Ms. Winehouse is not alone. No one wants to go to rehab when they could be snoring blissfully between 400 thread count sheets, but even dogs and cats need a little butt-kicking rehabilitation every now and then––even if means dispensing with the comfort of your bed. 

You’ve doubtless heard of the fancy underwater treadmills and cool techniques used to bring dogs back to life after stressful surgeries involving their bones, joints and muscles. In that case, you should also know about the rapid growth of this emerging speciality area––one that’s increasingly targeting cats, too. 

But let me be honest: This post is primarily about dog rehab. That’s because they suffer more severe forms of musculoskeletal problems that tend to necessitate rehabilitation therapy. By psychological design, they’re also more amenable to exercise and manipulation. But that doesn’t mean cats can’t tap the veterinary rehabilitation industry every once in a while.

Yes, I said “industry.” That’s because the equipment and expertise involved in pet rehabilitation after injury or disease is sophisticated and effective––AKA, expensive

Docs go back to school. Techs get treated to courses. The hospital buys $20,000-$50,000 of equipment, dedicates a sizable space, and––voilá––you get to spend $50-$150 per session getting your pet back up to speed after orthopedic surgery, for weight loss, to build muscle after debilitating injuries, non-surgical dysplasia or joint degeneration. 

It may sound pricey, but after investing $10,000 for a total hip replacement, what’s an extra $1,500 to make sure she has the best chance at a full recovery afterwards?

So now’s when you call me crazy for thinking anyone has that kind of discretionary income. Nonetheless, I assure you they do. Otherwise, my boyfriend the vet surgeon wouldn’t have a job cutting pets all day long. Moreover, those with pet health insurance are finding that companies are increasingly willing to take rehabilitation services seriously as a reimbursable expense. 

That’s because a lot of science has gone into pet rehabilitation. No, not so much as for humans, of course, but much more than you might expect. In fact, entire veterinary school programs are being built around this area of interest, like the one at North Carolina State University headed by veterinary surgeon, Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little. 

Even veterinary behaviorists (like Dr. Lisa Radosta at Coral Springs Animal Medical Center in Florida) are taking it upon themselves to research ancillary aspects of rehab medicine as they apply to their own specialities. It’s just that credible and potentially indispensable as a field of study.

And why not?

Consider that if we’re collectively spending $1.6 billion a year in cruciate ligament surgeries (in the US alone), then when science shows cruciate surgery patients heal much better with rehab than without, the onus is on the veterinary profession to make this ancillary service available.  

If we agree that obesity and aggression are two killer problems in pets and studies show that exercise may alleviate both to some degree, then the possibility of using rehabilitation medicine to arrive at part of the solution should be on our radar screen, too. 

But how far are we willing to go? Will we all be spending our hard-earned bucks on this kind of therapy in the future? I promise you will, though not necessarily to the tune of the underwater treadmill. If the industry continues to progress at its current pace (despite the economy), there’s no doubt that all our pets will benefit once the technology trickles down to your friendly neighborhood generalist (like me).