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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Bringing the Bounce Back: Integrative Treatments for Pets With Mobility Issues

Apr 28, 2023 09:30AM ● By Ruth Roberts, DVM


All pet owners want to see their animals live long, healthy lives filled with activity, but sometimes our furry friends find it difficult to move comfortably due to aging, injuries and other ailments. While vets often suggest surgery for certain debilitating conditions, less invasive treatments might be just as effective with considerably less risk, particularly for animals that cannot tolerate anesthesia. 

For example, a 2013 University of Minnesota study focused on large-breed, overweight dogs with torn knee ligaments. Half of the dogs were treated with medical management consisting of weight loss, pain medication and physical therapy, and the other half received surgery to repair the torn ligament, followed by the same medical management. After a year, 75 percent of the dogs treated with surgery and medical management were considered treatment successes, based on leg function, quality of life and gait analysis. Surprisingly, 63.6 percent of the dogs that did not have surgery and received only medical management were also deemed successful cases. 

Before considering surgery or other invasive treatments, integrative pet mobility and rehabilitation (IPMR) might be a good way to help a pet regain its vitality without going under the knife. It is a holistic approach to helping pets recover from injuries, manage pain and improve mobility that combines various techniques to provide a comprehensive and personalized plan for each pet. 

“It is all about educating pet parents and preserving the best quality of life for my patients,” says Dr. Joyce Gerardi, of Synergy Integrative Veterinary Clinic. “Over time, my special interests have grown to include platelet-rich plasma, bone marrow aspirate, adipose-derived and allogeneic amniotic stem cell therapies, acupuncture, food therapy, cold laser, herbal medicine, tuina massage, ozone and physical rehabilitation services.”

Here is a look at a few such modalities.

Laser therapy uses light energy to stimulate tissue repair and reduce pain. The procedure involves the application of laser light to the damaged area using a handheld device. The severity of the ailment and the location being treated determines the length and frequency of treatments. The patient will feel a gentle, warm sensation as the laser technician or veterinarian moves the device over the affected area. Pets usually relax and take pleasure in the calming warmth of laser therapy, which is painless.

Physical therapy is an essential component of IPMR. It involves exercises and stretches that help pets regain strength and flexibility in their muscles and joints. A trained physical therapist can customize a plan that targets specific areas of concern such as the hips, knees or spine. This can help reduce pain and improve mobility, allowing pets to move around more easily and enjoy their favorite activities.

Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into specific points on the body to stimulate the nervous system and promote healing. Acupuncture can help relieve pain, reduce inflammation and improve circulation, all contributing to improved pet mobility.

Chiropractic care involves manipulating the spine to correct misalignments and improve overall function. This can help pets with hip dysplasia, arthritis or spinal injuries.

Massage involves gentle pressure and strokes to relax muscles, reduce pain and improve circulation. Massage can also help pets with anxiety or stress, which can contribute to muscle tension and pain.

Nutrition: A well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet can help with healing, inflammation reduction and overall health. A qualified veterinarian can recommend a diet plan tailored to each pet's needs.

Easing a Pet’s Pain While in Treatment

Reducing a pet’s discomfort with full-spectrum cannabinoids or, if needed, prescription pain medications offers better comfort and recovery time. Another option is to reduce a pet's stress by balancing its adrenal stress hormones. 

Ruth Roberts is a holistic veterinarian and certified pet health coach with more than 30 years’ experience.