Physical rehabilitation can help restore function, mobility, and quality of life for pets affected by arthritis, and those recovering from injury or surgery. Our team at Animal Care and Emergency Services (ACES) wants to provide information about physical rehabilitation for pets, so you can determine if your pet can benefit from these techniques.

Physical rehabilitation benefits for pets

Pets recovering from injury or surgery can benefit from physical rehabilitation in numerous ways. Including acupuncture, laser therapy, or therapeutic exercises in a pet’s treatment protocol can:

  • Reduce their pain and inflammation
  • Increase their range of motion
  • Improve their balance and coordination
  • Restore their normal muscle mass and movement
  • Increase their muscle strength
  • Help obese pets lose weight
  • Improve their overall quality of life

Pets who benefit from physical rehabilitation

Any pet suffering from a chronic inflammatory disease or recovering from an injury or surgical procedure can benefit from physical rehabilitation. Conditions include:

  • Arthritis — Physical rehabilitation can increase strength to support joints and improve mobility in affected joints.
  • Tendon, ligament, and muscle injuries — Physical rehabilitation techniques can improve joint movement, relieve pain, and prevent permanent damage to the soft tissues involved.
  • Intervertebral disc disease — Physical rehabilitation can reduce inflammation and pain, strengthen muscles along the vertebral column, and improve soft tissue flexibility.
  • Musculoskeletal surgery — Physical rehabilitation can help pets gain mobility and recover faster, by facilitating healing and decreasing pain.
  • Traumatic injuries — Physical rehabilitation helps decrease pain and inflammation, to help pets recover faster.

Acupuncture benefits for pets

Acupuncture is a safe, nonpharmacologic pain management tool that most pets tolerate well. This technique works by increasing circulation when needles are inserted in acupoints in areas such as muscles, tendons, fascia, and nerve fibers. Needle insertion also causes a natural endorphin release throughout the body, resulting in pain relief. Particular acupuncture techniques include:

  • Dry needling — Thin, sterile needles are inserted in acupoints.
  • Electroacupuncture — Acupoints are stimulated by applying electricity through needles for 10 to 30 minutes.
  • Aqua-puncture — A sterile fluid, such as saline or vitamine B12, is injected in the acupoints, usually after dry needling or electroacupuncture, to prolong acupoint stimulation.
  • Moxibustion — Herbs are burned over the needles to add heat, and enhance pain relief.

Laser therapy benefits for pets

Laser is an acronym for light amplification of stimulated emission of radiation. The units emit focused, penetrating light beams with properties that allow them to affect only a particular area. Laser therapy decreases inflammation and pain, and improves wound healing by:

  • Neurotransmitter effect — Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is produced when a laser is used, and this compound acts at nerve endings to modulate pain.
  • Enhanced cellular metabolism — Lasers stimulate cellular metabolism, resulting in accelerated tissue repair and cell growth.
  • Anti-inflammatory effect — Lasers decrease enzymes, such as prostaglandin E2 and cyclooxygenase 2, causing anti-inflammatory effects.

Therapeutic exercise benefits for pets

Therapeutic exercises can provide many benefits for rehabilitating pets, including increased range of motion, flexibility, endurance, strength, and proprioception (i.e., limb awareness). Exercises include:

  • Passive range of motion — These exercises move the joint through the available range of motion without weight-bearing muscle contraction. Benefits include joint and muscle contracture prevention, pain relief, increased blood and lymphatic flow, and increased joint fluid production, which decreases arthritis risk. The exercise is performed while the pet is lying down or standing, depending on the affected joint. Their limb is grasped above and below the affected joint, and the joint is gently flexed and extended to the full limit of the pet’s range of motion. 
  • Walking exercises — Walking exercises can help improve muscle strength, range of motion, circulation, neurological deficits, and proprioceptive deficits. Controlled leash walking is performed, starting slowly to allow the pet time to adjust. Once the pet’s strength improves, they can walk faster. Other walking exercises include:
  • Incline — Walking up a gradual incline helps increase hindlimb strength and muscle mass, and improves flexion, extension, and range of motion.
  • Weight shifting — Walking pets in a large circle will make the interior limbs bear more weight. Walking them in a figure-eight pattern will shift weight to all four limbs, and increase the body weight carried on each limb.
  • Sit to stands — Transitioning the pet from a sitting to standing position builds up the quadriceps and hamstring muscles.
  • Balance exercises — Balance exercises increase muscle mass, improve proprioception, and rebuild core muscle strength. Balance or wobble boards help improve balance and proprioception. The pet’s forelimbs or hindlimbs can be placed on the board and the board swayed back and forth, to encourage weight shifting from side to side, or front to back.
  • Cavaletti rails — Cavaletti rails are poles raised above the ground for pets to walk over. Benefits include increased stride length, range of motion, proprioception, balance, and limb use. The rails can be placed at different distances and heights, depending on the pet’s condition and treatment goals. The pet’s pace contributes a cardiovascular component, the rail height determines range of motion in the joints, and the distance between the rails determines the proprioception challenge.

Physical rehabilitation is a necessary addition to any treatment program, to ensure your pet recovers as quickly and fully as possible. If your pet is suffering from a chronic inflammatory process, such as arthritis, or recovering from an injury or surgery, contact our team at Animal Care and Emergency Services, so we can facilitate their rehabilitation efforts.