Saint, a retired Saint Francis service dog, loves baby food, frozen baby food. And the 11-year-old black Labrador retriever gets plenty to encourage him during physical therapy at VA-MD Vet Med.
After developing hind limb weakness from neurologic causes, as well as general soreness and decreased mobility because of arthritis, Saint was referred to the college’s physical rehabilitation service by his veterinarian, Virginia Tech alumnus Thomas Blaszak ’05, D.V.M. ’09.
“Even taking joint supplements and various forms of pain medication and having undergone therapeutic laser treatments, Saint still endured arthritis,” said Blaszak. “Referring Saint for rehab at the veterinary college has helped him regain some muscle and strength in his legs, ultimately improving his mobility and quality of life.”
Saint’s owner, Krista Sinnott, a Realtor who volunteers for Saint Francis Service Dogs of Roanoke, Virginia, adopted the Lab when he needed a new home upon his retirement at age 8. He’s now a member of the family.
“Saint goes to work with me almost every day. He’s in his second career in commercial real estate,” she said. “We want him to be as active as he can be, but he began having trouble on his walks. He would stumble, and there was weakness in his rear end. He had a hard time getting up off the floor.”
Although Sinnott was unfamiliar with physical therapy for dogs, she was entirely receptive when Blaszak recommended it for Saint. “It has made a huge difference,” she said. “He plays a lot now. He’s taking longer walks, and he’s much more stable. We have stairs in our house, and he is much more confident going up and down and has far fewer spills. His quality of life is much better.”
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Otter, a nine-year-old Laborador retriever diagnosed with hip dysplasia in 2018, had begun to develop osteoarthritis in her left hip. As her activity became increasingly limited, Dr. Otto Lanz performed a total hip replacement to improve Otter's quality of life.
Otter's mom, Terry, was anxious about how Otter would recover. Knowing that physical rehabilitation is the norm for human post-surgical patients, she wanted the same standard of care for her dog.
Otter began physical rehabilitation six weeks after surgery. Initially, the main benefit of physical rehabilitation was largely social; Otter was simply thrilled to be enjoying new activities and making new friends.
"I was most surprised and pleased at how caring and genuine the physical rehab professionals are. It wasn't a boot camp or 'hurry up because there is another patient waiting.' It was individualized to meet Otter's needs to achieve her goal," said Terry.
"I trusted each of them to always do what was best for Otter. I obviously made the best choice to take Otter to the physical rehabilitation service at VA-MD Vet Med because, thanks to them, Otter exceeded her goal. She is 100 percent pain free and stronger and happier than ever."
After completing six months of physical rehabilitation, Otter returned to VA-MD Vet Med this spring to help our students learn how to use the underwater treadmill to treat other patients. She continues to work happily for Cheerios and affection, and we continue to be inspired by Otter's enthusiasm and Ut Prosim spirit!
Zoie, an 11-year-old pug, first started physical rehabilitation in June 2018, after undergoing her second back surgery for intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). Compared to her first surgery in 2015, she was experiencing a much slower recovery.
Although she officially “graduated” her post-op physical rehabilitation program after 10 weeks, Zoie's mom, April, noticed that Zoie was still weaker and more lethargic at home. Zoie returned for more physical rehabilitation, bringing her sister, Kiwi, to encourage her while working on an alternating program of underwater treadmill and ground exercises.
April notes that the cavaletti rails are Zoie's favorite form of exercise, and she will do just about anything for her favorite treat of ham baby food–except rocking on the balance board. When asked about their experience with physical rehabilitation, April said, “It’s not something you hear a lot about, so I didn’t know much about it, but I think it’s great now that I’ve seen what’s done. My husband was skeptical at first, but I really think it’s a great thing.”
Physical therapy has been a bolstering experience for not just Zoie, but her sister, too. Zoie benefits both socially and physically from her rehabilitation exercises, and serving as a cheerleader has brought Kiwi out of her shell in the process!