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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pooches can have it all, including massage and workouts.

By Dan Stober
Knight Ridder Newspapers
July 26, 2005

Dogs on treadmills in water tanks. Dog acupuncture. Dog massage.

Dog owners are spending big to give Fido the kind of medical care -- and even fitness workouts -- once reserved for humans.

Drop by Lisa Stahr's new $100-per-hour physical rehabilitation business and you might see a diseased poodle regaining his sense of balance on a trampoline.

Or maybe you'll see Cairo, a Labrador retriever with a spinal problem, splashing along on a treadmill in a tank through chest-deep warm water. The water's buoyancy allows him to jog along without pain -- an experience Stahr compared to a low-impact aerobic workout.

"Much of what you find available for humans is now available for animals," said Kristi Johnson, a physical therapist who works in the clinic. She started out working with people but was drawn to dogs. "Nothing is more rewarding than a wag of a tail at the end of the day," she said.

Owners seek treatment for their dogs for many of the same reasons they'd get it for themselves: to combat aging, to recover from injury -- even to get in training for athletic events. And while many pet owners can't -- or won't -- pony up for rehab, a growing number are happy to pay.

Hiatt and others in the field say there is no reason for pets to suffer from debilitating diseases or arthritis when help is available. "They used to just put a lot of these dogs down."

And the new centers don't do only repair work. More and more, they're helping dogs lose weight or get into athletic shape, like humans going to the gym.

Dog Therapy

Having a ball: Veterinary technician Sandy Gregory helps her dog Raymond balance his weight on a peanut ball as part of his physical therapy at Scout's House, a rehab center for animals in Menlo Park, Calif. -- Anne-Marie McReynolds / Knight Ridder/Tribune

Among the canine jocks are "agility dogs" who compete in meets, jumping over bars, crawling through pipes and running obstacle courses.

Surgeries to repair torn knee ligaments -- all too common among human athletes -- are now widespread among dogs. Hip replacements are not unusual, either. And like their human counterparts, the dogs can benefit from post-surgery rehab, Levine said.

Levine estimates there are over 50 stand-alone rehab centers in the country, with another 50 at veterinary clinics.


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