— Frequently Asked Questions

What is animal physical rehabilitation?

Animal physical rehabilitation can make a difference in the lives of all animals. Physical rehabilitation treats animals with dysfunction, injury, pain or physical abnormalities through the application of physics, biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Treatment techniques include modalities (ice, heat, electrical stimulation, and laser), joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization and massage, therapeutic exercise, aquatic therapy and acupuncture.

Why pet rehabilitation?

The benefits of human physical therapy have been proven for many years. We have adapted the principles of human physical therapy to meet the needs of your pet. The goals of physical rehabilitation are to maximize the recovery of your pet as well as increase function and improve overall quality of life. Some benefits are promotion of tissue healing and repair and decreasing inflammation. Rehab can also increase joint range of motion, increase strength and endurance, decrease muscle spasm, reduce pain and increase speed and quality of movement. To obtain these benefits, we use state of the art equipment and modalities in our rehab department including an underwater treadmill, LASER, acupuncture, TENS, ultrasound, land based exercises and pain management.

How can I determine if my pet needs physical rehabilitation?

Many animals can benefit from the services of physical rehabilitation. In the human world of health care, we receive physical rehabilitation after an injury or surgery, for any type of pain or dysfunction. We also receive treatment after neurological injuries (such as a stroke), for fractures, sprains or strains, for the treatment of wounds, athletic injuries, arthritic conditions (Lyme Disease) and the effects of aging (osteoarthritis).

Some of the diagnoses commonly treated for canine patients:

  •  Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Spinal conditions
  • Post surgical conditions—orthopedic and neurological
  • CCL injuries (the equivalent of an ACL injury)
  • Muscle Strains/Pulls
  • Arthritis
  • Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Athletic Injuries
  • Sore joints
  • Fibrocartilagenous Emboli
  • Post fracture management
  • Trauma
  • Intervertebral disc conditions

How long after surgery should my pet begin rehab?

Depending on the surgery, your pet can begin rehab immediately. Their plan of treatment will mostly consist of passive exercises, and pain and swelling management, which can be started by you at home or in the rehab clinic. Your pet will most likely be immobilized or have sutures/staples for a period following surgery. When the sutures/staples are removed and/or when your pet is taken off of immobilization precautions, they can begin more intensive rehab including hydrotherapy and therapeutic exercises. However, the final decision is always up to the surgeon.

Is rehab only for dogs that have had surgery?

No. Rehabilitation is for any pet with any of the symptoms or diagnoses mentioned previously. In fact, arthritis is one of the foremost indications for rehab.  Additionally, rehab and therapeutic exercise are a great way for owners to help a pet combat obesity.

How do I get started?

Speak with your veterinarian about physical rehabilitation for your pet. A veterinarian's referral is recommended but not necessary for the initial evaluation and treatment of your pet. If you are having difficulty speaking with your veterinarian about a referral, please contact us and we can contact your veterinarian for you.

How long will it take until I notice improvement?

Depending upon the diagnosis and condition of your pet, improvements may be seen with one session or it may take 3 or 4 sessions. Dogs with arthritis usually demonstrate small improvements immediately and larger improvements in a few weeks. Younger dogs may also demonstrate immediate improvements.

Can all animals benefit from physical rehabilitation?

Most animals (dogs, cats, horses to name a few) can benefit from physical rehabilitation. Realistically, there are many conditions that physical rehabilitation cannot cure. For example, physical rehabilitation treatments will not cure cancer, arthritis, or progressive neurological diseases. However, it can help improve the quality of life for many animals and it will help them lead longer and more functional lives.

Can physical rehabilitation help my healthy pet to prevent future injuries?

Physical rehabilitation can certainly play a role in the prevention of injuries. It is critical that owners maintain the musculoskeletal health of their pets and recognize any injuries or problems. Early detection may prevent further problems from occurring.

Can healthy pets benefit from rehabilitation?

Absolutely! We offer packages for the healthy pet to come in and get regular exercise. This is especially popular when the weather makes it difficult to exercise regularly — the cold of the winter or the heat of the summer. The underwater treadmill is a wonderful cross training tool and is a benefit to any pet's program. Performance dogs, pets with weight issues, arthritic pets and pets that have recovered from surgeries/traumas are perfect candidates for this program.

How long do the treatments last?

The initial consultation is 60-90 minutes and each subsequent treatment is 30-45 minutes.

How often and how long will my pet need to come to therapy?

This depends upon the condition and individual progress of the animal as well as the diagnosis and prognosis. In general, a typical orthopedic patient will be in therapy 1-2x a week for 4-8 weeks.

Can I watch my pet's rehab?

Yes. We encourage owners to watch and participate in the rehab sessions with their pet. We know that some animals are scared or nervous without their owners with them and we want your pet to be as comfortable as possible for their rehabilitation.

My dog does not like water. Can he still participate in therapy?

Most dogs do not jump into the water right away, but get used to the water after one or two sessions. However, if your pet does not tolerate the water, there are plenty of other forms of exercise and therapeutic modalities that we can use to help your pet.

How can I tell if my pet is in pain?

Unlike people, animals are unable to tell us with words that they are in pain; therefore, you must observe your pet for non-verbal and often subtle signs of pain.

Signs to watch for that indicate mild pain:

  • less activity
  • going up or down stairs less often
  • slightly abnormal gait

Signs to watch for that indicate moderate pain:

  • unwillingness or hesitating to go up or down stairs
  • sleeping more than normal during the day
  • obvious abnormal gait (limping, bunny-hopping, etc)
  • excessive panting
  • irritable disposition
  • specific areas of the body are sensitive to touch

Signs to watch for which indicate severe pain include:

  • severely abnormal gait (little to no weight bearing on a limb, constant weight shifting, head bobs when walking)
  • decreased appetite
  • restless at night
  • sleeping excessively during the day
  • severe sensitivity to touch, sometimes leading to an aggressive response

Do you treat any animals besides dogs?

Yes. Our patients mostly consist of dogs; however we gladly treat cats, primarily with acupuncture and laser, but also with hydrotherapy!

I have a senior dog, can he still benefit from rehab?

There is no age limit for rehabilitation. Sometimes older dogs can benefit the most from rehab. Since the canine rehab therapist individualizes each treatment, the program for your elderly dog will be tailored for his specific condition. For example, if necessary, he can take more breaks or walk slower in the underwater treadmill.

What is an underwater treadmill & how does it work?

An underwater treadmill is a self-contained unit allowing for buoyancy and resistance training while walking on a treadmill submerged in warm water. The unit itself is comprised of a treadmill section, water storage tank and a filtration unit. The underwater treadmill at WAG has variable control over speed, resistance, and depth, which allows for a tailored and progressive therapy plan for patients of all sizes. The tank has jets which can be turned on or off, depending on the amount of resistance desired. Also, the tank converts to a countercurrent swim tank so patients can benefit from both treadmill and swim therapy.

The dog (or cat, if they are comfortable in water) walks into the dry treadmill unit with the therapist, the door is closed behind them and water enters the chamber to the desired depth and buoyancy.  Depending on the size of the patient this can take from thirty seconds to two minutes. The treadmill is then turned on and your dog or permissive cat walks for a prescribed time and speed, both of which are based the patient's rehabilitation needs.

Following the aquatic therapy session, the water is drained, the dog (or cat) and the therapist leave the treadmill and the patient is towel or blow dried.

What are the unique benefits of hydrotherapy?

Exercising in water is effective for improving strength, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, range of motion, agility, and psychological well-being, while minimizing pain. It is also an excellent form of exercise for weight loss.

Many conditions benefit from hydrotherapy, especially those disorders in which an animal is reluctant to use a limb or there is a lack of strength, range of motion, proprioceptive ability (the ability to know where the feet are placed), or weight-bearing status. An animal that will not use a limb on land will frequently use it in the water.

What are cavaletti rails and what do they do for my dog or cat?

Cavaletti rails are a series of obstacles set at certain distances apart and at certain heights, both of which are adjusted to match the patient's capabilities. Cavaletti rails are used to challenge a patient's balance, improve functional range of motion, improve weight shifting and normalize gait.

What does a balance board do for my dog or cat?

A balance board is a flat surface with good traction on which your dog or cat will stand while the board tips. This challenges your pet's balance and activates the muscles of the body to maintain a standing position while the surface they are standing on is moving. To get an understanding of how it works, imagine standing on a moving boat or train without holding on to anything.

How do you use physioballs when working with patients?

Physioballs provide a highly mobile surface upon which to stand as well as a flexible surface requiring balance.

Physioballs allow us to challenge our patients (especially neurological patients) with an unstable surface and a non compliant surface (sand is also a non compliant surface). Depending upon the condition a dog or cat who cannot stand may be placed on its own over a ball which allows the patient to be in his/her normal upright standing position for the first time in days. For these dogs and cats it is an immediate spirit pick up and it allows us to provide the them with some weight bearing and weight shifting.

With other patients we may have them standing on a ball (with a physical therapist or technician protecting them) to challenge their coordination and balance.

What is a therapeutic laser and how does it work?

A therapeutic laser, also known as a Low-level laser, is a newer advance in veterinary rehabilitation. Unlike high-powered surgical lasers that create a thermal destruction of cells and tissues, the lasers used in rehabilitation are low-powered and help to modulate cellular activity in many different types of tissues.  A low level laser projects the light it produces into the cells of the body instead of as heat. The light is absorbed by the skin and underlying tissues. Mitochondria in the cells of the tissue convert this light into Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) (an energy source) which increases enzyme production, increases cell replication, increases growth factor formation and essentially provides the building blocks for the cell to heal damaged tissue. Low-level lasers have the potential to accelerate tissue repair and cell growth of structures such as skin, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. LASER offers therapeutic effects in the management of chronic pain by stimulating release of the body’s own pain killing chemicals such as endorphins and enkephalins.

In terms of your pet's perception, it will appear as though nothing is happening as all activity is taking place at the cellular level. Therapeutic laser is noninvasive, and there are no reported adverse side effects when it is used properly.

Benefits of low level laser therapy Include:

  • Assists in wound healing
  • Decreases pain
  • Decreases inflammation
  • Reduces the formation of scar tissue
  • Improves neural recovery
  • Enhances immune response
  • Antibacterial effects

What conditions can therapeutic laser treat?

Numerous studies show that laser therapy can help treat:

  • Pain
  • Osteoarthritis and Degenerative Joint Disease
  • Ligament Sprains and Muscle Strains
  • Tendonitis
  • Post-Surgical Pain such as associated with Cruciate and Patellar Ligament Repair
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Back Pain
  • Post-Traumatic Injury
  • Skin conditions: Lick Granuloma and Hot Spots
  • Chronic Wounds and Ulcerations
  • Burns
  • Bursitis
  • Edema and Congestion

What is a therapeutic laser treatment experience?

The patient lies quietly and the Laser is applied to treatment areas.  A typical treatment time is 3-8 minutes, depending on the size of the area being addressed.

The therapy involves the introduction of light so there is little or no sensation, your pet will not likely perceive anything happening as all activity is taking place at the cellular level. Occasionally the patient feels mild, soothing warmth, or tingling.

How many therapeutic laser treatments are needed?

The number of sessions varies depending upon the severity and chronicity of the disease process, the nature and characteristics of the specific ailment as well as the age and general health of the patient.  Although improvement is often seen after the first visit, for most conditions, we recommend a multi-visit treatment plan [3 to 8] for greatest benefit.

Periodic follow-up treatments can help pets maintain normal function and comfort, allowing them to live with less pain, fewer drugs or invasive procedures.

What is Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) and what does it do?

It is the administration of an electrical current generated by a stimulator that travels through leads to electrodes placed on the skin to depolarize the motor nerve and produce a skeletal muscle contraction.

For animals experiencing significant muscle mass loss as a result of neurological injuries or due to muscle disuse following an injury, electrical stimulation minimizes muscle atrophy and improves sensory awareness.

What is acupuncture and how can it help my pet?

Acupuncture is the insertion of needles to stimulate specific points on the body that have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiological conditions in order to produce a healing response.

An ancient treatment for humans in China, acupuncture in veterinary medicine began to emerge in the US in the early 1970’s with the creation of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS).  Today, when practiced by certified veterinarians, acupuncture is recognized throughout the world as a safe and effective means of treating or relieving pain associated with joint disease, intervertebral disc disease, inflammatory bowel disease, renal failure, allergies, asthma, chronic pain, respiratory problems, nervous system disorders and other illnesses your pet may be experiencing.

What conditions respond to acupuncture?

  • Musculoskeletal Issues: arthritis, hip/elbow dysplasia, disc/joint disease, chronic pain syndromes and neck or back injuries, muscle spasms
  • Neurological Issues: traumatic nerve injury or paralysis, muscle weakness or paralysis, degenerative nerve conditions, vestibular syndrome, seizures
  • Skin Problems: lick granulomas, allergies
  • Respiratory Problems: asthma, chronic lung disease, respiratory changes associated with heart failure
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: inflammatory bowel disease
  • Urogenital Problems: renal failure, cystitis
  • Endocrine Diseases: Cushing’s, Addison’s, diabetes, thyroid issues
  • Chemotherapy Side Effects: nausea, lethargy, poor appetite
  • Minor sports issues: strains, sprains or for muscle and tendon resistance to injury

How does it work?

Acupuncture uses needles to stimulate a neurovascular bundle (small artery, vein and nerve).  A very small, very fine needle is gently inserted into the skin causing a release of hormones such as endorphins (one of the body’s pain control chemicals) or cortisol (a natural steroid).  By choosing the right points, a veterinary acupuncturist can help improve blood flow to a part of the body or a organ, inhibit the sensation of pain in a pet, stimulate nerves and relieve muscle spasms.

What is a treatment like for my pet?

Veterinary acupuncture is often a relaxing experience for your pet.  Before therapy can begin, a Traditional Chinese Medical diagnosis is made through a systematic process of observing, touching, listening and inquiring. An acupuncture point or group of points is selected to correct the patient’s imbalances. The insertion of acupuncture needles is often undetected and many patients enjoy the treatments. The majority of dogs and cats go through a typical sequence of responses during treatment  At the onset, they may be apprehensive, followed by a deep, almost sedative relaxation with some patients falling asleep.

How long do treatments last and how often are they needed?

The first appointment will last about an hour and follow-ups are 30 minutes. The frequency of sessions depends on the animal. A simple acute problem, such as a sprain, may require only one treatment, whereas more severe or chronic ailments may need several treatments. Patients often start with 1-2 treatments per week for 4-8 weeks. A positive response is usually seen within 4 treatments. Once a maximum positive response is achieved (usually after 4-8 treatments), appointments are tapered off so that the greatest amount of symptom free time elapses between them. Many animals with chronic conditions can be successfully maintained with a treatment every 1-2 months.







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611 S. 2nd Street

Philadelphia, PA 19147


971 Horsham Rd, Suite 200,
Horsham, PA 19044


2010 Cabot Blvd. West, Suite G

Langhorne, PA 19047

(Next to CARES)

Frequently Asked Questions