Interview with Dr. Caroline Goulard on Keeping a Recovering Pet Active
Pet owners with injured pets are often presented with a bit of a conundrum.
Rest and restricted activity are prescribed as a part of most healing regimens. But what is one to do about very active or young pets just itching for a run or a romp?
While it depends on the injury and your vet’s recommendations, Dr. Caroline Goulard—veterinarian certified in canine rehabilitation therapy, veterinary acupuncture and a veterinary pain practitioner—has some suggestions. Goulard owns Paws on the Go in Laguna Woods, California, an animal physical rehabilitation center.
The Honest Kitchen: What animals and conditions do you work with?
Caroline Goulard: The majority of cases we see are dogs ranging up to 200 pounds—we do see the occasional cat too. The types of cases we see vary and include post-op orthopedic surgeries like cruciate tears; tendon/ligament and muscle injuries; arthritis from varying reasons in young, middle age and senior dogs; neurological issues like slipped discs treated conservatively or post-op back surgeries; spinal stroke; degenerative myelopathy; sport injuries and back pain.
THK: What are the most common injuries experienced by dogs and cats?
CG: Cranial cruciate ligament tear, aka CCL, tear or insufficiency in dogs. A CCL tear is a disruption of that ligament in the stifle (knee) joint. There are two cruciate ligaments in the stifle joint, the cranial and caudal, and their names tell it all as they cross each other. The cranial one is the usual culprit in a CCL tear. Dogs can stretch this ligament or tear it to variable degrees.
THK: How do you treat them?
CG: The standard of care for a complete CCL tear is surgery, and we see a lot of dogs afterwards for physical rehabilitation. However we do see some dogs that are not good surgical candidates, or the owners are looking for non-surgical options. After careful assessment, we discuss if physical rehabilitation and possibly a stifle device could be helpful. A stifle orthosis is a custom hinged hard shell device to help stabilize the instability created by the loss of function of the CCL. In any case, joint health management is important throughout the life of the pet.
THK: While pets are recovering from injuries, do you recommend low levels of activity?
CG: Yes! The level of activity restriction will depend on the type of surgery or injury sustained. This can range from total immobilization to short walks on leash. There has to be enough time for the surgery site to be well healed. In the case of a muscle/tendon or ligament, we need to leave enough time for the structure to be healed. Tendons and ligaments, they have longer healing time than a muscle, for example.
THK: What is the incidence of re-injury you see from too much activity?
CG: I don’t have any concrete numbers, however, not following exercise restriction or lifestyle modifications has put more than one pet backward in their recovery or their pain level.
THK: Since pets, especially dogs, often get antsy with low-activity, are there some gentle exercises you can recommend for keeping them engaged and to assist in their recovery?
CG: Recovery exercises will depend on the type of injury and/or surgery. Pet owners should always follow their veterinarians’s recommendation for exercise restriction/lifestyle modifications. At the beginning, total rest is usually indicated for the tissue to heal. If allowed, slow leash walking to encourage weight bearing on the affected limb is recommended. Stretches and range-of-motion exercises to keep joints in good shape may be prescribed. When appropriate, your veterinarian may prescribe some weight-shifting and weight-bearing exercises. Neurological patients may get different types of exercises prescribed to improve body awareness and balance. Strengthening comes later with different types of exercises targeting key muscles for the specific injury/surgery. It can be a great time to practice tricks like holding treats on the nose and waiting for a cue to take them—training that does not engage the injured portion could be done.
THK: Anything else you recommend to encourage recovery and physical/mental stimulation?
CG: A positive attitude from the owner will help the dog realize that the situation isn’t catastrophic. Maintaining routine for elimination and feeding, anything that keeps a sense of normalcy will help. Use toys and comfort items that do not engage the injured/surgery area. Try food placed in a Kong to occupy the pet. If allowed, a small—to medium-size dog can be taken in a stroller to go outside for mental stimulation.
THK: What are some other tips to keep in mind?
CG: Be careful about weight gain. Exercise restriction means less calories are needed. Talk to your primary care vet about how much you should decrease food intake. Don’t compensate for your pet’s situation by giving too many treats that are not well-balanced. And once healed up, if you have no activity restriction, get back into activity slowly.