Extra Special TLC Therapies Many Pet Owners Now Embrace

pet rehabilitation

Story at-a-glance

  • Rehabilitation centers for pets are on the rise; demand is growing to care for conditions associated with obesity as well as sports-related injuries
  • Most pet owners view their pets as family members and are increasingly looking for access to rehabilitation services to improve their pets’ quality of life and reduce pain
  • Rehabilitation facilities care for pets with arthritis, back problems, hip dysplasia, fractures, tendon injuries, neuromuscular disease and much more

By Dr. Becker

Rehabilitation therapy can be invaluable for pets, but it hasn't always been considered as part of mainstream veterinary care.

Demand for such services has been growing significantly in recent years, however, including for upscale facilities that improve pets' strength, functional ability and quality of life using tools ranging from obstacle courses and underwater treadmills to laser therapy and massage.

3 Reasons Why Rehabilitation Centers Are on the Rise

There are a number of reasons why rehabilitation centers are growing so rapidly, starting with pet obesity.

The majority of dogs and cats in the U.S. are not a healthy weight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). The organization revealed that 58 percent of cats and 54 percent of dogs were overweight or obese in 2015.1

The extra weight puts stress on joints, which can leave your pet unable to get around. Other common complications of excess weight in pets include arthritis, torn knee ligaments and diseased discs in the spine, along with other orthopedic diseases.

While the foundational solution to address these complications is weight loss, rehabilitation is incredibly beneficial for stimulating your pet's metabolism through movement.

For extremely obese pets who are unable to move around, rehabilitation centers can provide life-saving solutions to get your pet moving, such as walking in water, which takes pressure off joints.

Some owners also bring in their aging pets to help them retain and recover mobility and strength. Why else are rehab services becoming so sought after by pet owners?

High-Impact Activities: Some dogs suffer from sports-related injuries as a result of running or engaging in other strenuous activities with their owners.

Pets Are Part of the Family: About 90 percent of pet owners view their pets as part of their family and, as such, want to provide them with similar medical services to those available to humans, such as post-surgery physical therapy, which improves surgical outcomes and speeds recovery time.

Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) told the Daily Herald:2

"Over the last few generations we have brought our pets into our houses, into our beds in some cases and included them as a part of our families … Along with that comes a demand or expectation that they can get the same kinds of treatments that we get as humans."

What Types of Treatments Are Available at Pet Rehab Facilities?

From dogs with obesity and arthritis to those recovering from surgery or a sports-related injury, there are rehab options that can support your pet. These include more familiar strategies like massage, therapeutic exercise and stretching, heat therapy and acupuncture as well as:

Cold laser therapy (aka low-level laser therapy): This is used to stimulate cell regeneration and increase blood circulation to promote wound healing and treat arthritis, tendon injuries, sprains and strains, back disc problems and more.

Acoustic compression therapy: This technique uses sound waves to provide deep-tissue massage in muscles, tendons and joints. It offers increased circulation and pain relief.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This involves a battery-powered device that sends a low electrical current to the body, which disrupts pain perception pathways, helping to relieve pain. TENS is also sometimes used to stimulate acupuncture points.

Aquatic therapy: Various therapies using water are available, including underwater treadmills to promote weight loss, strengthen cardiovascular health and muscle strength. As explained by the American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians (AARV):3

"The [underwater] treadmill can be used in the very early stages of learning to move well again; the higher the water level, the more of your pet's weight that is supported.

As strength and correct movement improves, the water level is lowered each session to further increase strength. Underwater treadmills can decrease recovery time from surgery, improve arthritis through low impact exercise, and improve cardiovascular fitness."

Thermography: Thermography is the study of how much heat the body is giving off, which reveals areas with inflammation and, therefore, likely pain. Thermography may be used at rehab facilities to diagnose orthopedic or other health issues or to monitor progress during therapy sessions.4

There are many other therapeutic modalities used as well, including:

Pulsed magnetic therapy

Active exercise

Veterinary chiropractic

Therapeutic ultrasound

Joint mobilization

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation

Health Conditions That May Be Treated With Rehabilitation Therapies

If your pet is having trouble recovering from an injury, is struggling with mobility, or has unresolved pain, a rehabilitation specialist may help. AARV provided the following list of conditions that may be successfully treated with rehabilitation, as well as the types of improvements that may be experienced:5

Osteoarthritis: Increased mobility and range of motion, decreased inflammation

Hip dysplasia: Build-supporting muscle mass, increase mobility and comfort

Muscle injuries: Speed healing, restore normal functional length and decrease inflammation

Back injuries: Prevent reinjury and manage pain

Fractures: Speed recovery and prevent muscle contracture

Amputation: Help with adaptation, build supporting muscles and manage pain

Neuromuscular disease: Strengthening, adaptation and pain management

Joint dislocation: Strengthen supporting muscles and ligaments and prevent reinjury

Tendon injury: Increase range of motion and strength, decrease inflammation and scar tissue

Keep in mind that rehabilitation isn't only for dogs. Cats, horses, rabbits and many other pets may also benefit. In the video below, for instance, you can see underwater treadmill therapy for a rabbit. These therapies excel at providing your pet with improved quality of life, regardless of species, so if your pet is in need of extra physical support and healing, consider seeking the help of a professional rehabilitation specialist.