Would you do at home rehab exercises with your handicapped dog? Most pet owners know that rehab exercises benefit a dog with a spine injury or a neurological condition because it gives them more stamina and strength, but the majority of us are not doing any ongoing therapy.
In my situation there wasn’t a canine physical therapy clinic in Las Vegas when Sophie became paralyzed. Fortunately a rehab center is available now. We went for acupuncture treatments and chiropractic adjustments, but there was no one available to teach me how to perform range of motion exercises or a therapeutic canine massage.
I think the situation is similar for many pet parents. They would like to know how to do these exercises to keep their paraplegic dog as fit as possible, but they don’t know where to begin.
To address this problem I decided to research canine physical therapy and ask some experts for the 5 basic rehab exercises your handicapped dog can do at home, with your help.
Caveat: Please check with your veterinarian before trying these exercises with your pet. In addition, keep in mind that the number one rule of physical therapy is to stop any exercise that it is painful for your dog.
Common spinal conditions that may benefit from physical rehabilitation therapy:
- Hind end weakness
- Spinal injury – after rest or surgery has been completed
- Neurological Conditions
- Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD)
- Fibercartilaginous Embolism (FCE) Stroke
- Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
Rehab exercises you can do at home
Passive Range-of-motion: If the joints in your dog’s limbs can be manually moved in all possible directions, within normal limits, and without pain or injury, they should be able to tolerate passive range-of-motion. The exercise typically has a dog lie on their side while you gently stretch and flex their front and back limbs with movements that mimic how a dog walks. The motion also copies the circular movement a human does when they ride a bike. If your dog is strong enough these range-of-motion exercises can be done while your dog is standing. Range-of-motion benefits a dog by keeping their joints limber. It can increase function of the joints as well. (Watch the video below for detailed instructions.)
Strength training: This rehab exercise is a good way to keep your dog’s core as strong as possible. Strength training is excellent for dogs who are recovering from spinal surgery because it will help them maintain their balance and ability to bear weight. It is equally beneficial for paraplegic dogs who need to have a strong core to hold up their belly while they use a wheelchair or other mobility device. The exercise has the dog lie on their side while you gently use their limbs to roll their body from side to side. If your dog tolerates this movement you can add a big balance ball to the routine. Lie your dog face down on top of the ball and gently roll the ball from side to side while your dog controls the balance.
Light Massage: This is a great exercise to reduce muscle spasms, enhance muscle tone and increase circulation. The exercise places your dog in a lying down position while you gently rub and massage each major muscle group. Start at the shoulders and front limbs and slowly move down to the hind end and rear limbs. This is not a deep tissue massage, but a gentle slow rub down.
Hydrotherapy: Controlled and monitored water therapy has proven to be beneficial for disabled pets. It makes a dog use a full range of motion of their joints while improving their muscle tone and stamina. There is even evidence that hydrotherapy might create new pathways in the nervous system. The Internet is full of photos of dogs being held up by a lifejacket while a physical therapist gently moves them through the water. The exercise can be recreated at home with a child’s wading pool and your complete attention. Never leave a paralyzed or partially immobile dog alone in a pool. With your dog wearing a dog lifejacket, hold the dog up by lifting on the jacket and place your second hand underneath your dog’s belly or upper chest (depending on their spinal injury). Then slowly move them through the water making sure their head is always above the water.
Go outdoors: Whether your dog is in a dog wheelchair or moving around with the help of a harness, be sure they spend time every day outdoors. Fresh air and playtime can be good medicine for a disabled dog. Moving around is mentally stimulating, increases a dog’s appetite and improves digestion. The exercise is to grab your shoes, put your dog in their wheelchair or harness and take a walk. Getting outdoors will work wonders for your dog physically while giving them the opportunity to sniff around their environment like they did before they became immobile.
Talk to you dog: Your disabled dog is not just the sum of their injured body parts so remember to talk to your dog. You are the whole world to your pet and gentle words of encouragement can go a long way to help them stay strong and engaged in life.
In addition to rehab exercises, canine physical therapist, Laurie Edge-Hughes, suggests that pet parents learn some basic nursing skills for their paralyzed dog. This includes the prevention of pressure sores by moving them every four hours, washing them daily with a soft wet cloth to avoid urine burns on their skin and monitoring for bladder infections.
With help, your disabled pet can live a happy and long life.
Disclaimer: The following are some general suggestions that may be helpful at home. A formal program for a pet’s specific issues is ideal because it is based on the pet’s individual joint extension/flexion measurements, force plate analysis, muscle circumference measurements, etc. If possible, a professional veterinary physical therapist should be consulted formally for a program.
Walkin’ Pets by HandicappedPets.com has a wide variety of products to support you and your paralyzed pet.