There is substantial research available which indicates that muscle atrophy begins within 24-48 hours following injury/surgery. Research also demonstrates that when rehabilitation is delayed, there is increased swelling due to lack of movement, loss of muscle control and joint stability, and increased stiffness of muscles and tendons. Full weight-bearing activities are often limited for weeks after surgery, which extends your pets’ recovery time considerably.

Hydrotherapy allows rehab to begin immediately post-surgery/injury by:

  • Decreasing pain
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Improving blood flow
  • Promoting early mobilization and normal movement patterns
  • Minimizing muscle atrophy
  • Improving the general attitude and spirit through mental and physical stimulation.

To help a pet recover from an injury, orthopedic or neurologic surgery, veterinarians used to prescribe “cage rest,” minimizing a patient’s activity during the healing period. Over the last decade, however, the veterinary community has explored the healing benefits of rehabilitative therapies, including hydrotherapy. According to Kim Knap, certified veterinary technician and certified canine rehabilitation practitioner at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, these therapies can help rebuild muscle and retrain nerves for pets suffering orthopedic or neurological disease. Rehabilitative exercises can also improve a patient’s mental and emotional well-being, and a patient with an improved attitude has a better chance at healing. When a pet suffers a bone fracture, torn knee ligaments, or intervertebral disc disease, surgery is usually the first step. However, repair and healing of such injuries is a long-term process that can be aided by veterinary rehabilitation.

When a limb is immobilized with a cast, splint, or pins to help injured bones and ligaments heal, or is immobilized due to a neurological injury or disease, blood flow through the limb decreases, the muscles shrink, or atrophy, and the joints stiffen from the lack of use.

The goal of physical rehabilitation is to aid healing by stimulating blood flow, maintaining joint flexibility, and stimulating nerves and muscles. An underwater treadmill gives patients who may have difficulty walking on land a chance to exercise their nerves and muscles. In addition to providing physical exercise and relief, an underwater treadmill can also provide a patient with a level of independence they can’t get on land. A pet who can’t take a walk in the park without help from its owner can get into the underwater treadmill and enjoy walking more freely and comfortably. Giving dogs with arthritis or other degenerative diseases a chance to enjoy exercise can improve their mood and disposition.

In addition to helping patients recover from injury or disease, veterinary physical rehabilitation therapies can also help obese pets lose weight and canine athletes stay fit. Arthritic and obese dogs can strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments without risking further damage to their joints. Walking against the resistance of water also increases the rate at which calories are burned.

Treatment benefits include the following:

  • Enables controlled exercise in a safe environment
  • Can be started earlier than other therapies
  • Decreases post surgery/injury recovery time
  • Earlier return to ambulation post-surgically
  • Strengthening of the muscles and soft tissues surrounding painful sites
  • Reduces stress on joints
  • Works multiple muscle groups simultaneously
  • Provides even resistance throughout the range of motion
  • Permits longer than normal training periods
  • Decreases the risk of overheating
  • Minimizes post-exercise muscle soreness
  • Warm water assists in pain reduction
  • Older animals can exercise effectively
  • Improves cardiovascular function
  • Promotes weight loss

The canine underwater treadmill provides low impact exercise in a reduced gravity environment. Hydrotherapy helps reduce pain and swelling, as well as increases range of motion, movement, and strength. By adjusting the height of the water, up to 40% of weight on the dogs limbs can be reduced, eliminating concussive stress on joints. Water also provides resistance with every stride. The underwater treadmill is most beneficial for dogs with decreased limb function and weight bearing post-surgery.

The canine underwater treadmill features adjustable speed (up to 8 mph). The clear Plexiglas side allows doctors and staff to evaluate gait and performance. The water temperature in the treadmill is approximately 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is warm enough that dogs are comfortable standing in water, but cool enough that they can exercise without overheating. Dogs are introduced slowly to the treadmill, to make them more comfortable. They begin at a slow pace of less than 1 mph. As rehabilitation progresses and the dog’s strength and fitness increases, the speed of the treadmill is increased. The time each dog spends in the treadmill depends on its problem and physical condition. The staff uses treats and toys to make the exercise time more fun for the dogs. All patients are monitored by 2 veterinary technicians at all times in the water treadmill.

Some of the indications for rehabilitation include:

  • Post-Surgical Patients
  • Pain (injury, surgery, arthritis or disability)
  • Soft tissue trauma (strains, sprains, tendonitis)
  • Joint injuries (trauma, arthritis)
  • Orthopedic or neurosurgery (post operative care)
  • Geriatric conditions (atrophy, arthritis)
  • Obesity

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