Can Your Pet Benefit from Physical Rehabilitation?

June 15, 2014 7:00 am Published by Comments Off on Can Your Pet Benefit from Physical Rehabilitation?

Do you have an aging dog or cat that often limps, is overall less active than before, or having a hard time jumping or going for walks? Perhaps s/he doesn’t sit squarely or easily anymore, or no longer seems to enjoy morning or evening dog stretches?

Arthritis is a common cause of such complaints. Pet owners often believe that these symptoms are normal for aging animals and accept the changes without intervention. While medications or supplements may help ease some of the inflammation or discomfort, improving muscle strength and the flexibility of surrounding soft tissue can. drastically reduce discomfort from arthritis- much like the benefits people receive from yoga, weight training, and cardio exercise!

Physical rehabilitation in animals is based on similar principles as therapy in people. Depending on the condition being treated, various exercises are performed to increase range of motion, improve balance, and overall strengthen muscles. Pain reduction is also an important part of rehab and can be accomplished with a variety of mechanisms such as massage, therapeutic laser and ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and ice/heat therapy. Initially rehab treatments may be aimed towards decreasing pain and inflammation; then improving range of motion and balance; and, later, improving performance, stamina and muscle size.

What are some typical exercises? One of the most important early exercises involves passive range-of-motion. This exercise targets specific joints or muscles with limited flexibility and, by doing repetitive stretches several times a day, improves range of motion and flexibility. Several weeks later active exercises can be added, such as weight shifting, balancing exercises, and sit-to-stands. As balance and strength return, more challenging exercises can be introduced, such as Cavaletti or obstacle courses. The benefits of an underwater treadmill incorporate several benefits of rehab in one therapy: pain relief from the warm water; a comfortable, reduced weight-bearing environment; and a moving treadmill to encourage a normal, patterned gait.

Rehab is also very helpful when recovering from orthopedic and neurologic/spine surgery. In such cases, rehabilitation is geared toward healing and recovery in a controlled manner over a period of several months to achieve the best possible surgical outcome. In addition, various neurological diseases, soft tissue sprains/strains, or any condition involving stiffness, trauma, pain, muscle atrophy, imbalance, or inflammation will also benefit from rehab. Secondary or compensatory problems will also often improve as primary problems are addressed.

At our clinic, a physical rehab consultation generally lasts 40-60 minutes, and is performed with a certified rehabilitation veterinarian. Often the scheduled part of the exam involves a questionnaire and detailed discussion with the owner regarding the problems, symptoms, and ultimate goals for recovery, as well as a complete orthopedic and/or neurologic exam and pain and lameness score. Either during the appointment or on the first day of therapy, muscle girth measurements and range of motion (goniometry) measurements are recorded. Owners receive rehab recommendations for their pet’s specific plan which includes a timeline ranging from weeks to months as well as home exercises with visual instructions.

Some owners prefer to perform all rehab on their own at home, often spending an hour 2-3 times a day. Others would prefer to have the rehab performed in a more structured environment with veterinary supervision and guidance. Most ideal is a combination of the two, where owners perform simple exercises at home while attending an in-clinic rehab program. Most patients benefit from starting with 1-2 days/week of in-clinic therapy.

Although any veterinarian in NC can practice physical rehabilitation, Dr. Beth Rhyne, CCRP, of Charlotte Street Animal Hospital completed a Certificate Program in Canine Physical Rehabilitation through the University of Tennessee and Northeast Seminars of New Hampshire in 2010; and the practice owner, Dr. Mark Ledyard, is currently in study. This program involves a sequence of postgraduate courses for veterinarians, physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and veterinary technicians or students of these professions, followed by supervised clinical experience and a cumulative examination. The program is instructed by veterinarians and physical therapists, the majority of whom are board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. Upon successful completion of the program and examination, participants receive the designation of Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner (or C.C.R.P.).

Find a certified rehabilitation veterinarian in your area through:

To schedule a Physical Rehabilitation Consult at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital, call (828) 232-0440 or visit their website:

by DR. Beth Rhyne

Dr. Beth Rhyne graduated vet school from the University of Illinois. Originally a North Carolina native, she joined CSAH in 2006, bringing a personal interest in avian and exotic animals, as well as physical rehabilitation for all animals. As a graduate of the University of Tennessee’s Certificate Program in Canine Physical Rehabilitation ( in 2010, she holds the title of CCRP (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner), and runs our veterinary rehabilitation therapy program, which includes underwater treadmill and laser therapy. She has completed a Stem Cell On-Line Credentialing Course through Vet-Stem Regenerative Veterinary Medicine ( and is a Stem Cell Credentialed User for various orthopedic issues. She is currently a member of IVAPM (International Veterinarian Academy of Pain Management) , AAV (Association of Avian Veterinarians), ASGV (Association of Sugar Glider Veterinarians), and AARV (American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians).

When able she enjoys attending and occasionally lecturing at Phoenix Landing Parrot Foundation ( meetings and caring for WNC Nature Center animals. She shares her home with a senior Blue and Gold Macaw, as well as 2 dogs, a cat, and husband, Brad.

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