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Animal Physical Therapy

by Lilly

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Animal Physical Therapy

Whenever we injure parts of our body that is used for mobility, we are often referred to a physical therapist as part of the care and recovery program. Physical therapy is an excellent way for us to heal properly and decrease the risk of further injury. Just like us, animals also injure themselves and acquire tired joints, as well as pain and inflammation as they grow old. So, how are animals treated for these issues? Well, as pet patients, they can end up receiving their own specialized treatment plan in the form of animal physical therapy. To sum it up, it’s pretty similar to the physical therapy that we are used to as it also helps in a number of ways.

What Is Animal Physical Therapy?

Animal physical therapy is generally practiced for injured dogs, horses, and cats, as well as a few other pets. When animals suffer an injury like broken bones or have undergone surgery, physical therapy is often recommended by veterinary technicians the same way as a doctor would recommend it for you. It involves a number of basic exercises specifically designed to target the affected area and promote rehabilitation and improve the range of motion. Sometimes, specialized equipment is used as an animal treadmill. The goal is to build up any muscle that may have weakened due to the injury, which, in turn, reduces pain and discomfort. A lack of treatment or an unmonitored recovery can sometimes lead to further complications. Though it is still being developed, animal physical therapy has helped millions of animals all over the world and is still advancing today.

The Benefits of Animal Physical Therapy

For humans, physical therapy and physical therapists are usually implemented after certain surgical procedures, and it is the same for animals. Experts have found that the success rate of procedures is significantly improved when physical therapy is incorporated into the recovery plan. The most common issue in older animals is joint pain which then has a massive impact on the animal’s life. Specialized therapy not only helps to overcome certain conditions but it is also very effective at reducing pain. If mobility is restricted, then physical therapy is often used to target the affected area to strengthen and improve any damaged tissue, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. In the event of paralysis either from a rare condition or a severe injury, a veterinary expert will be able to perform a thorough examination to establish whether or not a rehabilitation program can help to gain some movement. If a limb is paralyzed or weak, then soft tissue contracture becomes a likely scenario. Animal physical therapy reduces the chance of this outcome and in some cases can encourage mobility.

Conditions That Benefit from Animal Physical Therapy

Therapy for animals is required for much more than joint issues and broken bones. It is also beneficial for:

  • Neurological system disorders
  • Injuries to soft tendons and tissues
  • Elbow and hip dysplasia
  • Arthritis
  • Joint disease
  • Nerve disorders
  • Amputated limbs
  • Obesity

Techniques Used

With physical therapy techniques, there is no “one size fits all” so, in order to determine the best approach, a consultation with qualified therapists is required. If unsure, talk to one of the local veterinary technicians. Following that, they will put together a program that will help get your pet back to full health. Below is a list of typical and new physical therapy techniques used for animals.

  • Hot and Cold Therapy

Our instant reaction when we hurt ourselves is to grab something cold and rest it on the injured area. If it’s a backache or a pulled muscle, we sometimes resort to heat packs. This is known as hot and cold therapy and is extremely beneficial for injury recovery. Cold treatment significantly reduces inflammation and heat therapy, in the care of animals, prepares muscles for exercise. Hot and cold therapy is a widespread practice and is typically used alongside other techniques.

  • PROM – Passive Range of Movement

This technique is used to improve flexibility in the joints and help to broaden the overall range of movement. It involves passive movement which means that the therapist is the one making the joints move instead of the animal. The way that the therapist moves the joints is the same way that they would move naturally.

  • Water Treadmill
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Using a treadmill for physical therapy is common, but many animal rehabilitation centers have introduced water treadmills. This handy bit of equipment is a fantastic way to help animals improve mobility and as it is used in a swim tank, the water carries a majority of the animal’s weight. Due to the lessened burden, joints aren’t put under too much strain. Once strength is gained the water level is decreased.

  • Cold Therapy Laser

It sounds much scarier than it actually is and is a relatively new form of physical therapy. The cold laser is used to target specific cells to boost blood circulation. By doing this discomfort is eased and healing is promoted.

  • Obstacle Course Therapy

Obstacle course therapy is a great way for animals to improve their balance and dexterity. This type of physical therapy is especially beneficial for dogs that have had neurological injuries as it enables them to work on paw placement. The obstacle courses generally include balance bars, hills, ramps, and steps. Gradually increasing in intensity as the animal improves.

  • Massage Therapy
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As well as being enjoyable, massages are incredibly useful for speeding up the recovery process. The applied pressure increases blood flow to the area, making it efficient for muscle tension and development. In some cases, massage therapy is performed for animals post-surgery.

  • Therapeutic Ultrasound
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Another relatively new form of physical therapy for animals is that of therapeutic ultrasound. Using a type of ultrasonic wave, tendons, ligaments, and muscles are warmed up. This process triggers muscle activity and helps to build strength.

  • Electrical Stimulation

Ideal for targeting pain or encouraging muscle development, due to the use of electrical currents. This method can also include transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, also known as TENS as well as neuromuscular electrical stimulation, NMES.

The hardest thing about treating animals is the fact that they aren’t able to communicate with us. They can’t tell us where they feel pain, nor can they express how the healing process has been. Overall, there aren’t many risks associated with animal physical therapy as long as it is performed by a certified and respected physical therapist. Concerns and issues may arise when those with insufficient training and understanding try treating an animal. That aside, animal physical therapy is a significant part of recovery and development that helps animals get back on their feet.