Should you take your dog to rehab?

What is canine rehab and how would you know if your dog needs it?  We recently spent some time at Northboro Canine Rehabilitation and Fitness Center in Northboro, MA.  Owner, Susanne Russell, gave us a tour of the facility and put our star “disc dog”, Tucker, through the paces.  Susanne and her staff work with canines exclusively, and they focus on orthopedic and neurological rehab, massage, and fitness. 

The key here is that just like humans, dogs need physical therapy after surgeries.  ACL and hip injuries are common among active and/or older dogs and recovery can be difficult.  NCRFC has an indoor pool and underwater treadmill to assist with rebuilding the strength lost after common traumatic events, including the aforementioned surgeries and any other soft tissue or degenerative diseases.

Sometimes animals aren’t healthy enough for surgery.  One 9-year-old Springer Spaniel friend of ours was not eligible to be put under sedation due to a heart murmur.  Since surgery was not an option, physical therapy was his only way to get better.  Susanne and her team can put dogs like him through a series of exercises to strengthen the muscles in the legs to compensate for the weakness in his ligament(s).  These patients can do very well with therapy alone.

On to Tucker, the high-energy little pup who is prone to injury by virtue of his fervor.  He’s so determined to be the first to the Frisbee that he throws caution to the wind.  As fun as he is to watch leaping around the field, the repeated impact poses a concern as he gets older.  At NCRFC, they help assess his natural weaknesses and develop an exercise plan to increase the strength of his weakest areas.  Susanne noticed that 2 of the joints in his rear legs (the hock and the stifle) tend to be straight at rest.  This causes particular weakness in his adductor muscles.  (If you listen to Susanne long enough, you’ll learn A LOT about the anatomy of your pooch!).  She showed us some exercises that we can do at home to compliment what she does with him at the rehab center.

The entire process takes lots of patience, as the equipment used (wobble boards, exercise balls, treadmills, etc) is unfamiliar to most animals.  Thankfully, Susanne put on her trainer’s hat and fed our boy, Tucker, a few treats to get him comfortable with each apparatus. 

While you, the reader, may not live close enough to use Northboro Canine Rehab, it’s great to know that these facilities exist.  There are often integrative treatments available to your pets, but you need to dig a little bit to find them.  Next time you’re at the vet and you have a question about the treatment plan, ask about alternative options.  Many vets will recommend physical therapy instead of medication or surgery if you show interest in pursuing that option. 

Our animals deserve the best.  Take as much time as you can to find the best option for them and educate yourself about what’s available.  For education on pet health, first aid, and cpr, visit our site at