Humans may not want to suffer through painful rehabilitation therapy (as anyone who’s injured a joint or thrown out their back can attest), but pets tend to enjoy the attention afforded by a walk in the underwater treadmill or a massage-and-manipulate session. 

Yes, rehab for pets is gaining ground in veterinary medicine.

It’s a way to restore normal function after injury, improve mobility for those with arthritis, assist in weight loss, and build muscle after chronic diseases have wreaked havoc on their normal tone. 

Sure, it’s pricey, but after you’ve shelled out $2,000 for knee surgery or $5,000 per joint for a total hip replacement, perhaps you’ll think better of it. After all, you know these surgeries don’t always work out perfectly. So why wouldn’t you want your pet to have the best chance at improvement––even if it does mean rehab. 

Most of the time, pet rehabilitation therapy is a service supplied by a veterinarian who’s gone back to school to gain an understanding of this emerging field of study. His or her staff is specially trained (and sometimes certified) to handle your pets as they work out their stiffness and kinks. And then there’s the fancy equipment to consider (like the aforementioned underwater treadmill). 

No wonder it’s expensive!

It may sound a bit like a gimmick, all this new attention paid to treating pets like people, but I assure you it would’ve never caught on like this were it not extremely effective.

I should know since I speak from personal experience: My own French bulldog (Sophie Sue) has a brain tumor. The disease has left her weak and suffering from poor muscle tone. In spite of the effectiveness of her radiation treatments, a few months after her diagnosis she was bereft of the pronounced muscle mass dogs of her breed normally enjoy.

That’s when we started the therapy: Lounging in the tub has never been one of Sophie’s  favorite activities, but with treats and lots of petting, she took to it like a bulky, off-balance fish. With the water up to her shoulders, she would balance her supported weight in the tub, accepting our occasional light shoves intended to force her to correct her position and use her muscles. A nice meal after the experience (she’s highly food motivated) solidified its daily acceptance. 

Other pets need more intensive therapy and more sophisticated equipment, but Sophie improved with this approach alone. 

And my personal experience isn’t solely limited to Sophie: I’ve also found that my patients also recover more quickly from surgery––even with only a few sessions at the rehab specialist’s. Not only does it improve their function faster, it helps keep them from letting their post-op immobility pack pounds onto their frames (not exactly what an orthopedically challenged pet needs).

So how about you? Ever considered sending you pet to rehab? Though I’d never wish obesity or an orthopedic condition on any of your pets, keep in mind that both are highly amenable to rehab. And, if your pets are anything like mine, they’ll want to go...really. 

Don't forget to email me ([email protected]) the topics you’d most like to hear about––medical, money, ethical or otherwise––and prepare yourself for my opinionated answers. 

Dr. Patty Khuly