I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Laurie Edge-Hughes, BScPT, MAnimSt(Animal Physio), CAFCI, CCRT. If you aren’t familiar with her name, the long list of credentials that follow it should give you a hint that Laurie Edge-Hughes is one of the leaders in her field of canine physical therapy.
After earning a degree in human physical therapy in 1993, Laurie realized she had a special interest in working with animals. She completed courses offered by the Canadian Horse and Animal Physical Therapists Association, which was the only type of animal PT education available at the time and then opened Four Leg Rehabilitation Therapy in Calgary, AB, Canada. Laurie realized there was a gap between the level of care given to large animals and the type of treatment available for small companion animals so she created and taught the first course in canine physical therapy in North America. She is still at the forefront of the field today teaching new canine physical therapists and speaking at symposiums around the world.
Here is my interview with Laurie:
How can pet owners keep their paraplegic and immobile pets as fit as possible?
The first thing to do is to provide basic nursing care for your pet. 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. If your disabled pet has a sudden decrease in function or overall health, the problem is likely to be a urinary tract infection. It can affect their overall well-being.
I also suggest that in the early stages of rehab pets receive treatments that stimulate their limbs. Acupuncture, laser therapy and traction will allow a pet to get as much recovery as possible.
In addition I use Functional Retraining or Neuroplasticity because it allows the body and nervous system to create new pathways and build motor skills. An example of this was in one of my patients named Cosmo. He was a little Bichon mix that had disc surgery. When he came to see me, he walked like a ‘drunken sailor’ with no balance. His veterinarian thought that was the best outcome Cosmo could achieve. We challenged his body on a treadmill to create new pathways. Cosmo’s ability to walk dramatically improved. His surgeon was very impressed when he came for his one year follow up visit.
For dogs that have no return of their motor function, I train pet owners about activities of daily living to make life as functional for their dog as possible. I suggest using some physical therapy exercises at home like rolling their dog from side to side so their body stays strong enough to use a wheelchair or other mobility device.
If a city doesn’t have an animal physical therapy clinic, what do you recommend owners do for their disabled pet?
There are at home range-of-motion exercises they can do with their dog. Ask your veterinarian for some basic techniques. I use joint range-of-motion activities that move and flex and mimic running in a dog’s front and back legs. I also think it’s important to talk to your dog and encourage him during this exercise period.
It’s also great to do a light massage on your dog’s limbs, especially if they’ve been hauling themselves around the house all day. Your dog will appreciate the gentle rubbing and the time you spend together.
And the best activity you can do with your disabled dog is to get them outdoors. Whether they are in a wheelchair or moving around outside with a harness, the fresh air is good for them and mentally stimulating. Moving around outdoors also stimulates appetite and digestion.
How many hours a week should a pet owner schedule to work with their pet?
I don’t have a set schedule of time. I recommend pet owners throw exercise and rehab into the regular daily routine. If you’re brushing your dog or watching TV include some range-of-motion exercises. If your dog can walk a little on their own or if they are in a wheelchair, change the type of terrain they use. Walking up a small hill or on uneven ground can strengthen their good limbs.
Tell me about one of your most memorable patients.
Golundrina (it means little bird in Spanish) was a rescue dog who didn’t give up hope. We think she was either given a Distemper vaccination improperly or the vaccine had expired, but she developed neurological problems soon after receiving the injection. When we first saw her at the clinic she had no control of her back legs or trunk. We tried using the underwater treadmill as a means to regain function for her, but the treatment didn’t stimulate the change we hoped it would. Our goal then became to teach Golundrina to walk in a cart.
We tried a normal wheelchair, but she was unable to use it because she couldn’t control the mid-section of her body. Her belly sunk and she couldn’t move the cart. My team built her a special cart made of PVC and a sling in the middle made of fabric that supported her back and chest. Golundrina took to the new cart immediately, pushing herself all around the clinic. She was eventually adopted by a family who understood her special needs. Today she has a quad-cart so she could move around like a regular dog.