Therapeutic Services for Dogs (and Cats)


Labrador retriever dog laying down on hallway floor


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.


Massage 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.


Water Therapy


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.



Finding a Physical Therapist


If your dog (or cat) has suffered a recent trauma or injury, or is in distress due to other circumstances and the recovery is expected to be long, talk to your veterinarian about qualified therapists who are working in your area and ask if she or he can recommend one that is familiar with your dog’s condition. You can also talk to local trainers and dog competition groups -- people who would be disposed toward natural healing methods like massage and water therapy.


Animal therapy specialists are opening facilities all over the country, and more veterinary school hospitals are offering these services as well. Finding the right physical therapist is the first step to recovery for your dog, but if you want to see optimal results, it will help if you are directly involved in your dog’s therapy, learning some of the techniques that you can apply at home as well.


You may find that your dog’s health and attitude is improved so much that you continue some of the techniques for the life of your dog -- you may even start pampering yourself a little more as a result.


To find out more about Canine Rehabilitation Centers throughout the U.S., you can visit the University of Tennessee’s Certificate Program website, which has a list of CCRP/CERP practitioners. (Physical therapists for other animals is listed here as well.)


Image: Chris Williamson / via Flickr