Holistic and alternative therapies have been growing in popularity over the past decade. We find these modalities to be helpful for ourselves, so why not use them for our furry friends? The newest field in veterinary medicine is canine rehabilitation. This physical therapy for pets integrates alternative therapies that relieve pain and inflammation such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, laser and supplemental therapy.

At Florida Veterinary Rehabilitation in DeLand, rehabilitation veterinarian Dr. Lisa Mason, a veterinarian with extra training in canine rehabilitation and acupuncture, treats dogs and cats with all kinds of mobility problems. “Our facility is the only one of its kind in Volusia County, treating dogs with arthritis, sprains, back pain, sports injuries, and post-operative rehabilitation,” says this practitioner, who also sees the occasional cat with arthritis or neurological problems.

“This visit is not like going to the regular veterinarian. When your furry friend arrives, they are relaxed with lavender diffusers, rubberized non-slip floors, and yummy treats,” assures Dr. Mason, who greets each pet while sitting on the floor, more resembling a friendly cuddle session in the living room over a cup of coffee. The pup falls into her lap with a sense of calm as she examines all of their joints, massaging along the way. There is no sign of distress, but relaxation as aching joints are moved gently through range of motion and muscles are soothed with massage. When it’s time to switch sides, a delightful treat is offered and the pet reluctantly changes positions to be met with the same touch for the other side. Once the exam is over, Dr. Mason discusses the pet’s health condition and comes up with a treatment plan that may entail weekly or monthly visits. “I’ll also share how the parent can participate in the healing of their pet by doing simple exercises at home,” she says.

Each treatment plan is individualized for the patient and their specific problems. “I’ll start by addressing pain and inflammation with laser, shockwave, acupuncture, chiropractic and other modalities,” says Dr. Mason. Laser uses light therapy, while shockwave uses high powered sound waves to increase the blood supply to the areas, which in turn reduces inflammation and pain. Acupuncture helps reduce pain by increasing feel good neurotransmitters while bringing balance back to the body. Chiropractic adjustments add motion to joints which are no longer moving or “stagnant”. Increasing motion to these areas can help to reduce pain and improve function. “All of the modalities provide a reduction in pain to reduce the need for long-term medications.”

Once the pain and inflammation are managed, strength training and retraining begins in the underwater treadmill or by using land exercises. Dr. John Humbert, a chiropractic physician and canine rehabilitation assistant, goes into the treadmill with the pets. Warm water comes up from the bottom and creates buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure to soothe the joints. The pet starts to walk in the water with minimal gravity and increased resistance to help gain strength and improve range of motion faster than walking on the land. “Of course, therapy would not be complete without the copious amounts of peanut butter provided during each session,” says Dr. Mason. “Dr. John also helps the pets by performing specific exercises to improve strength and function of parts. This is not like human physical therapy; cookies are provided, and patients always have fun.”

As the patient improves, Dr. Mason will re-evaluate until they have successfully returned to full activity and graduate from rehabilitation. The end result is a happier and healthier pet with reduced medications and an improvement in quality of life.

Dr. Lisa Mason, DVM, CCRT, CVA, graduated from Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. She went on to attend the Canine Rehabilitation Institute and Chi Institute with certificates as a Canine Rehabilitation Therapist and Veterinary Acupuncturist, respectively. She moved to Florida in 2013 to begin working at FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital as an integrative, rehabilitation and exotics veterinarian. In July 2018, she opened Florida Veterinary Rehabilitation in DeLand where treats a variety of conditions including pain, osteoarthritis, soft tissue sprains and strains, orthopedic and neurologic surgical rehabilitation, conservative management of back injuries, neurological disorders, and sports evaluations. For more information, call 386-337-7106 or visit flvetrehab.com. See ad, page 28.