Physical Therapy for Dogs
Bodhi’s Physical Therapist Linda McMahon
A friend alerted me to this recent Runner’s World article on physical therapy for dogs and it occurred to me that I should repost my interview with Linda McMahon PT LVT CCRT. Linda was Bodhi’s physical therapist when he was on the mend from his bout with a bone disease called Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD.) We credit her with a lot of the success we saw with him during his recovery.
Urban Dog: What are the most common types of problems you see?
The ACL tear is an injury like basketball players and skiers get, it’s an injury that you get when you plant your foot and you twist. And what makes it worse, is when a dog tears one, they have a fifty percent or more chance of tearing the second. This is something that scares all owners. And keep in mind that this is only the back legs of a dog: the front legs are like our arms and their back legs are like our legs. So this is only something that happens in the knees in the back legs.
Herniated discs or IVDD, which stands for “Intervertebral Disc Disease,” is the second thing I see the most. There are definitely some breeds that are predisposed to that: the dwarf breeds, Dachshunds, Bassets, and Corgis. The discs in these breeds are “dryer” than in other dogs, so their discs don’t absorb the shock as well.
Dogs suffer the symptoms of herniated discs much more quickly than we do. In humans it usually takes a while to suffer serious problems. We normally have minor pain first, but dogs suffer weakness, lameness, and paralysis much faster than we do.
There are two kinds of herniated disc problems: one happens suddenly and acutely and the other one happens over time, but you still are going to see the symptoms of not being able to get up, incontinence, or “knuckling” [walking with the top of the paw down on the ground.]
Urban Dog: Which types of problems lend themselves BEST for physical therapy?
Linda McMahon: In general the pets that are post-operative are the best candidates for physical therapy. The reason is that we’re addressing problems right after they occur.
Urban Dog: Let’s talk a little about water versus “land-based” therapy. What are the benefits of each?
Linda McMahon: With water, physical therapy has the physical properties of buoyancy and resistance. And the water is kept warm. The buoyancy takes pressure off joints so it’s easier for the dog to move. But the resistance provides more of a challenge because they have to use more muscle strength to get through the water. And the heat, which we keep at about 90 to 94 degrees, can help increase blood flow, which in turn helps with pain relief and helps get muscles to soften and relax and that helps with movement.
With the water treadmill you have the benefits of weight bearing exercise. And with swimming you see cardio vascular and endurance benefits, but you won’t be able to re-train a dog to walk with just swimming. (Below you will see a video of Bodhi in water therapy. You have to watch! It’s very cute!)
The benefits of physical therapy on land come from the fact that the work is “functional.” The dog is going to have to bear all its weight and they are going to have to be able to move on land. You will see better coordination results from having the dog move around obstacles and such. (Below you will see video of Bodhi in manual therapy.)
Urban Dog: How important is it for dog owners to follow up at home?
Linda McMahon: Everybody has to get a home exercise program! It’s essential for the owner to do some exercises, range of motion therapy, hot or docld therapy at home. We need to keep the movement therapy going daily and to keep the swelling under control.
It’s like going to the gym once or twice a week. If you do exercise at home in addition to going to the gym, you’re going to see a better benefit.
And another thing, working with the dog at home strengthens the bond between the owner and the dog. You are spending more time with your dog when it needs you the most!
Urban Dog: Tell me about some successes you’ve had.
Linda McMahon: I think I am going to pick Finnegan!
He is a Jack Russell who was hit by a car. He couldn’t walk. He had fractures in his spine and his pelvis. He was in the hospital a really long time and we started working with him right away, with the balance ball, on the treadmill, and with manual therapy. And it was very clear that he was slowly but surely responding to the therapy. He was so cute! Finnegan’s owners own a wine shop and they had a line of wines named after him!
If you want to contact Linda, click here and send me a message; I will forward your message.