CVC highlight: DIY veterinary rehabilitation for patients with patella and cruciate injuries - Veterinary Medicine
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CVC highlight: DIY veterinary rehabilitation for patients with patella and cruciate injuries
If your clinic is short on funds but wants to get orthopedic patients comfortably back on their feet, try these tips to use materials you likely already have around the clinic.



Goals: Treadmill walking can reduce pain, make the patient bear weight on the affected limb to strengthen its muscles, and enhance cardiovascular health. Treadmills achieve a greater range of motion for flexion and extension when compared with walking on the ground. This is particularly helpful for dogs with cruciate injuries since the lameness is associated with not only a loss of muscle mass but also a loss in extension.

How to do it: Sessions can range from a few minutes to more than 30 minutes if you are building endurance. Two people should always be present when therapy is being performed, and the patient should be on a leash. You can stand in front of the patient to encourage it to keep walking, behind or above the patient to support it and keep it from falling, or beside the patient to support the patient and possibly help with gait and range of motion. Never have a treadmill facing a wall because the dog will not walk forward. Start with the speed slow (< 1 mph) until the animal is used to walking on the treadmill.

DIY tip: Purchase a human treadmill, which is usually less expensive, and modify it for use for pets by adding side walls. If you purchase one that doesn't allow you to change the incline, you can easily accomplish this yourself as well by placing two-by-fours under the front of the machine.


Goals: Hydrotherapy can reduce edema and fluid pooling due to hydrostatic forces (the pressure of water exerted equally on all surfaces of the body in water), improve muscle mass and strength because of resistance to water, improve range of motion, increase endurance and weight loss, and decrease pain.

How to do it: Entice the patient to move in the water (find what motivates the dog, like food, a ball, a rubber duck—but don't force it). Never leave the dog unattended, and make sure the patient doesn't become fully submerged. For patients with patellar injuries, fill the tub with water to the level of the greater trochanter at first to create buoyancy. Gradually lower the water level for increased resistance as recovery progresses.

DIY tip: Use your large practice bathtub as an underwater treadmill. Just fill the tub to the appropriate water level, and encourage the patient to walk back and forth in the tub.

Jennifer L. Wardlaw, DVM, MS, DACVS, Gateway Veterinary Surgery, St. Louis, Missouri

Listen in

To hear Dr. Wardlaw discuss the first and foremost factor in rehab, why "no pain, no gain" doesn't apply, and how to set up a rehab protocol, scan the QR code above, or go to


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