As your dog ages, their body undergoes a great deal of change. Not only their muscle mass fades, but also their cognitive ability. These natural parts of the aging process can be mitigated through animal rehabilitation. More than a therapy for pets recovering from surgery or an injury, physical rehab provides a multitude of benefits for senior pets. Read on to discover how common animal rehab modalities can help your senior pet age with grace. 

Senior pet ailments that can benefit from physical rehabilitation

Pets are living longer than ever nowadays, and are more likely to develop degenerative conditions that can impair their quality of life. Many senior pets suffer from osteoarthritis, cognitive dysfunction, chronic pain, and other underlying medical problems that can be challenging to manage. When they develop conditions that lead to reduced activity, senior pets may gain weight and lose muscle mass, which leads to a vicious cycle of weight gain, reduced activity, and increased pressure and pain with arthritic joints. That pattern can be difficult to break without professional help, which is where physical rehab comes in. Gentle, holistic therapies are hugely beneficial for improving muscle mass and skeletal function, reducing pain and inflammation, and restoring a full range of motion to diseased joints.

The focus of physical rehabilitation for senior pets

When people think of physical rehabilitation, they typically think of recovery from surgery or an injury, with a definitive end date for therapy. Physical rehab for senior pets, however, is a long-term therapy that constantly changes to accommodate a senior pet’s needs. Most commonly, physical rehab is used to help pets maintain their independent mobility for as long as possible, and ensure they remain comfortable throughout their golden years. Physical rehabilitation for senior pets generally focuses on pain management, mental stimulation, body awareness, strengthening and conditioning, and regular, low-impact activity. 

How physical rehabilitation therapies help senior pets

Since physical rehab for senior pets is focused on restoring mobility, improving muscle mass, and reducing pain, let’s look at how some of the more common treatment modalities can help.

  • Therapeutic exercises — These exercises can improve strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination, leading to improved mobility. They can also slow progression of degenerative diseases, like osteoarthritis.
  • Thermotherapy — Ice and heat can help reduce pain and inflammation, increase blood flow, and relax tense muscles, and can be used at home.
  • Massage — Massage increases blood and lymphatic flow to injured areas, delivering nutrients, and removing waste products for pain and inflammation reduction. Massage therapy is also relaxing, which is important for anxious senior pets who suffer from cognitive dysfunction.
  • Manual therapy — Passive range of motion exercises fall into this category. Gently manipulating a limb to go through a full range of motion helps maintain the joint’s mobility, allowing for greater movement and reduced pain.
  • Laser therapy — Light energy is used to stimulate damaged tissues, to alleviate muscle and joint pain, increase circulation, and reduce inflammation.
  • Hydrotherapy — Underwater treadmills and swimming pools use water’s warmth, buoyancy, and resistance for low-impact activity and cardiovascular fitness improvement. 
  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) — NMES sends electrical impulses to nerves, causing muscles to contract. This therapy is highly useful for preventing muscle atrophy that can be caused by disuse in painful arthritic patients.
  • Acupuncture — Acupuncture stimulates certain points on the body through the insertion of fine needles, to increase circulation, soothe stiff muscles, and modulate pain. This treatment modality is exceptionally helpful for senior pets who are unable to take medications because of organ dysfunction or other health issues.
  • Pulsed signal therapy (PST) — PST uses pulsed electromagnetic fields to stimulate bones and adjacent tissues, repairing damaged cells at the cartilage level. This therapy is ideal for senior pets suffering from osteoarthritis and joint cartilage degeneration.
  • Trigger point therapy — Trigger points are sensitive spots in the muscles that can form in athletes (e.g., shin splints in marathon runners) or in patients with chronic orthopedic or neurological issues. Trigger point therapy releases these constricted areas, bringing back comfort and mobility.

In addition to the wide range of therapies available under the arching umbrella of physical rehabilitation, your senior pet may benefit from mobility aids. Custom-fitted splints, braces, and carts can restore mobility, and thus improve your pet’s quality of life. Pets who are unable to move under their own power often fall into a funk, which makes independent mobility crucial for older pets. Improving your pet’s mobility will not only allow them to eliminate on their own more easily, but also to interact more with the family. 

When using physical rehab techniques to improve a senior pet’s quality of life, we focus on more than the physical benefits of improved mobility and decreased pain. We also seek to improve cognitive function, happiness, and the ability for your pet to do more of what they enjoy. Contact our Animal Rehabilitation Center team to see how physical rehab can return your aging pet’s zest for life.