Canine Rehabilitation Reality Check: Passing on a Few Pearls of Wisdom

So What Have I Learned?

I have spent an exhausting yet rewarding 23 years in the veterinary field as a technician. During the last four years, my time has been devoted to the area of animal rehabilitation therapy (doggie physical therapy but we can’t call it that due to rules and regulations, blah, blah, blah). This has been a rewarding and challenging area of focus with some triumphs and flat out failures. As a perfectionist at heart, the reality of my new field has humbled me with it’s ups and downs and uncertain outcomes. The technician’s rehab experience will be different than that of a veterinarian or human physical therapist. In my rehab case, I went from being a worker bee (carrying out the doctor’s orders) to being a decision maker and treatment planner. The patient’s outcome rested mostly on my shoulders with the rehabilitation plan that I designed. Talk about a whole new level of stress! Upon reflection of theses last few years, I have come to a few conclusions about rehabilitation therapy.

Pearls of Wisdom That I Have Learned

 dog rehabilitation evaluation
1. The classes and text books are only small part of the learning process when trying to develop a rehab program or protocol. The real learning begins when you are on your own and managing your own cases. Reality can be harsh but a great teacher. Make your mistakes, learn from them, move on.

2. There are way more tools and modalities then you will ever need or use in general on a daily basis (this is just a practical truth). Pick the ones that you feel will allow you to achieve the most reliable results in the best amount of time. For me, laser and aqua therapy are my core modalities with land exercises (using Fitpaws equipment) coming in third.

3. Your eyes and hands are the most valuable assessment tool that you have. Place your hands on every patient and learn to trust yourself.

4. Some dogs just don’t get better. Rehab is not guaranteed to always have a positive outcome. There are a variety of reasons that this may be true such as surgical complications, progressing disease process, and/or overall body condition. Except this and find a good solution for their needs.

5. Rehab (specifically the underwater treadmill) can’t fix everything. Sometimes surgery or (gasp) plain old rest is a better solution to the problem. In a few cases such as disk disease, exercise can even make the symptoms worse. Continue…

Senior Dog Exercise: It all Begins with a Plan and Some Creativity

cookie rewards for dog behavoir

As our pets approach their senior years, things begin to change for them. Their vision and hearing can become impaired, weight can become an issue (too heavy or too thin), and their activity levels seem to slow down (often times due to arthritis or degenerative processes). From a rehab therapist’s perspective, it is very important to not let these changes negatively impact a pet’s mobility and independence if we can help it. Keeping our senior dogs on their feet and moving is one of the most important things an owner can do for the aging pet. Once an older dog (especially a larger one) goes down and decides that they do not want to get back up, it can a difficult situation for everyone. So how do we avoid this problem? Keep them healthy and moving!

Keep Them Moving!

Exercising a senior dog does not have to be complicated. If we keep in mind some basic goals and expectations, then we can turn a daily routine into an enjoyable home rehab therapy session. What should our goals be? To keep the geriatric pet up and moving at a level that is comfortable for them. Combining activities that challenge body awareness (Where are my feet?) and support strengthening are an ideal senior exercise plan. To put it in simple terms: older pets need to find a low intensity activity that engages their mind, gets them walking with changes in direction (circles and turns are important), and has them stepping over stuff.
Many of our older dogs still have a huge play drive and desire to go-go-go, but what we need to do as pet parents is to channel this energy into a more structured and controlled play time. It is better to be able to participate in that loved activity such as swimming or ball play for a shorter/less intense time every few days then to go all out with high-drive fun in a single day and then be sore for the next few days or weeks. On the other hand, some senior dogs could care less about going for that walk or being active. These pets are a challenge because we need to find what motivates them and then use it to encourage productive activity.

Things to Consider for Your Pet’s Senior Exercise Program

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The Management of Canine Iliopsoas Strains: Getting to the Bottom of Chronic Lameness

When Evaluating for Pain, Don’t Forget the Musclesagility-dog

After several years of managing the lame and painful dog in our rehabilitation practice, we have learned a thing or two. One of our biggest accomplishments has been to recognize that joints are not the only source of chronic pain in our patients. Sure, things may start with a torn cruciate ligament or other joint issue, but for our painful patients, it rarely stays as just one source of discomfort. Shifting off of a painful limb or area changes how a pet moves and maintains their body weight. This puts an aggravating stress and strain on compensating joints and muscle groups. During a period of play, a dog may twist the wrong way and partially tear a cruciate ligament.  They then begin to shift their weight to the opposite hind leg, tuck their pelvis, or shift weight primarily to the front limbs to avoid painful movement. That works great initially until the joint and muscles of the other limbs protest and begin to spasm.

Iliopsoas, a Common Source of Paindog swimming in summer

A great example of a compensatory strain and a common source of chronic pain and lameness is the iliopsoas muscle. The psoas major and iliacus muscle groups combine to form a band of muscle (the iliopsoas)originating along each side of the lumbar spine and inserting on the inside portion of each femur (we would call this a groin muscle). A dog would use these muscles to flex the hip and lower portion of the spine, for lateral rotation of the thigh, and to advance the femur forward. Canines who participate in activities or sports that involve a lot of jumping or movements with great hip extension can aggravate the iliopsoas resulting in knocked bars, shortened jumps, and a skipping gait. What kind of activities would that be? Dock Diving, Agility, Fly Ball, Lure Coursing, regular frisbee and ball play. We will also see iliopsoas stain and pain as a secondary issue in our patients with orthopedic changes such as hip dysplasia, arthritic hind end joints, disk disease/back injury, and recovering post-op orthopedic repair (to name a few). Continue…