Program helps patients get back on their paws

Yelena Kibasova

Mist O’Blue looked serene during her run Thursday on the treadmill and while balancing on an exercise ball. Her appointment ended with a 2 mph run in a pool of warm water.

The champion performance sheltie was brought into the University’s Veterinary Medical Center in May because her owner, Kay McMahen, noticed her walk had changed. Staff members determined Mist O’Blue had a tarsal ligament sprain to her hind leg, but wasn’t in need of urgent surgery, so she was admitted to the rehabilitation program.

The program helps animals recover from injury by following a physical therapy routine.

The department is headed by Liz LaFond, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine. She works alongside Lin Gelbmann, a veterinary technician and equine sports therapist.

Barb Guse recently joined the team, specializing in physical therapy and canine rehabilitation.

The research on canine rehab has been going on for about 14 years, Guse said. “But as far as people doing and having any formal training, that’s brand new Ö that just started within the last five years,” she said.

The services are provided for both large and small animals.

Typical patients include dogs, cats and horses, but the program occasionally works with cattle and llamas, Gelbmann said. “The way we manage the injuries is a lot different because of the size.”

Besides manual movement and exercise of the joints, the use of different types of equipment contributes to the healing process.

“The equipment, it’s pretty much based on the injury. Every dog is different, the size is different, the problem is different,” Guse said.

The program uses treadmills, exercise balls and balancing discs, to name a few pieces of rehabilitation equipment, LaFond said. They provide services such as shock wave therapy, therapeutic laser and ultrasound, and message therapy.

The rehabilitation service works with different departments to provide the best treatment, Gelbmann said.

Along with her physical therapy, Gelbmann said, Mist O’Blue regularly receives acupuncture.

A rehab regimen is developed for each animal, LaFond said. “It’s a combination of what we do in house here and teaching the owners to do some treatments at home.”

They may use hot packs, cold packs or different range-of-motion techniques to train the muscles, Gelbmann said.

“You can’t just tell a dog, I want you to lift your leg like this 10 times twice a day, so you have to figure out activities that are fun for the dog and that will use the body in the way that you want it to be used Ö you have to be very creative,” Guse said.

Mist O’Blue’s injury might keep her from performing at the top level in obedience, agility and performance competitions. With the help of the specialists, Gelbmann said, the sheltie has been patient and steady in strengthening her injured limb.

“These guys, they are the best patients in the whole world,” Guse said. “They’re just so much different than human patients, their expectations are so much lower and their rewards are so much greater.”