Canine rehabilitation is not one-size-fits-all. Various breeds have singular gait patterns, and that may affect the choice of rehabilitation therapies. Some breeds are prone to specific disorders, and the onset may be delayed or minimized by proactive physiotherapy exercises. Your dog’s veterinarian and physical therapist will design a program based on your dog’s size, breed, and individual characteristics.
Brachycephalic – or short-nosed – canines have stenotic nares, the formal term for small nasal openings. That means they must work much harder than dogs with normal nasal passages to receive enough air during exercise. Many of these dogs – including the English bulldog – can’t swim, and will simply sink if placed in a pool. However, they can walk on the underwater treadmill for exercise and rehabilitation.
Other brachycephalic breeds include:
- Boston terrier
- French bull-dog
- Shih Tzu
German Shepherds and Degenerative Myelopathy
Approximately 17 percent of German shepherds and German shepherd mixes will develop degenerative myelopathy. Other large breeds – including the Bernese mountain dog and Kuvasz – are also susceptible to this devastating spinal cord disease, similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. Although there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy, dogs receiving intensive daily physiotherapy – including a hydrotherapy session each week – survived an average of 8.3 months longer than animals receiving only moderate physiotherapy or no therapy, according to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
The intensive therapy included:
- 5 -10 minutes of active exercise five times daily – primarily low walking
- 3 times daily for 10 minutes each of passive exercise, including joint flexion and extension
- Massage 3 times daily
- Hydrotherapy at least once a week, for 5 to 20 minutes.
Dachshunds and Intervertebral Disc Disease
Intervertebral disc disease is common in dachshunds and other long-backed breeds with short legs. Roughly 18 percent of “wiener dogs” will eventually suffer from IVDD, which occurs when a disc ruptures or herniation occurs, often resulting in hind end paralysis. Affected dogs require surgery to relieve spinal cord pressure. After recuperation from surgery, hydrotherapy is recommended to help the dog increase strength. Other rehabilitation methods used for dogs with IVDD include acupuncture, massage and laser therapy. Some dogs will regain the ability to walk, while others regain mobility via the use of a wheelchair.
Golden and Labrador Retrievers and Hip Dysplasia
While hip dysplasia can occur in any dog, it’s particularly common in golden and Labrador retrievers and other large breeds. It appears to have a genetic basis. The hip joint doesn’t develop normally, and the initial signs might show up in puppyhood. However, it’s more common for symptoms to become obvious in middle-aged dogs. Hip dysplasia also affects:
- German shepherds
- Great Danes
- Saint Bernards.
The malformed hip leads to early osteoarthritis, which can completely cripple a dog. Signs of hip dysplasia include:
- gait changes
- trouble rising from a prone position
- exercise intolerance.
When caught early, your vet can surgically correct the malformation. When diagnosed in later years, a total hip replacement is an option. However, many dog owners prefer less invasive alternatives. Weight management is crucial, as extra weight stresses the hip. Your vet will tailor an exercise program for your dog, and that will likely include hydrotherapy. This therapeutic mode allows the dog to build muscle while walking on the treadmill, while the warmth of the water soothes the joint.