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A case study...

Veterinary physiotherapy aims to maximize your dogís movement potential, function and performance. It is concerned with promoting good health, preventing injuries and improving performance. Vet physio is key in effectively assessing and treating problems with the musculo-skeletal system, orthopaedic post op and neurological rehab. As in human training and rehab, vet physio uses proprioceptive enriched activities and sequencing to enhance your dogís performance and minimize injuries, dovetailing with your dogís training programme. Barbara Houlding sent us this case study of Nicola Vince's first agility dog, Jess.

Nicola: I caught the agility bug at my first show! Then I noticed that Jess had developed a twitch on her back leg. She had also started knocking the occasional pole. I mentioned this to my vet and he could find nothing obviously wrong but was happy to refer me to Veterinary Physiotherapist, Barbara Houlding.

VP: Following the Veterinary Surgeon's referral, the vet physio assessment identified Jess had a low grade chronic problem of the left hind limb, with muscle atrophy of the Gluteal muscle mass and Biceps Femoris and reduced proprioceptive integrity compared to her right hind limb. Jess had put in place a series of compensatory patterns to allow for the lack of power in her 'rear engine,' with marked tenderness along the thoracic epaxial muscles.

Nicola: I was devastated to learn that I had been sending out my best friend to compete when she was only running on three cylinders, and she had given me her heart and soul in return.  She had masked her injury so well that no-one who watched her had any idea that anything was wrong.

VP The treatment plan specifically met Jessís needs evaluated from the assessment and included a home programme of proprioceptive enriched exercises and some suggested alterations in her training routine. The treatment included land based physio techniques including manual therapies, pulsed electro magnetic therapy (Biomag), movement therapies and water based therapies (canine aqua and hydrotherapy).

Nicola: The home programme of proprioceptive  exercises combined with the hydrotherapy and land based physio treatments resulted in Jess making a full recovery.  I was nervous before the first hydro session as Jess has always hated water, but Barbara was very patient with her and made her look at it as play with her ball, while doing a range of different techniques in water. 

Jess now loves the water and starts howling with excitement as soon as we drive up to the Centre, just the same as she does at shows.  Jess has stopped knocking poles and any dropped ones now are down to my handling! She has also extended her stride length and really opens up between jumps.

VP Using outcome measures, the treatment achieved the assessment goals and Jess was discharged. Jess's owner wished to introduce a maintenance programme attending once every several weeks to keep her in top condition and fitness, so and a new Vet Referral was received to cover this.

Nicola: The main reason I continue to visit Barbara on a regular basis is that I now realise that Jess is extremely clever at masking any injury or problem. She runs as a pack of three, which means that she can pick up the odd knock at home as well as those picked up in agility.  Even when I miss any slight injuries, Barbara identifies them and notices any change in her muscle tone and balance. By treating injuries early, maintaining her fitness and discussing and adjusting her training routines, Jess is able to perform at her best.

I now have a young dog and I made sure he was given the once over by K9 Hydro Services before I started his full agility training.  He will also have regular checks throughout his competitive life to ensure that there are no underlying injuries that could shorten his career or cause pain.

My dogs give me their heart and soul in an agility ring, I therefore feel it is only fair in return that I ensure that they are not in pain or damaging themselves, especially as I now know that border collies are experts at masking injuries. So I have the reassurance that vet physio helps ensure that there are no underlying problems plus the added benefit that it prevents injuries and helps build up endurance, coordination, balance and strength.

Author credit...
Barbara Houlding MScVetPhys, GradDipPhys, MCSP
is a Chartered Physiotherapist with 28 years experience and a specialist small animal Veterinary Physiotherapist, awarded a Master of Science in Veterinary Physiotherapy at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in 2002. She is a Lecturer, Accredited Clinical Educator and Assistant Examiner at the RVC on their Masters Programme and manages K9 Hydro Services in Suffolk, which offers a range of courses open to all, as well as a comprehensive clinical service

First published 30 March 2010


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