AKC Gazette
AKC Gazette

Canine Rehabilitation Medicine
by Kathy Cipriani

Guest columnist Kathy Cipriani is a member of the Labrador Retriever Club and the Pawcatuck River LRC. She has three Labradors, competes in obedience and conformation, and has a certified Delta Society therapy dog.

Reilly, the big black Lab, stepped confidently into the plexiglass chamber, tail wagging. His owner stood on a small stool at his head, her arms reaching over the wall to scratch his ear and offer him a cookie. The machine buzzed on, and warm water slowly seeped around the dog's feet. When it reached his abdomen, a switch started the treadmill he stood on and Reilly began to walk. Outside the chamber, Suzanne Starr, DVM, CCRP, watched his stride, paying particular attention to Reilly's surgically repaired left knee. Welcome to the world of veterinary rehabilitation medicine, a growing veterinary specialty where the goal is to relieve chronic pain and restore normal function.

Dr. Starr is a graduate of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and has completed an internship in small-animal medicine and surgery at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston. She has practiced general veterinary medicine for eight years. It was during this time that she recognized the need for more options for animals with chronic pain. Her own dog developed multiple medical and orthopedic problems at an early age, and she knew that traditional veterinary medicine could offer only limited help. So she began a search for safe, noninvasive alternative treatments that led her to acupuncture and canine rehabilitation medicine. Dr. Starr is certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and has trained in canine rehabilitation at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

A visit to her office is an introduction to a different world. No cold, stainless steel examination tables and tile floors here. Rather, her exam room is carpeted. Soft music plays, and in the center of the room is a large, fleece-covered, soft mattress. Patients are encouraged to explore their surroundings, while Dr. Starr observes them. This is followed by a gentle examination. Dr. Starr sits on the floor with her patient, moving limbs and kneading muscles, measuring range of motion.

Many of Dr. Starr's physical therapy patients are postcranial cruciate ligament surgery cases referred to her by veterinary surgeons. A typical course of treatment consists of visits two to three times a week. Dr. Starr begins with massage and stretching exercises. Owners are shown range-of-motion exercises to be done at home. After a few sessions, patients graduate to walking in the underwater treadmill. According to Dr. Starr, the most successful patients are those whose owners don.t delay needed surgery and who faithfully do the prescribed at-home exercises between visits.

The most common condition presented for acupuncture is arthritis. Dr. Starr also sees many patients with hip dysplasia and treats them either as an alternative to surgery or in their post-surgery recovery. In addition, she offers cryo and heat therapies, therapeutic exercises, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, and low-level laser treatment. Dr. Starr firmly believes that the majority of her patients experience some relief from pain and show a significant improvement in function. Judging by Reilly, she must be right.

Dr. Starr's web site is www.pawsinmotionvet.com. For a listing of certified canine rehabilitation practitioners, visit www.neseminars.com. You can find a veterinary acupuncturist at www.ivas.org.

The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., is the single organization officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as the national parent club of the Labrador Retriever. The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., was incorporated in October 1931, in the state of New York, and is not affiliated with any other association titled or claiming to be the National Labrador Retriever Club.