Thursday, February 22, 2018

DIY Physical Therapy for your Ailing or Injured Pet

by Susan E. Davis, PT

The question: “Wow, can I really do physical therapy on my own pet?”

The answer: “Yes, with some help from a sound professional resource, you can!”

Let’s put things in perspective and use some probable scenarios.

Your dog went outside to do his ‘business’ in the backyard just as the rain ended. He ran around happily, sliding and turning, when suddenly you heard a yelp, and he came back into the house holding one of the hind limbs off the ground, walking on 3 legs.

You went to the veterinarian the next morning and were told your dog tore his cruciate ligament and needs surgery. The surgery was done 3 days later. After keeping your dog on activity restriction for 10 days, you returned to the veterinarian to have the stitches removed and were advised to have your dog start physical therapy and rehabilitation.

You’re not sure whether this is really necessary, but just for the heck of it, you go online to find a service. Well, there is one but its 50 miles away, and your dog weighs 80 pounds and is reluctant to get in the car. Oh well, maybe you’ll just go without and see how it goes.

Two weeks later your dog is still walking on three legs. This concerns you because you’ve heard that there is a 70% chance the other side will tear, especially if all of the weight continues to be borne on it. Now what?

Or there’s this scenario: your cat is 12 years old and has started to look disheveled, and is having trouble jumping onto her favorite window ledge.

You go to the veterinarian and radiographs are taken. The doctor explains that your cat has arthritis in the hips, knees, and elbows preventing her from moving comfortably and causing self-grooming to be painful. Acupuncture and Physical Therapy are recommended. You locate a service providing both but the hours are only in the daytime, and you work full-time and are free only in the evening. Besides, your spouse has recently been laid off, and the extra expense of acupuncture or Physical Therapy just isn’t in the budget right now.

Without a doubt, there is a great need for physical therapy and rehabilitation to help our pets. 

Ten years ago, few knew these types of services were available for injured or disabled pets, but now it is widely known.

I wrote my first book to help owners navigate the waters of therapeutic treatment and the processes involved, so that the optimal health outcome might be achieved.

Several years later it became apparent that the demand for such service far exceeded the supply of qualified professionals.  Now what? Can I teach pet owners to be Physical Therapists? No, but I can guide them in the performance and use of basic techniques that will be helpful!

Let us back up for a minute and establish important groundwork. 

The veterinarian must always be consulted first. Physical therapy is not a substitute for primary or specialty care provided by your veterinarian.

Have your vet determine a diagnosis and treatment plan. Often, this is a combination of medication and physical therapy, water therapy, the use of a splint, support or brace, etc. Ideally, you should consult a qualified animal physical therapist or veterinary rehabilitation specialist for your pet’s care, at least for an initial consultation. But, quite often none exist within a reasonable distance.

Now you need a few ‘Do It Yourself’ techniques to bridge the gap such as: how/when to apply heat and cold, a safe way to massage an aching pet body part, tips on building a ramp to help the pet in and out of the car, instructions on gentle stretches and strength exercises, and suggestions for using household items as pet exercise equipment.

Thus became the mission for my second, recently released book where I, as a licensed Physical Therapist working exclusively with animals, become the teacher for the pet owner.

This is accomplished by written descriptions, photos with directional arrows, and practical examples using stories from my actual patient caseload. Will it be the same as hiring a therapist to treat your dog, cat, bird, rabbit, or other pet? No, but it will greatly suffice, and your pet will enjoy and receive benefit from your efforts to learn and use these helpful hands-on techniques!

Articles by PT Sue:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery 
Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Problems?
Wrap It Up: Using Soft Supports For Your Dog
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part I) 
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part II) 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Safe Summer Boating Tips for your Dog 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Hip Dysplasia - What’s a Dawg Mama to Do?
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part I)
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part II)
Staying in the Loop with Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy
Addressing Frailty Syndrome in Geriatric Dogs 
The Pet PT Pit Stop: "Where's The Evidence?"
Physical Therapy Contraindications 
Top Dogs and their Toplines at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Part I) 
Top Dogs and their Toplines at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Part II) 
What's in a Dog's Gait?
“Dear Diary” - A Practical Method to manage your Dog’s Care Plan
Wound Care 101 (Part I The Basics) 
Wound Care 101 (Part II Wound Management)
Prevention and Management of Hip Dysplasia in Puppies: Attention all Breeders!
Support and Braces
Vaccinosis - A Vexing Conundrum 
The Pet PT Pit Stop: Blame it on the Weather, Really!
Relief for Laryngeal Paralysis using Physical Therapy 
Is the Treatment Necessary? Is It Working?
Preventing CCL (ACL) Tears (Part 1 of 3 on Cruciate Ligament Tears)
“All or None, or Partial?” (Part 2 of 3 on Cruciate Ligament Tears) 
Full Ligament Tears (Part 3 of series on Cruciate Ligament Tears) 


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program. She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ. Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”. For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic books on physical therapy:

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

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