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Veterinary Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine


This past Friday, my staff and I had a little office happy hour after work. We were all still in our scrubs hanging out at a popular local Irish pub, when suddenly we hear, “Hey, that guy saved my dog’s life.” The man was pointing at me as I instantly recognized as the owner of a Shih Tzu who brought his dog to me in desperation to help his dog.

The little dog had suffered from severe spinal disk disease, to the point that all of his lower back muscles, gluteal muscles and quads were severely atrophied (shrunken), he could barely take two steps without both of his rear legs falling underneath him, and he was in severe pain. The owner’s previous veterinarian had exhausted all medical options, with the dog having come to me already on a steroid and muscle relaxer for months with the dog only getting worse each week. His veterinarian recommended referral to a specialist for spinal disk surgery, but with the MRI and surgery combined, this father of three children simply could not justify spending $7000 to fix his dog.

He found my clinic because of research he had done on veterinary therapy laser and how it may benefit his dog’s condition. I was one of the only veterinarians at the time that had such a laser. The three week course of treatment I recommended consisted of six, eighteen minute laser sessions with each treatment accompanied by an injection of glycosaminoglycan, a molecule that is integral in the repair of connective tissues (for more on glycosaminoglycan, see my previous post on joint chews). For the entire three week course of treatment, the gentleman’s investment was a mere fraction of what the cost of surgery would have been.

By treatment three, the dog had shown remarkable improvement, using his legs almost normally and having regained his old peppy spirit. By the final treatment, he had restored nearly all of his muscle mass, was showing no clinical signs of spinal disk disease, and was enjoying a normal quality of life. And this was before I became qualified in veterinary acupuncture, an additional rehabilitation treatment modality I have added to cases like these to maximize success (more on acupuncture to come in my next post).

After seeing this man who proceeded to tell me that his dog as had no problems since last year after he finished his rehabilitation, it occurred to me that I need to spread awareness about this cutting edge field of veterinary rehabilitation that I have to come rely on as an integral component of the medicine I practice in my hospital.

Veterinary rehabilitation refers to the use of physical rehabilitation techniques to improve the physical condition of an animal patient. These techniques encompass a variety of modalities that include nutrition, low level therapy laser, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, hydrotherapy, sound, active/passive resistance, and weight management. Many veterinary rehabilitation techniques are alternative modalities that carry little to no side effects, unlike more traditional western treatment modalities that may offer more rapid results, but carry higher incidence of side effects.

The most effective approach to veterinary rehabilitation is to use integrative medicine, where western modalities are implored when necessary to rapidly reduce severe pain through pain medication and/or surgically stabilize fractures or tears of major stabilizing tendons and ligaments; while using alternative techniques to minimize dependence on pain medication, speed recovery rates, and in some cases help the patient to avoid surgery.

In the end, veterinary health practitioners fail to work in the best interests of the patient when they draw lines in the sand by refusing to adopt Eastern versus Western techniques, or traditional versus alternative techniques, because of misguided convictions that their paradigm of medicine is the only method to benefit the patient.

Integrative medicine that combines all available proven treatment modalities is what is best for the patient and is the wave of the future for veterinary medicine. In coming weeks, I will be highlight several rehabilitation techniques that my clinic utilizes in every day practice for the benefit of our canine and feline patients.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.

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