Dr. Ambers Quick ABC Guide to Animal Rehabilitation

Being a rehabilitation veterinarian means that all day my patients are special needs cases, painful patients, post-operative patients, and neurologic pets. This could be scary if your pet falls into one of these categories, but having a basic understanding of what we do at Treasure Coast Animal Rehab will help you feel more confident in what your pet is experiencing.

Rehabilitation is evidence based, which means that there is actual science behind what we offer our patients. Utilizing decades of research, collaboration with human physical therapist, and use of integrative medicine we are able to provide the best treatment options possible for different diseases and injuries.

To help with explaining what rehabilitation for your pet can offer below is the ABCs of Animal Rehabilitation. 

A. Acupuncture - As most people know acupuncture is placing thin needled in specific points on the body to improve pain and comfort. It is a component of traditional Chinese medicine, the goal is to help balance the animal’s energy flow, which is also call its Chi.

B. Bracing - Depending on the underlying condition bracing can be helpful. Bracing goals are to support a specific structure to promote healing and reduce pain. Depending on the condition and animal bracing may not be needed for healing. Before purchasing braces, I always recommend an evaluation by a certified rehabilitation professions. Many times they can guide you with experience towards the best option for your pet.

C. “Cold Laser” - Or more accurately photobiomodulation. Laser therapy has been around for decades and is a noninvasive way to improve comfort, reduce pain, promote healing and decrease swelling in tissues, joints and wounds. In rehabilitation we utilize laser therapy as part of a comprehensive protocol to help injured and sprained tissues, tissue with edema and fluid retention, pain from arthritis and injury to joints.

D. Drugs - A balanced approach to medications is key to optimizing comfort and helping our patients recover. Frequently, your pet will be put on a medication to help improve pain, swelling and inflammation.  Additional medications might be prescribed to also help with nerve pain, reduce pain signals from the spine, or reduce muscle spasms. We call this approach multimodal pain control; this allows us the ability to decrease pain on many fronts without having to prescribe large quantities of a single medication.

E. Exercises - Central to rehabilitation is therapeutic exercises. As a therapist I evaluate each patient, understand the underlying disease or condition that the pet is managing and create a personalized protocol for exercise. With exercises I can help improve balance, coordination, strength, motor control, and timing. By targeting specific muscles and utilizing movements that the pet can do we can improve function hopefully mobility. Exercises are a central core to rehabilitation to give our pets the ability to remain functional even after they graduate from rehabilitation.

F. Food Just like in people nutrition is so important to helping our bodies heal and recover. Frequently we will work on weight loss, balancing nutrition for wound healing and muscle recovery, and improving cognition if needed. Not every food is right for every dog or cat and it is important to have the optimal food for your pet.
G. Gait evaluation and normalization - With injury follows a wave of dysfunction. Just like in people an injury can result in compensation which can change how our pets move. As part of a comprehensive rehabilitation protocol we strive to normalize your pets walking pattern to decrease these adaptive movement patterns and prevent further injuries.
H. Hospice - This can be a scary word for many people, it indicates that our pet’s life source is weakening and it can be scary. The goal with hospice is to maximize the quality of life until the very end. Having a good support system with your veterinarian can help make this process a little bit easier. There are veterinarians with advanced training in hospice services as well for additional support.

I. Ice and Heat - Cryotherapy and heat therapy can help bring down inflammation, pain, reduce spasms, and improve comfort in pets as well as it does in people. Since our pets cannot tell us if they are not comfortable with these treatments, it is important to allow the pet the ability to move away if not comfortable. Ice and low heat should always be used with direct supervision and with guidance of a professions.

J. Joint injections - In addition to the rehabilitation techniques there are options to help painful joints from the inside. Like in people, an injection of special substances into joints can help improve recovery for some patients. The difference with pets is that the do need some degree of sedation to not move when the sterile procedure is performed. We can utilize stem cells, PRP, IRAP, and other new substances, even radioactive isotopes to help improve comfort.

K. Kneading, effleurage, and rolling - As a comprehensive rehabilitation protocol massage techniques can be used. This allows us to improve blood flow, release trigger points and reduce swelling.

L. Luring - With treats, toys and attention a rehabilitation therapist can make exercises, laser and therapies fun for your pet. There is nothing better than when your dog loves coming to therapy.

M. Mobilizations - This is a term that describes how a trained therapist can help move joints and tissues with varying degrees of pressure and motion to improve joint mobility, improve blood flow and neurologic input to tissues. These techniques can include passive range of motion, joint glides, compression, traction and more.

N. Neurologic diseases - There are numerous condition of the nervous system including herniated disks, degenerative myelopathy, paralysis, and degenerative diseases. The goals with rehabilitation is to normalize function the best we can and give our pets a chance to relearn and normalize the best they can to regain independence.
O. Overweight - Rehabilitation and weight loss tend to go together. Less stress on joints and tissues in recovery can help speed the process and improve comfort. Also, since many of our patients have reduced mobility for some period of time weight control is key. Guidance from your veterinarian on how to prevent obesity when your pet has decrease mobility is recommended.

P. Pain Daily evaluation for pain at home with the owners helps guide treatment protocols and lets us know how the pet is truly doing. Pain perception is also important, for some neurologic pets they cannot feel pain until their nervous system starts to recover. Indicators of pain and pain perception are central to guiding treatment.

Q. Quite time and rest - Recovering from injury and surgery does need time where the patient is allowed to sleep and recover. Sometimes we forget that after a big surgery on ourselves that we are told to rest and allow our bodies to heal. Frequently, we expect our pets to have surgery and be up and running the next day. For many conditions allowing rest time and having a realistic time line to return to function is vital.

R. Recovery - All tissue types have different recovery times and this helps us plain and guide you through the rehabilitation process. For some tissues it can be days to weeks, and for some, like neurologic tissues it can be weeks to months.

S. Supplements - In rehabilitation we also utilize supplements to help optimize out outcomes. These can vary from joint supplements, to essential fatty acids, to supplements to help improve cognition and mental acuity. There are more supplements available now than ever and they all say they are the best. How I as a rehab professional looks at supplements is based on the research available for this product. I will only recommend supplements that have undergone clinical trials, have data to support their claims, a years of clinic proof. Additionally, many of the products I recommend are the same price or cheaper than the over the counter ones that many of my patients are on.

T. Treadmills - Utilization of treadmills including the Underwater Treadmill is a way to get patients who have limited mobility up and moving. Having the treadmill in water allows us to adjust the height of the water to adjust the amount of gravity applied to the joints. The temperature of the water aids in decreasing inflammation, improve circulation and improve comfort in the joints. Treadmills allow assistance in gait retraining and neuro-retraining. Frequently, the therapist is in the water with the pet to help them do the best they can.

U. Understanding - Having a pet that has an injury, illness or degenerative disease can be stressful for you and your pet. Frequently, there will be changes to how they behave, interact, and vocalize. Knowing your pet’s illness and condition and working closely with a rehabilitation therapist can help improve and maintain the human animal bond while making this new transition.

V. Veterinary Care - There is no substitution for medical care while navigating disease and illness. Now you are your pets advocate you need to have a medical professional help you navigate the changes that are occurring. Being a veterinarian who is certified in rehabilitation I am able to help you navigate the process and let you know what is typical or not typical for your pet’s condition.

W. Wheel chairs and Assistive Devices - Wheels chairs can add quality of life for many patient and allow then to have freedom and enjoy mobility that might have been lost. Not all dogs thrive in a wheel chair and may need training or coaching on how to use them well. Other than wheel chairs there are many devices that can aid in mobility. Before buying products its always best to consult an expert who can help guide you through the process.

X. X-Rays - A definitive diagnosis is vital for your pet’s prognosis and recovery. This step gets skipped sometimes with concern for testing or finances. In the long run, it can be less expensive and more beneficial for your pet to get a proper diagnosis then trying to manage symptoms of the disease. It is important that you feel confident in the testing and your veterinarian to work up your pet appropriately.

Y. Young pets - Not frequently thought about, but fitness for the young dog can teach balance, coordination, proper body mechanics and improve mobility for the pet’s full life. Even more important for me is that your pet has a skill set that we can utilize later in life to keep them up and moving.

Z. Zero loss of hope As a rehab professional I always have hope, we might not be able to “fix your pet” but I will do everything in my skill set to get them as good and comfortable as possible.nWe are here for our clients thought the entire process for guidance, support and most of all cheerleading. 

This is not an exhaustive list of what Treasure Coast Animal Rehabilitation can offer, but more of a glimpse into how we think about all of our patients.

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