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Physical Rehabilitation: Beneficial in Pets Too


Pet Column for the week of January 13, 2014

Related information:

Related site - Rehabilitation Treatment Approaches

[a patient exercises in the underwater treadmill]
Aquatic therapy helps support the weight of a weak, healing, or disabled patient.

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Netherton
Information Specialist

Just as people may turn to physical therapy to improve their mobility and daily functioning, pets may also benefit from physical rehabilitation.

Kimberly Knap, a rehabilitation specialist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, defines what she does this way: “Physical rehabilitation is the science of using different treatment options to maximize the overall return to function of an animal patient.”

Among the approaches she uses to help an animal regain function are massage, passive range of motion, therapeutic exercise, aquatic therapy, acupuncture, therapeutic laser, hot and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, and pulsed signal therapy.

“Therapeutic exercise is amazing to target certain areas of weakness. This is similar to the way people may work certain muscle groups at the gym,” explains Knap. “Aquatic therapy allows us to support the weight of a weak, healing, or disabled patient. The water helps them exercise longer and with less concussion than they would be able to otherwise.”

Therapeutic laser is an innovative treatment option in veterinary medicine. The laser treats inflammation without medications and accelerates healing with the use of light waves.

Physical therapy is commonly performed on pets that have recently had surgery. According to Knap, nearly all orthopedic surgery patients at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital receive some level of physical rehabilitation within 24 hours of their surgery. This therapy allows them to start the process of healing as soon as possible after the procedure.

Physical therapy comes with many benefits to a pet.

“Studies have shown that animals that undergo some form of physical therapy have a more complete recovery, decreased inflammation, better pain control, and therefore an improved quality of life,” says Knap.

Knap explains that the goal of physical therapy depends on the specific situation, but that the therapist aspires to support each patient to achieve the absolute best outcome at every stage of the recovery process.

“For dogs that have chronic problems, such as arthritis, we work to keep them as strong and active as possible to maintain an excellent quality of life for as long as possible,” she says.

Like physical therapy for people, many of the exercises developed for animal patients can be performed at home. However, Knap cautions that owners should receive professional instruction before attempting therapy with their pet.

“The treatments chosen and the therapy protocol should be developed by a veterinary professional,” she says.

For more information on physical rehabilitation in pets, speak with your veterinarian.