Physical Rehabilitation Increases Pets' Mobility and Minimizes Pain
Mon, April 19, 2021

Physical Rehabilitation Increases Pets' Mobility and Minimizes Pain

To enhance pets' quality of life, vets would often prescribe physical rehabilitation. / Photo by Viacheslav Nemyrivskyi via 123RF


Pets improve people’s quality of life. If you own a dog, you probably recognize the positivity they exude such as their excitement every time you arrive from the office or from just about anywhere else and their enthusiasm for cuddling. It’s just hard not to feel the love of our furry friends. But there are times when these pets are the ones that need our tender loving care after sustaining an injury or going through surgery or because they have started to suffer from a degenerative disease, age-related disease, or obesity. To enhance their quality of life as much as they do to their pet parents, vets would often prescribe physical rehabilitation.


Physical Rehabilitation for Pets

A retired Saint Francis service dog named Saint was featured in veterinary journal Today’s Veterinary Practice. He is an 11-year-old Labrador Retriever that is undergoing physical rehabilitation after he developed hind limb weakness and general soreness. His mobility also decreased because of arthritis. The dog’s veterinarian, Thomas Blaszak, shared that Saint was taking joint supplements and pain medication. He also underwent therapeutic laser treatments but still endured his arthritis. This is why he decided to refer Saint for physical rehabilitation to help him regain strength and some muscle in his legs. Gradually, rehabilitation improved the dog’s quality of life and mobility.

Krista Sinnott, the Labrador’s owner, adopted Saint when he needed a new place to stay upon his retirement at the age of 8. Now, he is a member of Sinnott’s family. She shared that the dog goes to work with her almost every day. From a service dog, Saint has found joy in the commercial real estate where Sinnott is working. Although they wanted Saint to remain active, he started having difficulty on his daily walks. Weakness is observed in his rear end and he would sometime stumble. He also had a hard time getting up.

Blaszak recommended physical therapy for Saint. From then on, the rehabilitation made a “huge difference” to Saint. He now plays, is more stable, and takes long walks, said his owner. The dog is also confident in going up and down their stairs and has fewer spills.

Sinnott shared that during the initial evaluation with the rehab team in 2019, Saint begun visiting the place regularly, then twice weekly, and eventually bi-monthly.  The licensed veterinary technician named Florence Bliss, with a background in canine rehabilitation program, had worked with Saint for a few months. “He really lights up,” Sinnott added, describing the change she sees in her dog.

What Involves a Physical Rehab Session?

According to the veterinary journal, a typical session requires a progression of one exercise to another. If the focus is to strengthen the animal’s leg or increase its mobility like Saint, the exercise begins with short hurdles lined up. These hurdles serve as mini-obstacles for the dog to step over one by one. Multiple repetitions of it helped improved the dog’s balance and strength because the exercise requires the dog to pick up his feet many times and transfer the weight from one part of his body to the other to balance.

After the hurdles, the next step is sitting and standing exercises. The therapist will instruct the dog to sit and then stand to improve the high-end muscle. This also offsets the effects of arthritis and neurologic issues in the case of Saint.

Sinnott said that the encouraging words of Bliss helped with the rehabilitation of the dog. “Good boy. Good job,” she would often say to Saint. Bliss also held before the dog’s nose a treat so that he would keep on moving.

Rubber Balance Ball

A rubber balance ball is another part of the physical rehabilitation for pets. This is where the dog will step off the ball, go for another hurdle, and then return to the ball. A gradual repetition of such exercise will not only improve the animal’s balance and core but also its confidence. Bliss shared that she kept on switching the pattern of exercise so that the dog will be entertained and will also target different muscle groups.

Acupuncture treatment was also given to Saint but not all rehabilitation facility has such an option.

Canine Arthritis, Pet Injury: Statistics

In a study titled “Canine Osteoarthritis and Treatments: A Review,” author Stephanie D. Bland wrote that arthritis is a commonly occurring chronic illness in both humans and animals. Of all pet and domestic animal species, dogs suffer from such illness the most because of injury, genetic predisposition, or excessive exercise or running. One in four pet dogs in the US is diagnosed with some form of arthritis.

It is estimated that around 30% to 50% of dogs and cats will be affected by osteoarthritis at some point in their lives. The data is based on veterinary center Willows Vets.

Meanwhile, the American Automobile Association shared that more than 80% of the dog owners drive with their pets in their car but only 16% of them transport their pets with proper safety restraints. While animals cause thousands of roadway injuries, thousands of stray animals have also been injured and some were killed in road accidents. In the US alone, about 1.2 million dogs are killed on the roads every year. In Nagpur, India, 767 stray dogs and 160 cats were brought to the vet hospital from April to July 2019. All of these animals were road accident victims, shared the city’s veterinary department Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC).

Disease and injury in pets are also some of the main reasons why pet rehabilitation training is needed. Last year, the American Pet Products Association said that Americans spent almost $19 billion on veterinary care, including pet rehabilitation. Database company Statista also published the consumer spending on veterinary and other pet services in the UK on the following years (in British pounds): 2005 (2.1 billion), 2007 (2.5 billion), 2009 (2.4 billion), 2011 (2.6 billion), 2014 (3.1 billion), 2016 (3.5 billion), and 2018 (5.2 billion).

Caring for animals is a big commitment. It is the kind of responsibility that teaches you to be sensible, structured, and dependable. If your pet is injured or needs help increasing its mobility and strength, physical therapy or rehabilitation can improve their well-being.