Finding a Veterinary Rehabilitation Practitioner

by
Mandi Blackwelder, DVM CCRP
Healing Arts Animal Care
healingartsanimalcare.com

Is rehabilitation really necessary? Simply, yes.

Think of it this way. Your pet just had a major surgery. In the past with orthopedic injuries in dogs, owners have been given instructions to crate rest their dog for 6 weeks and only leash walk outside to urinate. The same instructions used to be given to people. Can you imagine if a human orthopedist today did surgery and then said “Go home and lay in your bed for 6 weeks and only get up to go to the bathroom.” ? They would lose their license for malpractice! Why? Because joints and muscles need to move after surgery to prevent other problems from occurring such as scarring, tendons tightening, muscle loss, additional pain, lack of removal of toxins and a myriad of other issues.

How do I find a dog physical therapist?

  • First, ask your surgeon. Most surgeons have a therapist that they work with regularly and are comfortable with.
  • Communication: Make sure the therapist communicates back to your surgeon and to your regular vet about your pet’s progress.  
  • Google: If they do not have a suggestion for you then you can Google “veterinary rehabilitation” or “veterinary physical therapy” and your city or state – keeping in mind that in some states legally physical therapy is a term exclusive to humans.  
  • Certification programs: Additionally, look up your state at the websites for the graduates of certification programs and find all those qualified in your state: CCRP or CCRT.

What should I look for in a practitioner?

  • First look for these letters: CCRP (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner – University of Tennessee) or CCRT (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist – University of Florida).   Both of these degrees require that first the practitioner must first be either a veterinarian (DVM), a physical therapist (PT), a certified veterinary technician (CVT) or a physical therapy assistant (PTA).     Whew, what at lot of alphabet soup!!!!   But…all that alphabet soup means that your practitioner has devoted years of their lives to this craft.
  • Communication!!! Please note that anyone that is not a DVM must be working under a veterinarian – that does not mean they are less of a practitioner. Some of the best in the field are not veterinarians, but this legal requirement does mean they must be in contact with your vet before and during working with your pet. Vet or not, if your therapist is discouraging active involvement with your regular vet as a member of your pet’s healing team, it should be a red flag. We all should have the same goal – healing – and communication is key!
  • Equipment: A therapist does not have to have fancy equipment to provide successful rehabilitation, however the more modalities available, the more options are available for healing. Equipment that might help your pet includes underwater treadmill, physiotherapy equipment, land treadmill, therapeutic ultrasound, therapeutic laser, and shock wave, just to name a few. Anyone using this equipment should be able to tell you how and why it works.
  • Your pet likes them. No matter how fancy the facility or equipment how how many letters we carry after our names, ultimately your pet needs to be comfortable in order to do rehab. Dogs that hate the vet, should like going to rehab. It should be a place of reward and treats and snuggles and tennis balls.
  • You go home with written information. No one remembers everything they are told in the exam room. Studies show we retain less than 50%. If you are doing exercises at home, you should get an explanation of what you are to do and how often in writing.
  • Cats: Cats need rehab too! Ask your practitioner if they have experience with rehabilitation in cats as cats require a completely different touch, a quiet place to work, and a slow approach.

Can’t I just do it at home? How hard can it be?

Veterinary rehabilitation practitioners have a craft to their job.

  • Not too many human patients will lie down on the equipment at the physical therapy office and refuse to do their exercises, even for bacon. It happens to us.
  • Smith recovering from knee surgery can justify a little discomfort to gain mobility without biting Mrs. Smith while she is helping him.   Your dog might bite while stretching if it hurts.
  • And Mrs. Smith doesn’t need to get down on the floor and hold up Mr. Smith while he does his exercises.  

This is silly of course, but in our dogs and cats, all these things must be taken into consideration.  

Dog factors: (a few of many)

  • pain tolerance
  • temperament
  • motivation (food vs. toy vs. other)
  • age
  • co-existing health issues
  • food allergies that limit our choices in motivational treats

Owner factors:

  • Can you get on the floor with your pet, or do we need standing exercises?
  • Are you physically able to control your dog on leash?
  • Do you work 80 hours a week or are you at home?  
  • Do you live in the city or the country?
  • Is the pet allowed on furniture?

All these factors go into creating a recovery program that is reasonable and realistic for you and provide optimal healing for your pet.   Additionally, adjustments need to be made over time. Some dogs hate being stretched on their side, so we teach you to do it standing. Some dogs simply won’t put their paws on an unsteady surface while others kamikaze over the top without a second thought. Some dogs need amping up, some cooling down in order to have safe rehabilitation.

Post operative rehabilitation requires extensive knowledge of the procedure, the anatomy, the species, the mechanism of injury, proper pain control, the medications you have been prescribed, and the behavior of many personalities of dogs. Rehabilitation practitioners can give you suggestions and guidelines to help your exact pet with its exact problem heal in the most efficient and stressless way.