How rehab helps pets


A quick Q&A to get you up to speed on rehabilitation.

There's a misconception that physical rehabilitation is only for critically injured pets. It helps many pets lead more comfortable lives. While a trained veterinarian must oversee the rehabilitation plan and treatments, technicians can master simple techniques and team members can learn talking-points to enhance the program's success. Here are answers to common rehabilitation questions.

Kathy Coffman

Q. Which patients can benefit?

Rehabilitation treatments improve quality of life for a variety of patients, including critically injured pets, aging pets in pain, and pets trying to avoid and recover from surgery—especially orthopedic and neurologic cases. And a technician or assistant who's learned basic massage techniques may be able to help calm boarding pets.

Q. Which conditions are commonly treated with rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation is frequently used to treat acute and chronic orthopedic and neurologic conditions. Some specific examples include osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, and recovery from fractures or a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament repair.

Q. What are the most effective treatment modalities or methods?

Practices can purchase equipment to aid in treatment, but trained team members can do a lot with just their two hands. For example, massage increases blood flow and helps resolve muscle tension. Passive range of motion exercises help pets recover flexibility. Therapeutic exercises allow them to rebuild muscle mass and increase flexibility, core strength, and proprioception. When medically appropriate, applying cold packs to postoperative patients and heat packs to patients with muscle tension or spasms provides relief—closely monitor these patients and rotate packs often to avoid skin damage.

Q. Which objections or questions do clients most often raise?

Some pet owners are concerned with the cost and time involved in rehabilitation. Remind them that it often reduces the need for anti-inflammatory or pain medications, which saves in the long run. As for time, teaching clients basic at-home techniques could eliminate a few visits.

Another hurdle is clients letting their pets do too much too soon. A dog that needs eight weeks of postoperative rehabilitation usually feels better by week three. Emphasize to clients that pets aren't healed until more time has passed and that too much activity before then could damage the surgery site. It's also helpful to remind pet owners that excessive strain might make the surgery unsuccessful, which could waste money well spent.

Kathy Coffman is a certified canine rehabilitation technician (CCRT) and certified massage therapist (CMT) at Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group in Annapolis Junction, Md., and a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member.

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