Veterinary physical rehabilitation is a medical field devoted to enhancing the recovery of a debilitated or injured animal. It involves an understanding of the pet’s metabolism and how the pet is affected by exercise, disease, and injury. It also requires an in-depth understanding of the healing process. Anytime an animal is sick or has been injured, the body undergoes a period of deconditioning. Humans also experience this after being sick or injured and it takes a while before we are able to be active again at a normal level.
The goals of any rehabilitation program are to:
- Return the patient to prior function
- Enhance healing
- Prevent re-injury
- Minimize pain
There has been a growing awareness of veterinary rehabilitation and how it benefits pets after surgery. Studies have shown that patients who participated in a rehabilitation program had more improved postoperative outcomes compared to those who were placed only on cage rest or restricted to a walking program.
Rehabilitation programs can be developed for canine and feline patients for a variety of medical conditions, including:
- Post-operative rehabilitation programs
- Neurological disease
- Soft tissue injuries (muscle and tendon)
Rehabilitation programs typically include:
- Exercise-range of motion, stretching, balance, and weight bearing
- Underwater treadmill
- Heat therapy
- Massage therapy
- Laser therapy
- Home exercises
- Customized nutrition programs
The first step to developing a rehabilitation regimen is to define the primary problem and all of the related issues. The speed of recovery is based on beginning with the correct diagnosis. Otherwise, primary problems can lead to secondary issues. For example, a problem with the stifle (back of the knee) can lead to muscle atrophy and hip and/or back pains. It’s also important to be aware of subtle signs of discomfort since pets are unable to communicate the source of their aches and pains.
Once all the problems are identified, the rehab program can be designed to assist the patient with recovery as well as any related problems. The regimen may include utilizing low-level laser therapy, neuromuscular electric stimulation, therapeutic exercises, or thermotherapy (cold or warm packs). Ultimately, enhancing a patient’s recovery also improves their overall quality of their life and enables them to be more active and responsive in their daily activities.
A big part of physical rehabilitation in animals is motivating them to participate. While humans can use reasoning to see the benefits, animal patients need positive reinforcement to create a positive rehabilitation experience. For example, a reward or treat given after each set of repetitions in a workout creates a positive mindset in the patient toward the rehabilitation program. At the same time, pet owners are more reassured and encouraged by seeing their pet being receptive to the treatment process.