Angella Moore, a veterinary technician at the recently completed Avondale Canine Rehabilitation and Laser Therapy Center, works with a patient on a conventional treadmill. The center is the newest addition to the 20,000-square-foot veterinary complex in southeast Des Moines. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Angella Moore, a veterinary technician at the recently completed Avondale Canine Rehabilitation and Laser Therapy Center, works with a patient on a conventional treadmill. The center is the newest addition to the 20,000-square-foot veterinary complex in southeast Des Moines. Photo by Duane Tinkey

You may not be the only one who needs to work off some of the extra calories consumed during the holidays. If your dog is like the average pampered American pooch, chances are good that your best friend needs to shed a few extra pounds as well.

At least a couple of veterinary clinics in Greater Des Moines offer water treadmill sessions for dogs that can help them burn calories, relieve arthritis pain or in many cases, speed recovery from various types of joint surgeries. The therapy is one of several canine rehabilitation methods that are beginning to become available in Central Iowa, another being the same type of laser therapy used to help human patients recover following surgery.

"We've seen a great amount of growth in this area," said Dr. Dennis Woodruff, owner of Avondale Veterinary Healthcare Complex at 4318 E. Army Post Road.


A recently completed addition at the 20,000-square-foot complex, the Avondale Rehabilitation and Laser Therapy Center, houses orthopedic surgery suites and rehabilitation therapy rooms, including an underwater treadmill and a Class IV medical laser for laser therapy. Woodruff, a veterinarian orthopedic surgeon, said he prescribes some form of rehabilitative therapy for about 80 percent of his patients.

"People wouldn't think of going through joint surgery without some kind of rehabilitation afterwards," he said. "Now the thinking is such that we shouldn't expect our dogs to have to go through surgery without getting some therapy."

The expansion accommodates Avondale's move into the emerging specialty of canine rehabilitative therapy. Woodruff, along with one of his seven staff veterinarians and one of his technicians, is also in the process of earning a nationally recognized certification in canine rehabilitation.

Laser therapy, which accelerates tissue repair and decreases pain and inflammation, is a treatment Woodruff has prescribed often over the past year. "We use it after ligament repair and after any type of orthopedic surgery," he said.

A common problem for dogs that can make rehabilitation more challenging following surgery is their weight, said Angella Moore, a veterinary technician at Avondale.

Typically, it's the high-calorie content and overfeeding of dog treats that lead to overweight pets, Moore said.

An extra-large Milk-Bone treat, for instance, packs 220 calories; she recommends treats with no more than 10 calories each. A study by Nestle Purina PetCare Co. found that on average, dogs at healthy weights live nearly two years longer than overweight dogs.

"With most of the dogs that we put on diets," Moore said, "their owners call us and say, 'I can't believe it; it's like I've got a new dog.'"

Cutting edge

Woodruff, who has practiced for about 35 years, is completing his training as a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist (CCRT), a designation offered through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute in Florida. He's one of about 750 veterinarians and physical therapists from 42 states and 11 countries who have completed the courses, said Janet Van Dyke, the institute's president and CEO. Also at Avondale, Moore is working toward her certification as a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant (CCRA), and Dr. Christie Carlo is pursuing the CCRT designation.

"Dr. Woodruff's practice is certainly on the cutting edge in Iowa, and we hope to have other Iowa veterinary practices taking part in our training courses very soon," Van Dyke said.

Currently, 17 U.S. veterinary schools, among them Iowa State University's, offer clinical rehabilitation in their small-animal practices. while others are planning to begin soon, she said. Additionally, the American Board of Veterinary Specialists is considering the creation of a new board specialty, The American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.

"There's definitely a need for it," said Joanna Hildreth, a canine rehabilitation practitioner at ISU's Veterinary Medical Center. However, canine rehabilitation probably won't be offered at every vet clinic.

"Unless you are doing orthopedic surgeries, you have to have a fair amount of cases to make the cost of the equipment worthwhile," she said. The veterinary college began offering post-surgical rehabilitation for dogs in 1999, led by Dr. Michael Conzemius, who was researching the potential benefits of the therapy.

Now a believer

In some larger cities such as Chicago, entire practices and facilities are devoted to canine rehabilitation, Hildreth said. In Iowa, "it's attached to a veterinary clinic," she said.

Dr. Anil Regmi, owner of Urban Pet Hospital & Resort, 3601 104th St. in Urbandale, has been offering underwater treadmill and swim therapy for dogs for the past two years.

"I was the first one in town to offer this," he said. "I do orthopedic surgeries, and I've found that providing this therapy helps dogs heal really fast." Regmi received his rehabilitation training at the University of Tennessee. "Before I did this, I was not a big believer in it," he said. "But the way animals have improved using physical therapy, I could not believe it."

In addition to helping dogs recover faster from surgery, the water therapy is also beneficial for losing weight and treating arthritis, Regmi said. Some of his clients bring their gun dogs in prior to the start of hunting season for conditioning. He also has a client who takes his show dogs in prior to competitions.

Despite getting the word out to other veterinarians, Regmi said he's getting few referrals, and he's hopeful that Avondale's offerings will spur more referrals as the treatments become more widely accepted.

Woodruff said he's just beginning to talk with other veterinarians about referrals for rehabilitation therapies.

Cost is not a serious barrier for owners desiring these therapies for their dogs, he said. For instance, a package of 10 water therapy sessions costs $300. The length of the sessions vary depending on the objective and the dog's condition.

"It takes a healthy dog to be on a treadmill in water for 15 to 20 minutes," Woodruff said. The clinic offers a series of laser therapy treatments for $270.

In addition to the satisfaction of helping his canine patients, Woodruff said he enjoys the challenge. "Veterinarians have to use all of their senses to see what's going on with an animal ... That's the fun part of it; you have to sort it out."