Get Up and Move

Cage rest is for the birds – rehab is for dogs.

By: Kim A. Novak

Have you ever driven by the Laguna Madre and lost your breath because of the stench? The water is calm; the air is pungent. Why does it stink so badly? We could get scientific, but we won’t. It is simply because the water is not circulating. No fresh water is rushing in. The old water is not flowing out.

The body is the same way. Our vessels are the pathways of circulation. The heart is a pump that pushes the blood and lymph around the body through the vessels. Muscles help by squeezing and milking the fluid along. If we get stagnant, we start “stinking.” We are less likely to carry the good stuff in and the bad stuff out to encourage healing. Dogs need to circulate, too. For many, many years we have all heard or been told to “cage rest” our dogs. Why, though? The best answer I can come up with would be protection from injury/re-injury.

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Have you been in the hospital for a stay or known someone who has? If so, you know the physical therapist is knocking on the door shortly after surgery to evaluate you and get you up. If you only have one arm to push yourself up with, the therapist will do the rest for you, but you will be sitting up at the edge of the bed to circulate and start strengthening.

Dogs are not like humans in that the first five to 10 minutes of the therapy visit is spent convincing the patient how good it is for them to move. Dogs like to move forward and do not dwell in the past. The problem is that they are driven by crazy squirrels, silly games and treats that can override their sensibilities. What if you had someone sensible to protect the dog while it moved? Let’s say a certified canine rehab practitioner (CCRP)? Now Fido can move and circulate safely and sensibly. Even better, the CCRP has physical therapy equipment just for dogs! Imagine a doggie gym or rehab facility. Corpus Christi, Texas, has just that: K9CARS!

Now you may be thinking that “My dog doesn’t need to be doing too much. He just had surgery on his femur.” You are probably correct. There needs to be time to heal the bone properly. What about the joints and the rest of the body, though? The femur bone may have a plate on it that needs to not be disturbed, but the knee joint still needs to move so it doesn’t get stiff. The quadricep muscles need to lengthen so they don’t get contracted and “stuck” to the femur, causing the knee to stay straight (contracted in extension).

The heart, lungs and other three legs still need their normal activity. Another thing: Have you thought about pain management? CCRPs have ways to manage pain like E-stim, TENS, ultrasound, cold laser, heat and cold, massage, range of motion and stretching? Who wouldn’t want gentle manual techniques to decrease swelling, manage pain and improve range of motion early.

K9 rehab and fitness is a rapidly growing field. Sixty percent of dogs are obese. Twenty percent will have osteoarthritis by age 5. Eighty percent are euthanized because they cannot walk. What would our population be if we euthanized our non-ambulatory citizens?

What?! Why euthanize them when you can put them in a wheelchair? What if grandpa had a stroke and couldn’t clear his right foot from the ground very well? We would fit him in an ankle foot orthosis (AFO) that helps him do that. Did you know that they have similar devices for dogs? How about a missing limb? Grandma would get a prosthetic leg. So could Fido! When you have back surgery and want some support, there are back braces for dogs.

Dogs are recovering from strokes, broken bones, back surgeries and paralysis through carefully structured rehab programs by CCRPs who work with your veterinarian. The days of lying in a cast for months are over. Bodies need to circulate. It is time to get up and move, dogs included. Cage rest is for the birds (but even birds need to fly).


Kim Novak, B.S., LPTA, CCRP, is the owner of K9 Conditioning & Rehab Services. For more information, call 361-947-7297, email or visit or


Photos Courtesy of K9 Conditioning & Rehab Services

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