Today we’re continuing our “Staff Spotlight” series with SFVS’s own certified canine rehabilitation practitioner (CCRP), Kristen Hagler. Below is part one of our Q+A with Kristen. (Be sure to scroll down to read a heartwarming story about a dog who went from having a hard time walking to discovering the fantastic “food dance” once again!)
Thank you for your time and amazing work with our furry companions, Kristen!
1. Can you provide a brief overview of canine physical rehabilitation … for people who may not have heard of it?
Almost everything used in traditional human physical therapy clinics can be applied to animals. The major difference is that they walk on four legs instead of being upright on two like we are. Much of canine physical rehabilitation involves developing creative ways to safely “trick” an animal into performing an exercise or essential daily life activity (e.g., eating while standing up).
There are various modalities and treatments used in animal physical rehabilitation. Animals are almost always prescribed a therapeutic exercise plan specific to their ailment. This can include simple tasks such as learning how to eat standing up, practicing sitting and lying down properly, and turning in a circle. More complex tasks include stepping over objects, balancing on a wobble board, learning how to hold one leg off the ground while standing, and walking backwards. There are over 50 different types of exercises with each of them being slightly different for each animal.
Other common modalities utilized include an underwater treadmill, low level laser, therapeutic ultrasound, massage therapy, acupuncture recommendations, neuromuscular electro-stimulation, and thermal therapy.
There are two programs in the Unites States offering certification for veterinarians, registered veterinary technicians, physical therapists, and physical therapy assistants: the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and The Canine Rehabilitation Institute.
2. How did you become interested in canine rehabilitation?
It all started while I was volunteering in the veterinary clinic at Guide Dogs for the Blind. My assigned task was to take the dogs recovering from knee surgery on walks and do a little moving of their legs. After a few months, I started to notice their progress slowing down. They weren’t sitting and standing comfortably and it was a little hard for them to posture to go to the bathroom. I asked if there was anything else that I could be doing for them and the answer I received was not what I wanted to hear, so I began searching for alternative treatments.
In the late 1990s, canine physical rehabilitation was just beginning to filter its way into veterinary clinics. Most veterinarians had not even heard of the idea, which motivated me to educate myself on the subject. I quickly found the University of Tennessee’s rehabilitation program and set my sights on attending. Ever since then, I have been rehabilitating animals back to peak performance level or very close to it.
3. Can you tell us about one or two of your favorite “success stories”?
Every patient that “graduates” from a rehabilitation program is a success, but there are a few that stand out.
The first one is a 12.5-year-old Bearded Collie diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia. The owner had been up at UC Davis pursuing different options, which ranged from total hip replacement surgery to physical rehabilitation. With such an older dog and the owner having her own physical limitations, physical rehabilitation was selected. When the dog came in for her initial consult, she could not traverse a ramp or walk very well on slippery flooring.
As I began asking questions about how the dog got around at home on a daily basis, it was clear the owner had adjusted her own lifestyle to meet the needs of her dog. The owner had not slept in her own bed for several months, and the dog had very limited mobility at home. Stairs were completely out of the question, her favorite sunning spot outside in the backyard was a distant memory, and the owner could not get the dog down the front door stairs alone to the street to go for walks. It was clear both the owner and dog were getting depressed and were essentially trapped on the first floor of the home together.
After careful discussions, a therapeutic exercise program was developed to meet the needs of both owner and dog. We both came up with simple exercises that would help strengthen muscles, encourage movement, be physically achievable for the owner and could be performed inside the house. After four months of adjusting exercises plans and intermittent rechecks, the owner called me with an update. Her dog had gone up the stairs on her own to the second floor, the owner was back sleeping in her own bed, and they could now go outside and take walks down the street! The daily functional activities had been restored and the dog was acting several years younger. She was even doing her food dance again!
Check back later this week for another success story and more from Kristen. In the meantime, you can see some of the program graduates!