Many cat owners who see our hydrotherapy tank and colorful fitness equipment assume that veterinary rehabilitation is only for dogs. After all, no one could get a cat to step over cavaletti rails, stand on an exercise ball, or relax long enough for an acupuncture or laser therapy session, could they?

The Animal Rehabilitation Center team can! We proudly offer skilled rehabilitation and pain management services for cats. Check out the following guide for treatments we use to help restore your cat’s mobility, relieve their pain, and support physical health.

Feline health issues that benefit from rehabilitation

Cats benefit from rehabilitation for the same reasons as dogs, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Orthopedic surgery recovery
  • Paralysis or decreased motor function
  • Neurologic injury
  • Age or disease-related muscle atrophy 
  • Weight loss

Unique aspects of feline rehabilitation

Cats require their owners and care providers to think outside the box—especially to convince them to do things they wouldn’t naturally do. At the Animal Rehabilitation Center, this includes getting to know your cat and understanding their primary motivation—such as food, treats, toys, their favorite bed, or, in some cases, leaving the room. Then, we can use this knowledge to gain their trust and participation. Rehabilitation patients need to be relatively relaxed and flexible rather than tense, rigid, or panicked, which can be detrimental or, at the least, prevent progress, so your cat’s active cooperation and a low stress level are essential.

Following the cat’s natural activity cycle (i.e., long periods of rest followed by a short, but intense, activity burst), we keep feline rehabilitation sessions short to prevent frustration, boredom, and mental or physical fatigue.

Therapeutic exercises for cats

Similar to canine exercises, feline therapeutic exercises use the cat’s body weight and some basic equipment to challenge their balance and strength and create natural resistance. Common examples include:

  • Weight shifting exercises — Changing your cat’s body position naturally shifts their weight from front to back or side to side. For example, we place their two front paws on an elevated object to shift weight to their rear limbs and vice versa.
  • Core muscle engagement — Standing on or walking over slightly unstable objects (e.g., couch cushions, air mattresses, inflatable therapy equipment) activates your cat’s core abdominal and limb muscles that support and stabilize their entire body. 
  • Coordination — Stepping over low height objects (e.g., rails, sticks, two-by-fours) creates natural weight shift and helps improve body awareness. Our therapists may place a cat bed or a treat at either end to encourage movement. 
  • Flexibility — Cats are known for their agility and athleticism. We can strengthen your cat’s flexibility by luring them with a treat to turn left and right, walk around scratching posts, or slink through increasingly smaller cat play tunnels.

Acupuncture for cats

Acupuncture naturally relieves stress and promotes relaxation and is therefore a highly effective therapy for cats. Acupuncture works by stimulating key landmarks (i.e., acupoints) on the body with thin—almost imperceptible—needles to realign energy flow, stimulate nerves and connective tissue, and activate the body’s natural pain relievers (i.e., beta endorphins and serotonin), and is an ideal therapy for cats with chronic pain from orthopedic or neurologic injury, or terminal illness, or those in hospice care.

As with all our cat-friendly therapies, we perform our acupuncture sessions in a calm, quiet space, free from distractions and noisy dogs. Although many owners are skeptical about their cat’s cooperation, they’re often surprised to see their cat transformed into a calm, mellow patient.  

Laser therapy for cats

Most cats enjoy basking in warm sunlight, so it’s no surprise that they appreciate low level laser therapy. Laser therapy uses a precise light wavelength to penetrate tissues and deliver powerful anti-inflammatory and pain relief while your cat enjoys gentle heat—similar to warm sunlight—against their fur. Laser therapy is especially effective for chronic arthritis, incision healing, and sore or restricted muscles and soft tissue.

Laser therapy pairs well with a cat-friendly modality known as pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF), another non-invasive therapy that also reduces inflammation and accelerates healing for numerous conditions, including edema and bone fractures.

Underwater treadmill therapy for cats

Yes, cats can learn to walk in our underwater treadmill—although they do need some training and acclimation to ensure a positive experience. Feline hydrotherapy is perhaps most well-known for its weight-loss role in obese cats, which has spurred some viral videos (e.g., the reluctant Cinder-Block). 

Cats who are introduced to water gradually and positively can benefit from water’s healing properties, which include:

  • Buoyancy — Cats in water experience near-weightlessness, which provides temporary relief for their painful joints.
  • Hydrostatic pressure — Water molecules cling together, providing even support that keeps mobility-impaired cats on their feet and prevents falls.
  • Heat — Warm water promotes circulation, improves tissue elasticity and joint flexion, and relaxes tense muscles.
  • Resistance — Walking in water provides gentle resistance that builds strength, coordination, and cardiovascular health, burning more calories than dry-land walking.

“Cats are not small dogs.” This famous veterinary medicine mantra reminds caregivers that cats are a unique species entitled to their own physiology, behavior, and preferences—and nowhere is this more evident than in veterinary rehabilitation therapy. But cats, despite their quirks and challenges, do share one thing in common with the canine contingent—both species can enjoy an increased quality of life with rehabilitation therapy. Contact our team to schedule your cat’s initial consultation.