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Paralyzed dog rehabilitation

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Physical therapy helps paralyzed dogs live on.

By Katie Costello, Edited by Samantha Meyers

You find your dog unable to walk and rush him to your veterinarian. The vet refers you to a surgeon who performs a laminectomy to repair a herniated disc in your dog's back. You are told that he stands a good chance of recovering completely, but will require a lot of patience and weeks of rehabilitation. So, what's next?

Chose a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner. Veterinary physical therapy should be performed by a licensed veterinarian or, if allowed by state law, a licensed, certified, or registered veterinary or animal health technician educated in veterinary physical therapy or a licensed physical therapist educated in animal anatomy and physiology.

David Levine, P.T., Ph.D., a professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, says three types of rehabilitation help dogs after back surgery: aquatic therapy, therapeutic exercises, and gait training. All three help build strength and endurance, while the first two assist with balance and the latter with awareness of limbs and their location (proprioception). Therapeutic exercise may include standing exercises, slow walks, stair climbing, treadmill activity, wheel-barrowing, and "dancing." Jogging, sit-to-stand exercises, pulling or carrying weights, walking and trotting across rails, and playing ball also help dogs to regain mobility. Aquatic therapy usually involves an underwater treadmill or swimming in a pool with guidance for optimal exercise of the injured limb.

The rehab period depends on the severity of your dog's impairments, says Joanna M. Freeman, B.Sc., P.T., C.S.C.S., but it generally lasts at least four to six weeks. Treatment sessions range from $30 to $60, depending on the injury, rehabilitation needed, and the facility's location. Most dogs require daily therapy for a few days, followed by two to three times a week for the duration of the four- to six-week period. A weekly session can be enough for maintenance and weight loss, Levine says.

Rehabilitation and physical therapy gives animals the best chance of recovering as fully as possible. If your dog is unable to walk due to profound damage to the spinal cord, a therapist can assist you in caring for your dog, helping to avoid bedsores, eliminating muscle spasm and fitting the dog in a custom ambulation cart.

"Time for Rehab " is provided by with permission from I-5 Publishing, LLC publishers of Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy publications. For the latest dog news, photos, entertainment and tips, check out

All statements and opinions in "Time for Rehab" are the sole opinions of the I-5 Publishing, publishers of Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy publications and not those of CareCredit. The content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual medical provider with respect to any professional advice presented. Your participation in the presentation constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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