Physical rehabilitation is becoming increasingly popular in animal health care and benefits many of our pet patients in recovery from orthopedic intervention and in various neurological situations. Many of our weight challenged "kids" can also benefit from the added calorie burn that directed exercise and water resistance can provide in the water treadmill.
Physical rehabilitation (physical therapy is a term used by our human colleagues and they prefer that we not use that term) is recommended for patients both dogs, and yes even cats, with chronic osteoarthritis. Many times we can use the water treadmill also as a swimming exercise plan for the smaller patients. Physical rehabilitation helps to improve mobility, decrease and relieve pain, return patients to normal activities of daily living, and return to normal muscle mass and coordination after either acute debilitation and/or chronic hospitalization.
The first step in a planned program is to evaluate the patient and set goals. This evaluation is performed with information provided and the pet parent's input. It is important to maintain adequate control of pain during this process as we introduce an option for our patients.
I have always been interested in rehabilitative therapy starting in my vet school days where I was presented with an 8 month old mastiff that was found "down in her run". Her diagnosis was meningoencephalomyelitis and she was not predicted to survive the night. With some intuition and some innovation this dog, named Ursula, actually was returned to her owners ambulatory without decubital ulcers and with a great respect for the benefit of physical conditioning and recovery. She was my responsibility for the 8 months that she was in residence at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. (The bill was absorbed as a teaching expense because everyone in my class basically was introduced to the benefit of nursing care in chronic patients and the results of a physical rehabilitation program).
I have taken the coursework for physical rehab at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee and I believe that this education has benefited my patients in allowing for options in their care. I would like to make this modality of water treadmill therapy and directed exercise available to as many companion pets as possible through a referral program with our local colleagues.