Let’s talk Physical Rehabilitation!

We are so glad you are interested in learning more about our physical rehabilitation and/or conditioning programs here at Cornerstone Animal Hospital. It is easy to think of rehabilitation as something your pet may do after he or she gets injured, but the truth is that rehabilitation is anything that is done to prevent or reduce the risk of injury, reduce pain, or to help bring a pet back to normal function after injury. There are many different forms and ways to do rehabilitation and we pride ourselves in using some of the most cutting edge modalities.

Why Rehab?

The long answer is that there is scientific evidence that shows that veterinary physical rehabilitation not only reduces the risk of injury, but also helps those with injury or genetic musculoskeletal and neurologic disease to recover to a pain free state more quickly. The short answer is that you love your pet. There is no question about it. When we love our pets, we don’t them to be in pain. How is rehab going to help reduce pain, you ask? Great question! The benefits of rehabilitation are vast and will vary with the specific modality chosen. Keep reading to learn more!

Who does Rehab help?


Athletic/Nerve Injuries

Other Conditions

  • Arthritis/DJD
  • Muscle tears/sprains/strains
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Back & neck pain
  • Geriatric care
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Pain management
  • Patellar Luxations
  • Fibrocartilageinous embolism (FCE)
  • Core training
  • Spondylosis
  • Proprioception Deficits
  • Obesity
  • Osteochondrosis/OCD
  • Paralysis
  • Athletic Dogs:
  • Tendinitis
  • Degenerative myelopathy
    • Strengthening
  • Trauma
  • Balance Disorders
    • Endurance
  • Post-operative:
  • Vestibular Disorders
    • Conditioning
    • Fracture Repair
    • Amputation
    • Knee Surgery
    • Hip Surgery

What rehabilitation options does Cornerstone offer and what are the benefits of that modality?

As mentioned previously, we pride ourselves in offering a number of different options to our pet owners that provide a number of benefits. Check it out!

Manual Therapeutic Exercises

  • Rehabilitation exercises that we most commonly think of when we think of physical therapy for humans.
  • Used in the treatment of disorders of the musculoskeletal and/or neurological systems and in patients who need conditioning and/or weight loss.
  • Each session includes various types of exercise with use of appropriate equipment, tailored to your pets specific diagnosis and needs.
  • Improve strength, flexibility, balance and coordination and can slow progression of disease, leading to an enhancement in mobility as well as improving cardiovascular health, emotional well-being, and an overall better quality of life
  • Perfect for improving overall physical fitness and training for specific sports as well as injury prevention with proper cross-training
  • Exercise equipment may include physio balls and peanuts, wobble boards, rocker boards, paw pods, cavaletti rails, stairs, inclines, and land treadmills.

Massage and PROM

  • A series of manual manipulation techniques used to improve a patients physical and emotional well-being.
  • Massage therapy increases joint mobility and flexibility, helps break up scar tissue, enhances healing, and reduces stress and pain.
  • PROM is especially right after surgery to increase circulation and reduce edema and pain.

Underwater Treadmill

  • Warmth, buoyancy, and resistance of water in a controlled environment provides optimal setting for cardiovascular conditioning and physical rehabilitation.
  • Used to treat many conditions such such as arthritis, postoperative recovery, obesity, and spinal injuries. Also serves as a great form of conditioning for healthy pets looking to excel in the sport of their choice or for active pets who need to burn off some extra energy.
  • Walking
    • Walking in the water in a protected setting offers fast muscle redevelopment and improves coordination, joint health, neuron education, core training, proprioceptive input (where are our feet in space signal to the brain) and cardiovascular fitness.
    • Buoyancy ensures a safe, low impact exercise environment and the warm water temperatures (86-92 F) increases circulation.
    • Hydrostatic pressure aides in pain control and improvement in circulation.
    • Depending on the water level selected by your trained therapist, different functions can be altered such as how much weight is your pet bearing (0-40%), and how much range of motion a joint will go through while performing the exercise at different water levels.
  • Resistance jets
    • Used in addition to the underwater treadmill for a more difficult workout.
    • Useful for massage post workout or to help with blood flow in our non-ambulatory patients.
  • Your pet will likely start out with the treadmill for just a few minutes as an introduction to make sure they are comfortable as well as to prevent soreness. Your therapist will increase or alter variables (such as the speed, water height, and duration) based o your pet’s progress and capabilities.


  • Heat is a modality that can be added to improve flexibility, increase blood flow to the tissues and relax the muscles.
  • Cold serves as a wait to reduce pain and decrease swelling
  • Many times both of these modalities are used in conjunction with therapeutic exercises or other training sessions to protect against injuries and pain.


  • Works through a process called neuromodulation, which stimulates neurotransmitters and hormones, which increases blood flow to and from the stimulated patient.
  • It’s quickly gaining notoriety in both humans and veterinary medicine as a complimentary or integrative way to decrease pain, reduce inflammation and stimulate healing.
  • Useful for pets with chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, acupuncture can help manage symptoms and boost the immune system.
  • Also useful following surgery as it can improve the patient’s comfort level and speed up the recovery period.

Electrical stimulation (Electro-acupuncture)

  • The use of electrical stimulation to an area if the body to stimulate nerves and muscles.
  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) is a specific type of electrical stimulation that is often used by professional athletes to recover from injuries.
  • NMES slows down muscle atrophy, increases circulation to the injury, relieves muscle spasms, and decreases pain.

Photobiomodulation/laser therapy

  • The use of light energy to stimulate and work with the body to accelerate wound healing, diminish scar tissue, produce rapid cell degeneration, and increase blood flow to the areas that are in need.
  • Also helps with decreasing inflammation as well as decreasing muscle spasms and trigger points in dogs and cats.
  • The laser uses focused light at various wavelength to stimulate tissue at and below the surface of your pets skin. Laser therapy affects tissues at the cellular level increasing the metabolism of of cells, which leads to improved circulation, decreased inflammation, and release the body’s natural pain relievers such as endorphins.
  • Most often used to treat for post operative pain in management after orthopedic surgeries, musculoskeletal injuries such as soft tissue injuries such as sprain and strains, back injuries and arthritis.
  • Please note that protective eye wear is required during treatment.

Nutritional counseling

  • An integral part of any weight loss/conditioning program
  • Necessary to manage many chronic conditions in our pets such as joint disease and kidney disease
  • Failure to have proper nutrition can often lead to injury or poor training results

Sports conditioning

  • Canine athletes are used to work and train hard which require endurance, speed, and agility.
  • Weakness or pain in a given area will limit your pets ability to perform set the top of their game and increase their risk of injury.
  • A customized and sports specific plan including warm up, cool down, massage, and targeted strengthening and conditioning exercises can help pets compete and get the edge they need.

What does it mean when my pet is “enrolled” in one of the rehabilitation or conditioning programs?

In short terms, “enrolled” means that your pet is healthy enough per the doctor to move forward with one of our exercise programs. Prior to being enrolled in our one the programs at Cornerstone, your pet will be thoroughly evaluated to determine the exact diagnosis so that proper recommendations can be made in the program. This will include goniometric measurement of your pets joints to determine their range of motion, stance analysis to assess the percentage of weight they are bearing on each limb, as well as video gait analysis if deemed necessary to identify if there are specific concerns in one or multiple limbs.

Depending on the patient, further analysis may be required to ensure that the patient is safe to enroll in one of our programs as exercise can exacerbate medical conditions. In addition, there are certain medical conditions that prohibit the use of certain modalities. We never want to hurt or exacerbate a problem in our patients. Our number one priority is the provide the best care for every aspect of our patients health and not just their rehabilitation needs.

Once your pet is determined to be eligible, the doctor will make a recommendation as to what level your pet will start. Oftentimes, short sessions are recommended (up to 30 minutes) to start to prevent soreness/injury as well as to slowly increase cardiothoracic (heart and lung) endurance. Typically, your pet will start out with eight sessions (two per week) and then be re-evaluated in a month’s time. The doctor will determine at that time if the rehabilitation program needs to change, if your pet can graduate from the program into a conditioning program, or if the end goal has been met and your pet no longer needs to participate in our programs.  Please note that each program will be tailored specifically to your pet and the doctors have the liberty to increase or decrease the number of sessions prior to re-evaluation as well as the length of the sessions.

Who gets enrolled in the conditioning programs?

The conditioning programs are designed for dogs or cats that are obese or overweight and that have owner who are wanting to prevent injury or other medical conditions. Since obesity alone has been scientifically shown to shorten the average lifespan of pets by two years, we do not play games here at Cornerstone. It is easy to sometimes chuckle about the fact that “Toby” likes to eat tons of treats or loves to be a couch potato, but the crux of the matter is that obesity is a serious concern.

Excessive weight in the form of fat makes the heart and lungs work harder than than for which they were designed, secretes inflammatory molecules that go directly to the joints to cause damage and pain on top of the increased mechanical weight on the joints, as well as predisposes your pet to a number of different metabolic diseases. These diseases, which include Diabetes Mellitus and Cushing’s disease, are treatable, but can be very expensive and result in a decreased quality of life for your pet.

This is why we enroll pet’s in our conditioning programs. We want to help your fur baby stay healthy and live the longest quality of life they can. Ensuring that your pet is at his/her ideal weight is an imperative step in reaching that goal. Please note that when being enrolled, your pet will still undergo goniometric measurement of your pets joints to determine their range of motion, stance analysis to assess the percentage of weight they are bearing on each limb, as well as video gait analysis to identify if there are specific concerns in one or multiple limbs.

Other patients that may enroll in our conditioning programs are pets who regularly participate in agility and need cross conditioning. Or, if you have a pet that was in a rehabilitation program, graduated, and you would now like to continue to keep up you pet’s fitness levels and health.

Please note that if your pet is already showing signs of pain, then they do not quality to enroll in the conditioning program.

My pet’s doctor has recommended the underwater treadmill…what do I need to know about that?

As discussed above, the underwater treadmill is a wonderful modality with amazing benefits that includes increasing joint range of motion, reducing joint pain, building muscle, building cardiopulmonary endurance, and improving emotional well being. Your pet will likely start out with the treadmill for just a few minutes as an introduction to make sure they are comfortable as well as to prevent soreness. Your therapist will increase or alter variables (such as the speed, water height, and duration) based on your pet’s progress and capabilities.

There are certain medical conditions that prohibit your pet from being in the underwater treadmill to include:

  • Pets who have sores, rashes, or signs of skin infections
  • Pets who have signs of urinary tract infections
  • Pets who have diarrhea
  • Pets who are showing signs of being in heat or have been in heat within the last 2 weeks.

Other things you need to know is that the water system for the underwater treadmill is very similar to that of pool and has certain chemicals that are necessary to keep it an appropriate pH to prevent infections. These chemical do have the ability to cause skin irritation or to cause coat color changes.

It is very important that our treadmill circulation system stay clean and free of debris to prevent spread of disease from pet to pet. Therefore, it is advised that you give your pet a bath the day prior to their rehabilitation or conditioning session. Please note that if your pet is visibly dirty, a bath will be given to your pet at an additional charge to prevent contamination. If your pet has mats, they may need to be shaved or groomed before going in the underwater treadmill.

We also advise feeding only a small meal (half of what is normally fed) and thoroughly walking your pet prior to his/her rehabilitation or conditioning session.  Again, it is important that we keep the water circulation system clean as it will be in contact with patients’ bodies. If your pet defecates while in the underwater treadmill, an additional decontamination fee will be charged to clean the treadmill and its water system. Continued sessions will be at the discretion of the doctors.

After your pet’s session in the underwater treadmill, they will either be towel dried and go home damp for you to finish drying. Alternatively, they may be dried by us with a blow dryer and go home completely dry at an additional charge. Which method occurs it to be determined by you. Please note that we will not be grooming of your pet after their session.

If you have any questions, contact us at (417) 623-3080.