If your pet is injured, physical rehabilitation can be an important part of its recovery after the injury. With the aid of your veterinarian and a few simple at-home exercises, you can help them recover faster and with fewer complications. It is very important to consult your veterinarian to teach you the proper techniques for your pet’s individual injury before trying what you read here or elsewhere, as each injury is unique and further damage can occur if the exercises are done improperly. You will also need to be patient and start off easier than you think your pet can handle to prevent overworking the injury- some injuries can take over 6 months to return to full strength.
Our physical rehabilitation goals are pain management, return to strength and maintaining their flexibility and joint range of motion without doing further harm. The following exercises are ones that you can perform at home under your veterinarian’s supervision.
Walking/ Running- When an animal is injured, they often need to be rested to let the injury heal. It is not uncommon to sling walk pets to keep weight off of the injured limb for the first few weeks, up to a few months. Your veterinarian will design a protocol that will vary depending on the type and severity of the injury.
Swimming/Underwater Treadmills- These are a great alternative to sling walking for owners and is a great way to strengthen muscles, tendon and ligaments without adding a large amount of stress to the tissues from simply carrying their weight. Minimizing the amount of weight an injured limb carries is extremely important in the case of overweight and large breed dogs. If you have a deep bathtub and a small dog, you can do this at home or if you’re lucky, some swimming pools have certain days that pets can swim too. Some larger veterinary clinics have an underwater treadmill to give the advantages of swimming lanes without the space requirements.
Stretching- After an injury, if the affected limbs are not stretched, they lose their range of motion and contracted tendons can restrict an animal’s mobility. This lameness may or may not be painful to the pet, but can be alarming to an owner even if it is not painful. Stretching is a common exercise for owners to perform at home. The number of times per day, amount, and the type of stretching will depend on the injury and your veterinarian will give you a protocol to follow.
Balancing- A large problem with rehabilitating animals after an injury is that they protect the sore limb and it can be hard to strengthen it. This can be overcome by forcing then to balance on the healing limb. This can be done by lifting the other legs or having them stand on balancing board that makes them use each leg individually. Balance exercises are also very important for strengthening back and abdominal muscles with spinal injuries. It must be only performed after the injury has healed enough that they can handle weight on the injury though.
Massage- Along with stretching, massage keeps the muscles from cramping and reducing their range of motion. It also helps reduce the pain from injuries that cause muscle cramping, such as pinched nerves and back injuries.
Along with these exercises, some clinics will also offer other therapies such as laser therapy, chiropractics and electro-acupuncture. If your pet is injured, make sure to ask your veterinarian about physical rehabilitation options after the injury to keep your pet as healthy and happy as you can.
Dr. Ryan Ridgway
Southwest Mobile Pet Care