When a pet is affected by a neurological injury or disease, it can be difficult for all involved. The process of navigating the care and rehabilitation of a pet with neurological deficiencies is something our team can assist with at all levels. While the prognosis of each pet differs greatly, the care and rehabilitation are relatively straightforward.
The most central component of the rehabilitation of a pet that is neurologically compromised is that we introduce the idea of re-learning, then mastering a movement pattern sequentially. While it may be tempting to push forward with 100% intensity, the nervous system is slow to heal and incredibly sensitive to the effects of inflammation. For this reason we gradually train the body through transitional levels. These levels are similar to the pattern a human baby learns to walk with, namely being able to independently transition like rolling over. In the case of the dog we work through the following patterns:
- Lateral Recumbency (or laying down flat to one side)
- Sternal Recumbency (or down in a Sphinx position)
- Transition into Sit
- Transition into a Stand
- Walk Independently
When we train the body in this order we are able to engage the nervous system in rebuilding the correct motor neuron recruitment, therefore the correct muscle engagement and subsequent movement pattern. The more “normal” we are able to train the body to be, then the less overt compensatory stress or abnormal mechanical stress will be placed on it.
Some helpful tips when working with your pet is to try and find an area of grass or foam flooring to practice walking or moving independently in a safe place. There is a term in therapy we used called “productive struggle” in where we encourage the patient to try to advance their movement ability alone, like a parent encouraging a child to walk towards them for the first time, braced to catch them when they fall. The same principles apply. As long as you move slowly through these patterns, and provide a safe surface to fall, then you will be helping them re-gain their natural movements and independence.
Many pets struggle with the depression and fear that comes along with a physical injury or disability. Remember to think outside the box and challenge them to learn or grow. Many pets find joy in their first wheelchair fitting when they run for the first time in years, or perhaps it’s even just a food puzzle game to help distract the mind when on crate rest. Many clients have impressed us over the years with their DIY solutions to recovery! Ask a team member for advice, or log into our “Client Library” for suggestions.
It is always important to speak with your neurologist if you are concerned about a sudden decline in abilities, or if you feel your pet is in pain. Our team is committed to rehabilitation and we will do all we can to further guide your home care.
Best of luck,
The Team at Water4Dogs
Lara Dellar, CCRA