Why Do Pets Need Rehab Therapy?


by Lisa Stahr of Scout’s House


     At Scout’s House, we get asked all the time why should pets get physical rehabilitation therapy*.  And the answer is simple:  Because it can improve your pet’s quality of life.

     If you’ve ever had physical therapy for an injury, you can understand the benefits of rehab therapy for dogs and cats.  But let me give you three quick reasons your pet could benefit from physical rehabilitation therapy:


1)  Rehab therapy improves outcomes and speeds recovery, particularly for post-operative, neurological, and trauma patients

     Animals recovering from trauma or surgery will generally have a more rapid and more complete recovery with physical rehabilitation therapy.  In fact, studies have shown that dogs recover more quickly and more effectively from certain surgeries—TPLOs, for example—with rehab therapy than without.  And physical therapy is especially well-documented in improving outcomes in humans affected by many of the same conditions dogs suffer from, such as ACL rupture repair, spinal surgery, and neurological injury.

     So, how can rehab make a difference?

     In the case of a tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) recovery, at Scout’s House we’d take the animal through a series of activities and exercises designed to:

            • strengthen specific muscles around the joint to increase its dynamic stability;

            • regain functional range of motion at that specific joint, as well as in those joints further up the kinetic chain;

            • and, while following all the appropriate weight-bearing restrictions, we promote “reuse” of the limb, often earlier than the animal would choose to resume weight bearing on its own.


2)  Rehab therapy helps animals live more comfortable and more functional lives

     It’s especially helpful with ill and aging patients, as well as those with chronic or progressive conditions.  Just as with a human who’s suffered a stroke or a spinal cord injury, rehab won’t “fix” the source of some problems (such as permanent injury to the brain or spinal cord), but it can help to improve the quality of life by strengthening and re-educating the abilities the patient still has. 


3)  Rehab therapy helps to prevent future problems

     Through the exercises and activities that rehab therapy introduces, we can reduce—or even prevent—compensations that could cause stress up the kinetic chain and lead to future injuries.  Active exercise, particularly, is critical because it keeps muscles loose and functioning correctly.   


* In California, where Scout’s House is located, “physical therapy” is a protected term, meaning it can only be used to describe the work done with humans.  So we use the term “physical rehabilitation therapy”or “rehab therapy” when talking about the work we do with animals. 

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