The next time you visit your veterinarian, don’t be surprised if your pet gets a prescription for some form of physical therapy! Physical therapy and rehabilitation is a rapidly growing area of expertise in veterinary medicine- and it is gaining world-wide acceptance and support. Physical therapy is common in human medicine, and veterinary practitioners of animal therapy say that the benefits for their patients are remarkable – so much so that a prescription for physical therapy may be the newest standard of care for pets.
The demand for physical therapy and rehabilitation has grown dramatically during the past few years due to several factors. First, there have been extraordinary advances in veterinary medicine and surgery such as total hip replacement procedures which are becoming much more common. Sophisticated diagnostic procedures such as magnetic resonance imaging, arthroscopy, and tomography pave the way for even greater surgical advances, and these techniques demand expertise in rehabilitation therapy to help contribute to post-operative success.
Second, the dramatic increase in competitive sports arenas for animals such as horse racing, reining, and other equine activities. Also there is agility, herding, and even the “extreme games” for dogs which demand greater athletic expectations…and a higher level of care when these athletes become injured.
The third reason for the interest in veterinary physical therapy may well be the most important of all. Our pets- especially dogs, cats, and horses enjoy much longer lives than ever before. The geriatric pet population is growing dramatically, and concerned owners want their pets to benefit from the positive rewards provided by physical therapy and massage for such age-related problems as arthritis, certain neurological conditions, obesity, and to help maintain overall quality of life. In fact, the response has been so favorable that physical therapy – when prescribed by a veterinarian is even covered by pet health insurance.
Darleen Latimer, a pet owner in Friendswood, Texas, credits a prescription from her veterinarian for hydrotherapy- a form of physical therapy with an underwater treadmill, with saving her dog’s life. “My dog Betty had gotten so obese and had such pain from arthritis, that I couldn’t walk her to get exercise. Diet had helped her lose some weight, but without regular exercise, she just couldn’t get any muscle strength”. By using the underwater treadmill twice weekly for several months, along with acupuncture and massage therapy, Betty lost 24 pounds – that’s a lot for a dog! Darleen says, “I know that without her swimming with the treadmill, she could never have recovered. I still take her for regular therapy to keep her in shape- she loves it!”
The interest in rehabilitation for animals is generating wide-spread excitement. A recent article in Veterinary Practice News magazine featured animal rehabilitation and physical therapy. Specialists in this new field have now published textbooks, and there is a growing number of training programs available to veterinarians and veterinary technicians at veterinary schools. Major veterinary conferences, such as Western Veterinary Conference – the largest in the world – now have entire tracks devoted to equine and canine physical therapy, and there is a strong effort to develop certification standards, and a possible specialty board.
Dr. Braden Benson, a small animal and equine practitioner in Ft. Worth, Texas, is particularly excited about the future of rehabilitation and physical therapy. He frequently prescribes various rehabilitation applications for his patients and sees great benefits. “Oftentimes, whether it’s a dog, cat, or horse, physical therapy is the missing link in returning post-op or trauma patients to their full potential.” Dr. Benson is also an avid team roper and believes that regular massage and physical therapy isn’t just for injuries, but helps horses gain the advantage in this highly competitive sport. “Let’s face it- we expect more from our equine athletes than ever- proper conditioning, massage, and physical therapy go a long way in reducing stress and preventing injuries. Professional sports stars have used these therapies for years- with great results- shouldn’t we do at least this much for our animal patients?”