Solutions for Aging Dog Mobility Issues Part #3: Canine Physiotherapy

Surprisingly, Victor my dog preferred running on a tread mill to jumping into the pool. He’d rather run than swim…. by a mile.

physiotherapy for dogsI discovered this at a physiotherapy appointment – his not mine. Yes, there’s such thing as physiotherapy for pets and I discovered that participating in the Hamilton Burlington SPCA annual walk-a-thon. I wasn’t in the market at the time, but a year later my dog tore his ACL in his back leg and needed surgery.

Victor is extremely high energy and keeping him calm after surgery was next to impossible. His leg healed, but not without him noticeably favouring one back leg over the other, and one leg looking more muscular than the other ‘chicken leg.’

So, expert intervention was the next step.

My second surprise: Companion Rehabilitation Clinic, canine and feline physical therapy, is blocks away from my home in a small rural town in Southern Ontario.

Pet physio outside a major city. Who knew?dog in red coat

Twice a week for six weeks, I took Victor to visit Sabry Belhouchet, CCRP of Companion Rehabilitation Clinic behind a rural house where my dog instantly walked toward the treadmill and jumped on. Victor ran at various rates for about 15- to 20-minutes exercising all legs equally.

Then the star attraction: hydrotherapy. The resistance pool looked like a warm hot tub but with intense waves at the turns of a dial.

Victor doesn’t like water but apparently can swim well with the therapist’s help (and buoyancy from a life vest). He wanted to get out of the pool so swam hard against the waves stretching all four legs equally – without stress on his joints – and taking breaks as needed. The goal was to get him using and building muscle in both back legs.

I was also sent home with a long list of exercises for him to do, and I admit I only partially completed it.

If you want to improve your dog’s mobility, here is a list of suggested at home pooch exercises:

  1. Walk uphill on a slope (not trot) slowly so both back legs push equally.
  2. Walk over obstacles like a ladder or pieces of a pool noodle laid out along the floor (which is what we did).
  3. Do 10 sets of walking in a figure eight three times a day
  4. Walk in circles three times day
  5. Step up and down a curb and/or walk in sand (if you live near a beach or golf course)
  6. Place thermal hot packs on rear limbs (not too hot) especially in the morning, followed by gentle stretches and limb ‘bicycle riding’ circles (I might or might not sing ‘wheels on the bus’ as we do this. I’ll take the fifth).
  7. Sit to stand repetitions – sit with hind limbs squared then stand by pushing up with both back legs repeated five times several times a day.*
  8. Keep nails trimmed.

*Victor did not get this exercise. After a few ‘sit/stands’ in a row, he ran and got a toy then came back as if to say, ‘hey, this is a much better game.’ Sit/stand didn’t work for us.

dog in physiotherapy poolDid the therapy work? It did strengthen Victor overall, and he started using both back legs a little more equally. But he still needed to continue building the back-leg muscles. What did help, however, was finding (and surgically removing) a large growth between his toes on his ‘good’ back paw a year later. Then he almost immediately walked more evenly.

I still do stretching and bicycling exercises with my dog, especially now that he’s about 13 years old, and he’s running a lot leash free almost every day … though not swimming, if he can help it.

Check out other suggestions for aiding dog mobility here and stay tuned for more of our six-part series….

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