You know there are physical therapy centers for people who are recovering from traumatic injuries and life saving surgeries, but did you know that the same service exists for dogs (and cats) as well? In fact, veterinary rehabilitation therapy is a growing field in animal medicine, especially as pet owners become more educated on the similarities between human and animal physiology and increasingly expect the same type of care for their pets as they do for themselves.
Depending on what your dog is recovering from, therapy options may include massages, water therapy, heat and cold therapy, electrical therapy, acupuncture, ultrasound, and stretching, amongst other options. These therapies can help your dog to regain mobility, decrease pain, reduce weight, increase strength, and, in some cases, return to participating in athletic activities (if she had been previously). Here we will focus on two of the more common therapies that are available for pets: massage and water therapy.
Just as humans find relief from stress and injury in a therapeutic massage, so are dogs soothed by a massage. Massages accelerate the rate at which damaged tissues are able to heal, calm the animal and reduce pain. There are therapy centers that offer deep tissue massages for dogs, but even a basic therapy massage can greatly improve your dog’s well-being and recovery time.
Sporting dogs are increasingly being treated with massage therapy after competitions to help reduce stiffness and speed up recovery of muscle and tissue tearing, while older pets that are slowing down and losing mobility can benefit from its ability to reduce pain, swelling and the stiffness that naturally occurs in older joints.
And, just as for humans, therapeutic massage can help to reduce emotional stress in pets. If your dog (or cat) is behaving differently or seems distressed or depressed following a major change (such as a move or death in the family), massage can help your dog to recover and transition through the change more easily.
Animals that benefit most from physical therapy performed under water tend to be older, overweight, or unable to put weight on an injured limb. Water allows for a complete range of motion while being supported by water, while the light resistance from the water helps to build muscle and improve blood flow. Specially designed therapy pools are used so that the animals are getting the full benefit of normal exercise without all the stress on the joints and muscles. One of the devices therapists employ is the underwater treadmill, so that the dog can go through the normal motions of walking without weight bearing down on healing bones, joints and muscles.
The use of water therapy has been shown to loosen up tight, constricted muscles, improve strength and stamina, reduce pain, increase mobility, and even help dogs to lose weight.