Tools of the Trade: Veterinary Rehabilitation

Mar 23, 2015 / Advances in Medicine / Small Animal Surgery / Dogs

[small dog in floatation jacket in underwater treadmill]

When the therapy is fun and the patient loves doing it, results come faster.

Rehabilitation comes from the Latin word rehabilitare, which means “to restore ability.” As a certified veterinary technician and certified canine rehabilitation practitioner at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Kim Knap helps pets with a variety of conditions daily using specialized equipment for each situation.

Her goal is to maximize recovery from surgery and disease while improving the patient’s quality of life. Though not all therapeutic approaches used in rehabilitation require specialized equipment, Knap says new technology offers many benefits for her rehabilitation patients.

“The special equipment allows us to provide accurate diagnosis and treatment for many different conditions in the most efficient and minimally invasive way available,” explains Knap.

One of the pieces of equipment Knap has at her disposal is the Tekscan walkway system, which helps in evaluating animals with lameness.

“The Tekscan looks like a mat. When the patient walks across the mat, the system collects data on how much weight the animal puts on each limb and how long each limb is on the ground,” says Knap. This information is used to determine which limb the animal is having trouble with as well as to assess how the patient is responding to treatment.

Therapeutic ultrasound and cold laser therapy are other tools used by Knap. The ultrasound unit emits sound waves into tissue, causing deep tissue heating. It can help with tendonitis, enhance blood flow to aid in healing, and reduce pain.

“These two therapies stimulate and accelerate the cell healing process. The ultrasound has also been shown to increase tissue elasticity, which can be helpful when trying to stretch out tissues that are too tight,” explains Knap. The processes are also safe for pets and non-painful.

[Therapist administers neuromuscular electrical stimulation to a dog using electrodes on the skin.

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation therapy involves placing electrodes on the skin to stimulate a contraction in an area with nerve damage.

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation is a therapy that involves placing electrodes on the skin around the muscles being targeted to cause a contraction.

“I like to use this therapy with nerve injuries to a limb and in cases where extreme weakness has resulted from a neurological deficit,” says Knap. By stimulating contraction in an area that has nerve damage, there is a chance for that nerve to heal more efficiently.

“This therapy can be slightly irritating to the patient but not painful,” explains Knap. In most cases the benefits outweigh the slight discomfort a pet may feel while undergoing treatment.

According to Knap, the most useful tool in the rehabilitation service is the Hudson Water Treadmill. In this system, the animal is partially submerged in water as it runs or walks on a treadmill. The water is heated and chlorinated. The speed of the treadmill and the level of water in the tank are adjusted to suit the goals of the therapy; for example, for athletic conditioning, the water may be set midway up the patient’s legs to create resistance that requires the animal to expend more energy.

“For patients that are experiencing pain or weakness, the water covers much of their body, providing buoyancy that supports the patients’ weight and allows them to safely engage in exercise,” explains Knap. “For treating conditions from neurologic issues to arthritis to recovery from surgery, the water treadmill offers a range of therapeutic benefits that cannot be achieved any other way.”

Many pets easily become accustomed to the aquatic therapy. “A very large percentage of our patients truly enjoy coming,” says Knap.

When the therapy is fun and the patient loves doing it, results come faster.

“The tools available in the rehabilitation service help patients regain functionality faster than could be achieved otherwise,” says Knap, “and in some cases, I have seen patients for whom there was very little hope of ever walking again regain their mobility using our water treadmill.”


By Melissa Giese