One of the things we want is to have functional activities, and with the dog that means walking, trotting and running. Underwater
treadmills take advantage of the dog's natural gait patterns and help strengthen the patient because of the resistance that
comes from moving through water. And dogs walking in water have a very exaggerated joint motion. So we're getting muscle strengthening,
gait patterning and a greater range of motion than we could achieve with normal dry-ground activity.
DVM: Are canine rehabilitation procedures merely adaptations of those used on humans, or are some techniques specific to animals?
What kind of sharing goes on between the two disciplines?
Dr. Millis: I do think that's the way the field should go, with collaborative efforts, because physical-therapy techniques are not taught
to a great extent in veterinary colleges, and veterinary applications are not taught in human physical-therapy colleges. It
could be dangerous to apply certain types of treatments to animal conditions if you don't know the basic physiology, anatomy
and disease conditions that animals have, as well as appropriate rehabilitation techniques.
I think there should be a certain knowledge base, skills and training with animals before being able to treat them. This is
a potential issue that will have to be addressed by state practice acts. In almost all states physical therapy/rehabilitation
must be performed under the direct supervision and referral of the veterinarian, regardless of who is performing it. But state
practice acts are so varied; some of them are very clear and some are not as clear.
If we want this discipline to move in a credible, scientifically sound fashion, then we have to provide basic entry-level
training to people who want to see this area grow and learn how to do it correctly. That was part of the reason we started
our certificate program — to protect the public and make sure animals weren't harmed. We're the only university-based course
in the United States that offers rehab training. We also offer the course in Europe. Close to 400 people have passed the examination
and have their CCRP. In terms of total numbers of people who have taken the courses, it is approaching 2,000.
DVM: What advice would you give veterinarians and owners who have animals in need of rehabilitation but who are not near a dedicated
Dr. Millis: It's nice to have all the extra tools such as aquatic therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation and ultrasound, but you
can do a lot with just your hands and basic exercises.
Something as simple as a passive range of motion, stretching, cryotherapy and low-level activities right after surgery are
very important. And many are already doing basic rehab such as changing an animal's activity level, maybe promoting some additional
work like stepping over cavaletti rails or going up and down stairs or ramps — basic exercises for strengthening and overall
The best way to find a certified practitioner is to go to the Web site
DVM: Where is the field of animal rehabilitation going?
Dr. Millis: The next 10 to 15 years are going to be really exciting. Right now before the AVMA there is a proposal to form an American
College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. It's in the one-year, public-comment period, and if all goes well
there will be a specialty college similar to internal medicine or surgery.
Outcome assessment is a big area that we've been actively researching and trying to compare different types of protocols to
see what makes the biggest difference. We have a study going on with the Morris Animal Foundation to look at the efficacy
of low-level lasers, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and acupuncture for hip and stifle arthritis.
More and more people are incorporating rehabilitation as part of an overall treatment program but there is still much room
for improvement. My goal is for every postoperative patient to have some rehab, whether it's a home-care program or a professionally
Wetzel is a free-lance writer in Cleveland, Ohio.