What is Rehabilitation Therapy for Pets?
Rehabilitation therapy is a specialty area in veterinary medicine involving one-on-one, hands-on work with your pet to help them regain their agility, ease their pain, increase their flexibility, strengthen their muscles, and improve their health. Rehab therapy uses tools, like e-stim and a variety of equipment, like an underwater treadmill.
This aspect of veterinary medicine includes the diagnosis and management of pets with painful or movement limiting symptoms involving the pet’s neurologic and musculoskeletal systems. The focus of the therapies is to regain the highest level of function and quality of life possible. Harmony Animal Hospital has a certified animal rehabilitation veterinarian and rehab nurses who assist. If your primary care vet is elsewhere, we will work closely with them to coordinate your care. At Harmony, we can prescribe pain medications as needed and offer a wide range of therapies with a multi-modal approach that leads to the best outcomes.
Reduce pain. Ease healing. Increase range of motion, and independence.
Why Do Pets Need Rehabilitation Therapy?
Harmony Animal Hospital’s canine and feline rehabilitation center helps your pets recover with less pain, sooner, and with greater ease. Rehab therapies are done for three main reasons – to help in recovery from surgery, illness or injury; to enhance the performance of working dogs; and to ease discomfort and help with senior dog mobility and quality of life.
- To help recovery from surgery, illness or injury;
- To enhance performance of working dogs; and,
- To ease discomfort and help with mobility in senior dogs.
Support Recovery from Surgery, Injury or Illness
Post Operative Orthopedic Injuries
- Knees & Patella
- Cruciate Ligament
Illnesses and Conditions
- Hind End Weakness
Degenerative Neurological Conditions
- IVDD (Intervetebral Disk Diseases)
- Wobbler Syndrome
- Vestibular Disease
Enhance Performance of Working Dogs
For Performance Dogs
- Canine Agility
- Pain Relief
- Weight Loss and Conditioning
Relieve Pain & Help Mobility in Senior Pets
For Senior Pets
- Hip pain
- Hind End Weakness
- Weight Loss
As in human medicine, good pain management for our pets is also necessary to speed healing. Pain is not only stressful and uncomfortable, but it can also impede the healing process. So managing your pet’s pain goes hand-in-hand (or paw-in-paw) with our rehabilitation exercises. It is often the first step towards healing.
Traditionally, veterinary medicine has looked to prescription medications and strict cage rest to manage pain in animals. With advances in physical rehabilitation techniques in veterinary medicine, additional tools and approaches such as acupuncture, E-Stim, PEMF Assisi Loop and structured, controlled exercise plans have become an accepted—and proven—means of helping pets more fully and quickly recover from injury, surgery or chronic degenerative conditions. Our approach is to treat our patients using a wide range of treatment options.
Note, please do not give human pain medicines to your pets. Pets are not little humans. Always consult with your veterinarian before administering any medications.
Integrated Veterinary Medicine & Rehabilitation Therapies for Pets
You’ll be relieved to know that Harmony Animal Hospital has in-house rehabilitation for your dogs and cats should they need it. Pet owners come to us from around the Raleigh-Durham metro-area and greater NC Triangle region, as well as from Charlotte, Fayetteville, and Virginia, especially if we have treated their pets before.
Harmony offers multi-modal holistic therapies as well as conventional therapies, including acupuncture, hydrotherapy with an underwater treadmill, lasers, E-Stim, therapeutic ultrasound, and exercises for your pets. We also offer both Western and Eastern (Traditional Chinese) veterinary rehabilitation therapies. Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (think acupuncture and herbs) has been gaining greater recognition in the Western field of veterinary practice for its success in treating a wide range of problems. Our rehabilitation specialist draws from both traditions as needed and will discuss the benefits and details of all suggested therapies in detail with you.
Meet Dr. Elizabeth Williams and Our Rehab Nurses
Dr. Elizabeth Williams directs our canine rehabilitation program. She is a practitioner of integrative veterinary medicine, combining conventional rehabilitative therapies with holistic Eastern modalities, like acupuncture, herbal medicine and Tui Na (a chiropractic type of massage) to provide the best support for your pet.
Dr. Elizabeth has had extensive training in traditional and holistic rehabilitation therapies. She has even been to China to study acupuncture.
Dr. Elizabeth and our vet rehab nurses will work in a variety of ways with your dog or cat. They will consider the problem, the expectations for recovery, and your pet’s age and health in designing the right rehab plan to get them to where they need to be.
Hydrotherapy Using Underwater Treadmill
The water in our underwater treadmill supports your dog’s weight and allows them to learn to walk again without pain in weight-bearing joints. Sometimes we may fit your dog with flotation devices (life jackets) and allow them to swim in the underwater treadmill. Needless to say, some dogs take to water exercise more readily than others, while cats are rarely offered water therapy. We can also use our treadmill without water, so regardless of your pet’s comfort with water, they can get safe, gentle exercise.
Benefits of Using a Treadmill
- Improves range of motion
- Strengthens muscles and boost endurance
- Aids with neurological impairments and weight loss
- Rehabilitates soft tissue injuries and provide osteoarthritis relief
- Provides relief to a pet that recently had a limb amputated
How does the underwater treadmill work?
Our rehabilitative therapist will introduce your pet to the treadmill and have them walk or run on it prior to introducing water inside the tank. This will allow your pet to get accustomed to the equipment and their surroundings. We use warm water for your pets to help them relax and feel comfortable. Small dog breeds and cats require extra special care, so our therapist or rehab nurse will be in the tank with them throughout the entire session to make sure they feel calm. We also set the temperature a bit higher (88-92 Fahrenheit) to help them relax.
Energy Therapies – Laser, Ultrasound
Animals with open wounds or stitches can’t go in the water, so there are other forms of energy therapies – such as laser, ultrasound, neuromuscular stimulation, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or E-Stim – that can be utilized. These therapies bring warmth and circulation to the injured area and promote healing deep within.
PEMF (Assisi loop)
PEMF stands for pulsed electromagnetic field technology, andou ours is manufactured by Assisi. It is used for pain, inflammation, wound healing, osteoarthritis, post-surgical healing. It is used by placing the loop on / or around the area needing healing or pain relief.
Harmony’s Dr. Elizabeth has a Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture from The Chi Institute and offers acupuncture treatments to speed healing, treat various conditions, and manage pain.
Acupuncture is the placement of needles into specific points along energy pathways called meridians to achieve a desired effect of movement of energy (or Qi – pronounced Chi). When a needle touches certain points in the body, it stimulates the release of endorphins, also known as the feel-good hormones that ease pain and relieve tension. This is why acupuncture not only helps with physical pain but also causes an overall feeling of calm and relaxation in its recipient. The goal of acupuncture is to help your pet’s body heal itself. And no, the microscopically fine needles do not hurt when placed by a trained, experienced acupuncturist.
Not only does acupuncture release anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving hormones, but it can also:
- Improve skin problems (ex. Allergic dermatitis, hot spots or granulomas)
- Aid in normalizing gastrointestinal issues
- Provide relief to asthma and allergies
- Enhance blood circulation and stimulation to the nervous system
Acupuncture has also been effective in the treatment of a host of traditional pet diagnoses. Ask Dr. Elizabeth when you meet with her.
Herbal therapies are frequently used on pets in Eastern countries, and they’ve been used to treat humans since 3000 B.C. in China. It’s a growing field in Western veterinary care, and Harmony is proud to offer this service in conjunction with our other rehabilitative services. Learn more about Herbal Therapy.
We offer hands-on therapies like massage and guided stretching that can help to relax painful muscles and restore range-of-motion to joints. Massage increases circulation to improve healing, decrease pain, and reduce swelling. Massage can also be used for acute or chronic problems as it increases blood flow, which improves oxygen delivery to tissues, and breaks down scar tissue. Massage also promotes mental and physical relaxation. We also offer a Chinese modality knowns as Tui Na. Tui Na is a spinal manipulative therapy similar to a chiropractic adjustment.
Therapeutic exercise consists of passive range of motion (PROM) and stretching exercises. These exercises help maintain or improve flexion and extension of joints; aid in the body’s awareness of neuromuscular structure and function; and improve flexibility of muscles, tendons and ligaments. PROM is very important if the patient is not using a body part or has limited movement of a body part.
Active exercise involves your pet moving themselves (with guidance from a human). We work with your pet in our gym, and also instruct you on how to perform these exercises with your pet at home, often through the use of video. These exercises work on site specific strengthening, balance, and improving core strength. Some examples include:
- Physioball exercises
- Balance board/BOSU exercises
- Weight shifting
- Sit-to-stand exercise
- Standing exercises
- Stair climbing
At Home Exercises
When we develop a rehabilitation plan for your pet, it will most likely include some exercises to do at home in between visits. Examples include working with your dog on a balance board, doing wheelbarrows, or using Therabands.
If your pet’s injury is permanent or lasting, you may want to investigate assistive technology to make life easier and more enjoyable for your pet, as well as for you. Dogs can’t use crutches, but they can be fitted with a two-wheeled cart that lets them get around any flat area on their own power. We then work with your pet to teach him how to navigate in the cart. If steps are the problem and you are able-bodied, we can get a fitted lifting harness with a handle on the top so you can offer a boost when you come home from a walk and need to get up the steps to the front door. When your dog’s injury involves amputation, remember that dogs do pretty well on three legs, particularly if it is a hind leg that is amputated, but prosthetic legs can be fitted for most animals, too.
How Will You Know Your Pet Needs Rehab Therapy?
If it’s post-op, our veterinarians will discuss what we can do to aid in your pet’s recovery.
Pet injuries and illnesses are often similar to those of humans. Pets are susceptible to arthritis, torn ligaments, injuries to nerves, broken bones, gastrointestinal problems, thyroid issues, and more. It is not always obvious that your pet is experiencing pain from injury or discomfort so here are some signs to be on the lookout for:
- Decrease in energy or enthusiasm
- Difficulty with turns or obstacles
- Inability to sit down squarely (sitting awkwardly or in a slanted position)
- Difficulty getting up or going up and down stairs
- Holding a leg up while standing
- Walking with a limp
- Signs of paralysis
- Respiratory problems
- Urinary incontinence
If you notice your pet displaying any of these signs or any other worrisome symptoms, schedule an appointment with one of our vets to discuss possible causes and which medical and/or rehabilitative treatments might best ease your pet symptoms and aid in recovery.
Call Harmony for an Evaluation
When your best friend needs help getting out of bed, give us a call. We can’t promise she’ll be back running marathons, but there is a lot we can do to help her live the fullest life possible.
How long does a session last?
Individual pets have different needs so our therapist will create a program tailored specifically to your pet.
Initial Rehab Evaluation is 90 minutes.
Follow-Up Sessions are 30 – 60 minutes.
Pet Owners Are Welcome. You are welcome and encouraged to be present when we evaluate and work with your pet. We often ask that you do exercises at home with your pet, and keep a log of what you do so that we can measure progress.