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Physical Therapy for Cats

  • Written by Matthew Homfray

Few people think of physical therapy as a viable option for rehabilitating injured cats. It is usually assumed that cats will not cooperate, but contrary to popular belief, most do not resist treatment. Physical therapy can benefit most cats that have undergone surgery. It is helpful for cats with chronic disease or injury that causes pain, which may be displayed as limping, stiffness, aggression or social withdrawal.

How does physical therapy work?

After an operation, physical therapy reduces pain and swelling, increases strength in weakened muscles and improves the flexibility of joints.

Hot and Cold Treatments

Hot and cold treatments are known as passive rehabilitation techniques. They can be used immediately after a surgical procedure, and also to help chronic conditions such as arthritis. The application of cold compresses can reduce inflammation, pain and bleeding, and they can be applied for 20 minutes one to four times daily. It is important to place a layer of material between the cold pack and the cats skin so it is not uncomfortable.

Heat therapy can be used once the signs of inflammation have gone. Heat therapy increases metabolism and, when applied at this stage, helps decrease pain. Heat is usually applied for 20 minutes two to four times daily, but the applier must check the cats skin every few minutes to check it is not uncomfortably hot. Treatment should be stopped if the cat shows any signs of discomfort.

Therapeutic Ultrasound

Therapeutic ultrasound is another of the passive rehabilitation techniques. This increases the extensibility of collagen fibres, improves muscle condition and improves blood flow to the area treated. In doing this, it decreases pain and accelerates healing. Care must be taken in cats that have had metal implants to fix fractures, as reflection of the waves off the metal can intensify the heat and cause burns.

Another modern technique being pioneered by some clinics is phototherapy, also known as cold laser. This involves applying a low power light to an area that accelerates tissue repair.

Passive Range of Motion

Passive range of motion is the next step in the rehabilitation program. This involves extending and manipulating the cats joint, and can be started before the cat is fully weight bearing. This can be very important in cats that have had splints or casts applied, when the joints have been static for some time. By carrying out controlled movement, scar and connective tissue is strengthened and the effects of contracture are minimised.

Active Rehabilitation

Active rehabilitation can start once a cat starts using an injured limb more. This further increases muscle strength, muscle endurance and flexibility. There are various techniques available, such as the use of balls, balance boards, slings and aquatic therapy.

When doing the ball exercise, the cat lies on the top of the inflatable ball and is supported. The ball is gently rolled forward until the cats front paws come into contact with the ground. The ball is then bounced gently, which helps strengthen trunk muscles as the cat maintains balance. The ball is then rolled back until the hind paws touch the floor, and then gently bounced again. Cats may resist the therapy at first, but soon become accustomed to the rhythmic movement of the ball.

Balance boards are platforms with a curved rubber bottom. The cat is placed on the centre of the board with its feet shoulder width apart, and the board is slowly rocked from side to side. This is excellent for restoring stability in the early stages of weight bearing after fracture or joint surgery. Slings help support the cat during the early stages of recovery from many conditions where the nervous system has been affected, and are particularly useful as support for cats that have had pelvic surgery.

Aquatic therapy is best performed with a custom designed water tank and underwater treadmill. It provides outstanding rehabilitation for soft tissue injuries, arthritis, post surgery fracture care, post amputation care and neurological problems. It is excellent for increasing strength, flexibility and endurance, while reducing the risk of reinjury.

How long should the therapy go on for?

The length and frequency of therapy depends entirely on the type of injury, age and general health of the cat. Most fracture repairs benefit from therapy 2 to 3 times a week for 6 weeks, while chronic conditions such as arthritis require twice weekly therapy indefinitely (though this usually occurs at home). The owners motivation is the key factor in the success of the therapy, but with some simple demonstrations and a little effort, a huge difference can be made.

Is professional physical therapy in a clinic expensive?

There is a lot of variety among clinics, largely dependent on the expertise of the therapists and the facilities available. Expect to pay US$50 to $75 per session.

About the Author: Dr. Matthew Homfray is one of the veterinary pet experts at www.WhyDoesMyPet.com. Our dedicated community of caring pet experts are waiting to offer you advice, second opinions and support.

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