A Look into Physical Therapy and Rehab for Dogs

Recently, a lot of my doggy daycare friends (including me!) at The Hipster Hound have been getting help with their hip dysplasia, obesity, and other ailments from my friend Georgia Bottoms, owner and practitioner of Fetch Canine Rehab here in Savannah. The physical therapy and rehab they’ve been doing has improved the quality of our lives a BUNCH, and I am so impressed especially because we are all so much happier! But as THE Original Hipster Hound, Rex, I needed to sniff around Fetch Canine Rehab a bit more.

At Fetch, Georgia believes that every dog deserves the opportunity to reach his or her full potential through skilled physical therapy. Fetch is the only owned and operated rehab facility in the Savannah/Coastal Empire region by a licensed physical therapist. Georgia has worked as a physical therapist for 19 years, 12 of those being with dogs. It sounds to me like Georgia knows her stuff, so I wanted to sit, stay, and woof with her first paw to learn more about physical therapy and rehab for dogs by asking her a few questions...

What are the benefits of physical therapy for dogs with hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia in dogs is the incongruence of the hip joint. Normally, the ball (femur) and socket (acetabulum) of the pelvis grow at an equal rate, so the femur has good coverage in the socket. However, with hip dysplasia, this does not occur, and the joint has laxity. This laxity can lead to pain, inflammation, and lameness of the joint. Signs of hip dysplasia can include bunny hopping, lameness, difficulty getting up, trouble standing, and abnormal sitting positions.

Physical therapy is then initiated to lessen the pain and inflammation and improve the dog’s overall functional mobility. Physical therapy can include light to moderate activities to strengthen the hip joint and decrease the dog’s overall pain. These activities include the Class IV laser, underwater treadmill, or various therapeutic exercises with hands on treatment to improve the dog’s overall quality of life.

What are the benefits of physical therapy for dogs with obesity?

Obesity in dogs can lead to multiple medical issues including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and a faster rate of degeneration of affected joints from carrying the excess weight. Treatment options include educating the owner about excess food and treats, initiating a rehab weight loss program, and maintaining lifestyle changes. Just like in humans, being overweight can lead to an array of health issues - emotional and physical.

Physical therapy can initiate a weight loss program (Fetch Fat Camp, as we call it!) to lose the excess weight and gain a whole new perspective on life. Dogs can walk further, get up easier, lessen the load on their heart, increase their activity level, and improve their quality of life.

What are the benefits of physical therapy for dogs with various orthopedic or neurological injuries?

As a physical therapist, my job is to provide skilled intervention to maximize the dog’s functional mobility, just as in the human realm. Dogs suffer the same injuries as their hoomans: broken bones, strokes, back herniations, strains and sprains, dislocations, and ligament or tendon tearing.

Physical therapy is a vital part of the post-surgical recovery. It can mobilize the patient quicker to heal faster, improve flexibility and range of motion, improve weight bearing, minimize scar tissue formation, and lessen the pain.

Are there any surprising benefits for dogs that the average human wouldn’t think physical therapy or rehab could help?

The misconception about physical therapy for dogs is the skepticism that it actually works. I compare it to my mom having a total knee replacement surgery. When she had her surgery, physical therapy mobilized her the same day as her surgery to improve her overall mobility, lessen the pain, and improve her range of motion. We didn’t stick her in a crate and limit her mobility.

After surgery, dogs need and deserve the same care and the same protocols to maximize their functional mobility that humans do. Once owners see the difference, they are hooked, but it’s the initial doubt that physical therapy puts to rest once they see their dog improving.

What’s it like inside Fetch Canine Rehab?

Fetch is laid out with a waiting room, office area, treatment room, rehab room, and kennel space. The kennels are different sizes depending on the size of the dogs. We see dogs as small as five pounds and as big as 160 pounds. We have two underwater treadmills - one big and one small one depending on the size of the dog. We see outpatients, inpatients, and provide 24/7 supervision.

Can you describe a common treatment plan for a dog in physical therapy?

Every dog is evaluated and assessed for the proper treatment plan. Every dog is different and every injury can present itself in different forms. We develop treatment plans for each dog.

For post-surgical dogs, we have devised protocols to follow and they include modalities to decrease pain and inflammation and improve weight bearing, underwater treadmill, therapeutic exercises, and proprioception retraining. The time and repetitions are increased depending on the progression of the dog.

What makes Fetch Canine Rehab different from other rehab facilities?

Fetch is the only rehab facility owned and operated by a licensed physical therapist - me! Fetch also offers post-surgical inpatient care for various surgeries to include TPLO, TPO, FCP, MPL, and FHO.

Fetch even has a veterinary technician (Emily is awesome!) and PTA, both Certified Canine Rehab Practitioner (CCRP). This certification gives them a thorough understanding of the dog’s underlying disease and condition, specialized knowledge in the field, set up treatment plans, and successfully treat the dog.

Why do you love working with dogs at Fetch Canine Rehab?

That’s an easy one. Dogs love on me all day! Dogs know I am helping them get better. Dogs are so smart. A lick on the face, wanting belly rubs, or the owner saying my dog loves coming to Fetch is instant gratification. I have the best job because of sweet and loving dogs like you, Rex!

How do you know my mom, Tonya?

I met Tonya at various fundraisers and through the Savannah Kennel Club. She has been a huge asset to Fetch with assisting us in marketing ideas and advertising. Tonya has an eye for marketing, especially in the canine world, and we appreciate all of her help and promotion of Fetch.

Have you worked with many dogs from Hipster Hound?

Tonya sends dogs from The Hipster Hound to Fetch who she thinks could use some physical therapy. The Hipster Hound is a wonderful establishment for our furry friends, and we are so proud to see it grow.

Rex, you killed it at Fetch Fat Camp and brought sexy back! You are still looking fit, healthy, and happy!

Aw, thanks, Georgia. You’re making me blush! At Fetch Fat Camp, I walked on the treadmill, lost a few pounds, and honestly loved spending time with you and your staff! It all really helped relieve my joint pain from the weight I put on stealing food off the counter at home...Whoops!

Do you have anything else you want to tell The Hipster Hound family?

Fetch Canine Rehab was my dream, and I am blessed it became a reality because I believe our furry friends (both dogs and cats) deserve the same care as their hoomans.

Fetch Canine Rehab is located at 335 Stephenson Avenue in Savannah. To learn more about Georgia Bottoms or Fetch Canine Rehab’s services, visit fetchcaninerehab.com or call (912) 662-7616.


Rex, The Original Hipster Hound

Leave a comment