New Rx for Canine Healthcare

Physical therapy for dogs emerges as a powerful tool to help heal, strengthen, and restore mobility.

By | Posted: Thu Jun 3 00:00:00 PDT 2004

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Dancing with Roxie
Even so, most pet owners don't realize that their recuperating pets can get physical therapy. When Roxie, a 3-month-old Labrador Retriever, developed a noticeable limp, X-rays revealed that her hips did not sit properly in their sockets. The limp got worse, and at 8 months old, she had extensive surgery to repair the problem.

Roxie's family anticipated a long recovery. To their surprise, however, the surgeon recommended a canine rehabilitator - a veterinarian, veterinary technician, or physical therapist for humans with special dog training - to help Roxie recover.

Owner Miranda Parry of Chattanooga, Tenn., went to Cassy Englert, a licensed physical therapist, also in Chattanooga, who had attended the canine rehabilitation program at the University of Tennessee (see Locate a practitioner).

During the first visit, we got Roxie moving by placing a towel under her belly and helping her walk outside, Parry says. I would never have thought to do something like that. She slowly got better, but she lost a lot of muscle tone during those first few weeks.

To rebuild Roxie's muscles, Englert recommended yoga ball therapy. We draped Roxie's front legs over a giant ball, Parry says. I scratched her chin while Cassy rolled the ball back and forth so that Roxie's hips and legs could move. Roxie thought we were playing.

From January through April, Roxie had 14 therapy sessions. Toward the end, Englert suggested dancing with Roxie. We held up a cookie to get Roxie to hop up on her hind legs, and then we took her paws and danced around with her, Parry says. The first time she did that, it was a huge mental leap for her. She jumped up on everything that week just because she knew she could.

Physical therapy's gentle exercises not only support post-operative care, but may also benefit dogs suffering from neurological illnesses or injuries by healing tissues and muscles surrounding the affected area. That's why 3-year-old Annie, an 8-pound Chihuahua-terrier mix, started physical therapy last November. The tiny dog suffered severe spinal bruising after being hit by a car. Owner Pamela Page thought Annie was permanently paralyzed and would need a cart to get around. But she had hope.

The vet said she may never walk again, but that we could try physical therapy to strengthen her limbs, says Page, of San Antonio. After months of watching my dog work on an underwater treadmill, I'm a believer. She is walking again, and we didn't think that was possible.

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