Alternative treatments for post spinal surgery, AKA dog physical therapy to get your pup moving
Dog physical therapy is a viable option for post back surgery. We were lucky to find a great facility, Beach Animal Rehab Center, in Torrance CA, where we were able to have a place with hope and answers. Here is our journey…
I spent over a year taking care of Hambone at home. After his double herniated disc surgery, I was able to work from home and tend to this little potato. It really was a labor of love. It was kind of stressful, as I had no idea what to do, where to start, who to talk to. I had the internet, but this was limiting to the slaves of SEO. I just could not find solid information.
It happened the last week of October 2016. The overall process went pretty fast, from accident to surgery (with a little bit of hospital drama) to home recovery. He looked worse than he actually was. His pink newly shaved back exposed the bony spine of a healthy 16 year old dog. But inside, he had the energy to continue and thrive. As old as he was, he did start to slow down a bit. His gait was definitely rickety, maybe arthritis as assumed. However, after the surgery, it turned out it was a disc issue. Great! The surgery actually repaired the stiffness and most likely the pain. I was against surgery, but realized that we were quite lucky to have this accident to force the issue and repair.
We worked on his daily routine first, confinement, cleaning, ice packs and heat packs, the works. He went in about two weeks after to have his stitches removed. Our trusted vet recommended physical therapy. I was like, “what? What do they do?” I was handed a pamphlet and introduced to Beach Animal Rehabilitation Center, aka BARC! And, it happened to be in our neighboring town of Torrance! Dog physical therapy here we come!
So, from this point on, I will show you what we did with Hambone. All of the treatments we were prescribed with their benefits. Remember, our journey was recommended by veterinarian professionals specifically for Hambone. For your pet, you must acquire a legitimate assessment for your treatment.
We booked a 90 minute consultation/assessment. I had no idea what to expect, but I was super excited to help out Hambone!
In order for the treatment to begin, it is required to thoroughly assess his condition. Hambone was clearly excited to check out the premises, walked around, sniffed the hallway while technician Cat called at him, “Hey there cutie, where are you going?” She wrangled him into a clean room where Dr Voulgaris began the exam, assisted by Cat. They filmed him walk around, measured his symmetry, felt his spine, ran through basic reflect tests and balance assessment.
Questions for DR VOULGARIS:
- What are you looking for as soon as you enter the room? Overall disposition of the pet, interaction with owner, are they social? Anxious? Fearful? . Do they seem to be in pain? I am watching how they move around the room and how they are handling the new environment – it gives me clues on what may be the medical issues and what the best way will be to approach the dog.
- What are you looking for as you watch them walk? Looking for asymmetries in gait – are they favoring a limb? Looking for lameness? Are they holding the head up or is it being held low? How much assistance does the dog need when walking or standing? Is the dog dragging his feet or knuckling, or circumducting (swinging) the limb? I am looking to see how they are placing paws, the rhythm of the gate? is the dog steady on his feet or wobbly? Is his gait slow, difficult, painful? Is there weakness? I am looking for clues to help me come up with a diagnosis- neurological issues and orthopedic issues present differently and sometimes there is a combination of the two.
- What are you measuring and why? We measure the range of motion of all joints to see if there are any restrictions/limitations in the movement of the joint (and if so why) and we measure muscles to see if there are areas of muscle loss (atrophy) and I am looking for over compensation or increased weight bearing as they will have more muscle mass than other limbs.
- When you place your hands on them, what are you feeling for? Pain management is always the first priority. I am looking for any sensitivity to touch, warmth/swelling, muscle spasm/tightness, reactivity/fear of having area touched, restrictions in tissue or joints, feeling for any abnormalities. I have to be a detective and all of these things give me clues about the clinic picture, and each case is different. My patients can’t tell me what happened, or if they are in pain, so I have to figure it out using my hands, my visual observations, sometimes even my sense of smell!! I have to look at the medical history, tests and imaging done elsewhere- I have to look at the big picture to try and get the most accurate story so I can offer the most effective treatment.
I was amazed at how many patients/clients were always at the facility in treatment. Big dogs, little dogs, cats, mutts and purebreds. It was kind of a happy place for Hambone. All here for physical therapy and rehabilitation.
Dog physical therapy is a thirty minute session with full contact. It often starts with LASER therapy with one of the physical therapists. Dr Kramer grabs the machine as a technician comforts your pet on thick floor mats. These techs are the best, as they take the time to provide a safe place. Since most pets have either limited to no mobility, they are used to being on their side. But are they used to so much attention on themselves? Heck no!
The treatment begins with Dr Kramer moving the wand up and down the spine with limb stretching, tissue massage and toe pinching stimulation. Toe pinching? Yes! From what I was told, this stimulates nerves and needs to be done whenever you can do it. It indicates deep pain, which shows that there is something there that is getting a reaction. Pinching adopted!
Questions for DR KRAMER:
- What does the LASER do? The LASER is shown to reduce inflammation and pain and increase healing of damaged tissues
- And, does the LASER hurt? It is light therapy basically and they do not feel anything during treatment making it ideal for pets who can’t tell you if something hurts or not.
And, now to the next activity. I give the technicians much credit for this part of the session. A patient may need full hind leg support, which requires the tech to provide full support in a wheelbarrow like manner, called “wheelbarrowing.” The goal is to keep them moving, around cones, stepping over rods, stimulating all the way. They will bring in harnesses for more support, if needed.
If there is a bit more mobility, the techs will bring in tools for stretching, such as a fitbone, discs or wobble boards for balance, or peanuts for back support. It’s awesome to see a fully functioning room, with very happy pets experiencing the best care. All that movement really lifts their spirits.
Questions for DR KRAMER:
- When you sit down with the pet, what are you looking for? I am assessing the pets current status that day and comparing it to the notes from the evaluation or the previous treatment.
- Why is pinching so important? Toe pinching checks for deep pain and withdrawal so we are trying to see if the patient feels us pinching the toe which helps us understand if there is connection between their brain and the limb that we are pinching.
- What are you looking for when you feel and massage? I am feeling for areas of swelling and then doing manual work to decrease it, muscle tightness and pain then doing manual techniques (soft tissue mobilization and trigger point releases to reduce), checking joints for range of motion deficits and then doing joint mobilizations to try and improve that motion.
Have you seen those cool videos of dogs on a treadmill, encased in a glass water tank? This is hydro-therapy, a strength-building apparatus that builds muscle with water resistance. I thought the water assisted in buoyancy when legs weren’t strong enough to stand on their own. This therapy consists of two sets of four minute sessions. The tech typically sits within the tank as it fills up. Once the warm water reaches the chest high mark, your pup stands up and the treadmill starts. There’s some treat motivation to keep them in motion.
Questions for DR KRAMER
- What are the benefits of hydro therapy? The water is warm and soothing and can help with many issues. Water is an excellent form of treatment with many benefits. For dogs that have pain in a limb and are hesitant to weight bear against gravity the buoyancy of the water makes it easier. For dogs that tend to walk too fast on land we can control their speed in the water which will cause them to walk better and use all four limbs. When needed we can get in with a dog like Hambone that needs assistance advancing his hindlimbs and help him.
Now, if you are lucky like us, your rehabilitation therapist may offer acupuncture as part of the dog physical therapy. Yes, as a human proponent of Eastern Chinese Medicine, I was super stoked to find out that acupuncture is offered. And, we are open to anything! So this totally made sense.
All the rooms have cushion mats on the floor, for comfortable squatting with your pet. It’s a very peaceful procedure. And you are allowed to sit in on the sessions. Dr Voulgaris warmed up Hamby by petting and feeling around, while asking a few questions about his current state and demeanor. From there, the tech sits and comforts as the acupuncture needles are applied. If you are not familiar, the needles are super thin and do not hurt them. If there is a reaction, it may be a slight reflex, but that’s about it.
The session proceeds as Dr Voulgaris leaves the room. You’ll be surprised that your pup is calm and chilled out. Relaxed. It’s quite nice to seem them in this state. After about 15 minutes, the needles are removed, one by one. That’s it!
Acupuncture benefited Hambone by stimulating blood flow, alleviating pain, decreasing inflammation and can help reconnect the nervous system.. It is often recommended for pets post surgery, back and neurological issues. Do your own research online. There are many vets adopting acupuncture as an alternative to medication. I love it!
Overall, our experience with physical therapy and rehabilitation was extremely positive. Hambone loved it! I truly believe that he looked forward to it, and improved. Unfortunately, due to other health factors, he wasn’t able to fully recover from his injury. Hambone passed days before his 18th birthday…
On a positive note, with treatment, I was able to bond with him, give him the best last year of his life surrounded by a great team of loving doctors and technicians. I learned so much from this experience with dog physical therapy and highly recommend it to all those who are in similar situations.
BARC is located in Torrance, Ca. Check out their Yelp! review: https://www.yelp.com/biz/beach-animal-rehabilitation-center-torrance