As I watched my beloved Dusty slowly deteriorate in health, I believed that he had entered his senior years and that it was only a matter of time and not much I could do to improve or extend his life. Dusty was a Siberian Husky whose beauty would stop strangers during our daily strolls around the neighborhood. As Dusty grew older he began a routine of twirling in circles until he finally reached the point where he could lie down with the least amount of pain only to have to endure the pain all over again to stand up to go outside which in itself was too difficult for me to watch. The veterinarian believed that he was suffering and could not be helped. He felt the only course of action was to humanly end the life of Dusty. Unable to help my ailing dog into the car, I called the Humane Society to take him to his final resting place. As he left the apartment for the final time, he had a new pep to his step and looked back with his doggy grin as if he believed that he was merely going out for a walk on a beautiful sunny day. I cried for over a week wondering if I really had made the right decision. What I know now could have saved Dusty from the pain he endured as well as prolonged his life. I’m referring to the practice of Animal Physical Therapy or Animal Rehabilitation.Robyn Roth, PT, MPA, APT Animal Physical Therapist who established and operates the Animal Rehabilitation of Reno-Tahoe has practiced human physical therapy for over 25 years. She worked with the Nevada Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to regulate animal physical therapy in Nevada and was one of the first therapists to be licensed by this board to practice animal physical therapy in Nevada. Her facility is state of the art with equipment that is the latest technology. Through the process of evaluating and developing an appropriate treatment plan, animal physical therapy utilizes techniques from human physical therapy that have been adapted for animals. Animal physical therapy can treat a wide variety of conditions including injury, surgery, gait abnormality, neurological conditions, acute and chronic wounds and provide aftercare for orthopedic surgery much like in human physical therapy. Human and animal physical therapies are similar and it is not uncommon for a physical therapist to have human and animal practices at the same time in their careers. If you have ever had to go to a Physical Therapist, you may recognize some of the treatment and techniques that are used on animals such as therapeutic ultrasound, electric stimulation, gait and balance training among others. However, one piece of highly specialized equipment that is used in animal physical therapy that you may not be familiar with is the Underwater Treadmill. Although Robyn has an “Endless Pool” for aquatic therapy, she prefers the Underwater Treadmill. Based on an assessment of the animal’s condition, the therapist determines the correct water level and speed. It is important that a highly trained professional handles this procedure and properly assesses the animal’s condition. Following the underwater treadmill treatment, the next step is to graduate to a regular treadmill.One particular condition that can contribute to trauma and injuries is when animals are overweight not unlike in humans. “Diet is extremely important,” says Robyn, which she bases more on her experience with her Mastiff Rescue non-profit organization than her physical therapy experience. How you can tell if a commercial food is healthy? “It’s when they use a lot of fillers. If you see corn as their number one product, that is not good. Dogs are carnivorous. For me personally, I want a good protein source and I want a good carbohydrate source and I want to know where that source was,” says Robyn. Does physical therapy on animals actually cure them completely? “Absolutely, your acute cases would be your injury cases or your ACL tears, your surgical cases, you expect them to totally rehabilitate. The acute cases just like in humans you get your referrals on the acutes and whatever the problem is, you expect to resolve it. Hopefully you teach owners wellness to prevent injuries and have them warm up for exercise,” says Robyn. Physical therapy can help an obese dog to lose weight by developing a wellness program of exercise and proper diet. As with humans, a fit dog who exercises daily can benefit from prevention of injuries and illness including aging issues and generally makes for a happier pet.One of Robyn’s first and most memorable cases involved a little Dachshund named Heidi. She had a ruptured disk and was paralyzed and unable to walk. After surgery, Robyn began to work with Heidi every day. This was her first neurological case and was feeling unsure if Heidi would ever walk again. “Suddenly, oh probably around the seventh day I started to see some movement. After 3-4 weeks, Heidi started walking. The owner was so appreciative. I learned so much from that case and then the one that came after Heidi I learned even more. Only one out of over one hundred Dachshunds neurological cases did not walk again,” said Robyn. Each state has different regulations regarding animal physical therapy and some states even require that it be referred to as animal rehabilitation as opposed to therapy. Most if not all animal therapists require a referral from a veterinarian. Animal physical therapy has come a long way from its beginnings in the early 1990’s and so it is much easier to find a therapist in your area now. Some states like California require that the veterinarian and physical therapist are partners in the same practice. Some pet insurance plans will cover a portion of the costs depending on the type of policy you purchased.Next time your furry best friend is faced with an ailment or injury talk to your veterinarian about a referral to an animal physical therapist. You will be glad you asked and amazed at the results. What would you give to see your pet’s life prolonged and pain free? Physical therapy isn’t just for humans anymore.Linda M. Snyder is a freelance writer and marketing communications consultant who lives in Reno, NV with her yellow lab, Tally. She loves tennis, skiing, cooking and writing.


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