. The same is true for your dog: if Fido just had knee surgery and has lost tone in his hamstrings, we ask him to start with gentle weight-shifting exercises a few times a day instead of hiking him to the summit of Pike’s Peak.
Another tool of rehab is hydrotherapy, the use of water to aid in your dog’s treatment in the form of underwater treadmills and swimming pools. The buoyancy of water helps alleviate stress caused by weight-bearing on your dog’s joints, while still offering strengthening properties as your dog swings its legs through the water. Depending on your dog’s issues, a rehab vet may utilize the treadmill, the pool, or both.
Lastly, rehab incorporates different modalities to offer a well-rounded treatment plan. Cold laser, therapeutic ultrasound, and muscular electrostimulation are available to your dog. All reduce pain, encourage greater blood flow, and increase the rate of healing. Used alone or in conjunction with exercises and hydrotherapy, almost every patient feels the benefits of these modalities.
WHO NEEDS REHAB?
Any dog can benefit from rehab. Our 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 six 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 the muscles around the weakened 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 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, as well.
Even if your dog is already scheduled for surgery, it’s a good idea to bring him or her by beforehand for an introduction to some of the exercises that will follow the surgery; that will give him/her a head start post-operatively. They can jump right into the treatments rather than spending some of that precious post-op time in the introductory phase (this is especially true for the underwater treadmill).
Young and old dogs 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 is a debilitating neurological condition with 6-month prognosis from the time of diagnosis without rehab. With it, they can stay comfortable for a year or more.
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.
Healthy dogs can benefit from rehab, as well, for all of the same reasons just listed. Rehab 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 CRCG, 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.
Appointments can include any of the methods discussed above: exercises, hydrotherapy, and manual modalities. During each appointment, you are right there with your dog. A tech does 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. Rehab is truly a team effort, and without your dedication at home, it would be a slower and less successful process.
Who else is part of your dog’s rehab team, you may wonder. A rehab vet is a veterinarian who underwent additional training and certification. A certified veterinary technician may also make an appearance to help with certain exercises.
WHAT IF I WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Visit our website (www.dog-swim.com), give us a call (303-762-7946), or come visit us at CRCG! We’re happy to answer any questions or help determine if your dog could use some form of rehab.