Let’s Get Physical: MSPCA-Angell West Offers Rehab for Dogs Hobbled by Injury, Illness

All New Service Restores Strength, Flexibility and Function for Our Best Friends

BOSTON and Waltham, Mass. April 11, 2018 – Nearly everyone who’s lived in a human body long enough knows the feeling: an achy shoulder, a dodgy hip or a vulnerable knee.  Back pain.  Neck pain.  The list of ailments that has us running to physical therapy is practically endless—and PT is most often the first (and just as often the last) intervention necessary to overcome pain and restore normal function.

Now that our dogs are living longer—and by extension suffering from the myriad degenerative diseases and common injuries endured by humans for millennia—they too are getting the help they need by way of the all-new physical rehabilitation practice at the MSPCA-Angell West, the 24-hour emergency and specialty care center in Waltham that operates as a satellite clinic to the MSPCA’s world-renowned Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.

The new practice, which treats canine patients for all manner of injuries and illnesses—from fractured limbs to arthritic joints to slipped discs and more—has begun seeing new patients and will likely treat more than 300 dogs over the course of 2018.

Physical Rehab Goes to the Dogs
The new practice, led by Drs. Amy Straut and Jennifer Palmer operates much like physical therapy for humans, with techniques designed to increase function and mobility, reduce pain, speed recovery from injury or surgery and increase quality of life.  But, says Dr. Straut, there’s a twist.

“When we [humans] land in physical therapy it’s often a result of an injury or illness that we remember and, even if we dread doing the exercises prescribed by the therapist, we understand that we’re likely to get better if we commit,” she said.

“Dogs feel pain just as we do but probably don’t know why they’re in therapy.  To help return animals to health, we have to get creative with exercise and therapies in order to convince them to participate.”

Everyone in the Pool!
The physical rehabilitation practice features a 8’ x 20’, four-foot deep heated pool used for aqua therapy that, according to Dr. Palmer, is a powerful form of treatment unto itself.  In addition to the pool, the new facility will house two underwater treadmills so that a variety of hydrotherapy can be employed based on an individual pet’s needs.

“Hydrotherapy, which includes the pool and underwater treadmills, is ideal for dogs with conditions ranging from age-related muscle loss to post-operative recovery because it is by nature low impact exercise that still encourages a full range of motion.

And just as humans may over indulge and gain weight, so too can our dogs.  “Hydrotherapy is used just as often to exercise sedentary dogs to get them back down to a healthy weight as it is to help ease pain connected to arthritis, hip dysplasia, degenerative diseases or other bone and joint conditions,” said Dr. Palmer.

In addition to the pool, Dr. Palmer and Straut use a number of other techniques to treat dogs.  “Sometimes we have them maneuver from one end of our 22’ by 22’ room to another while weaving through a multi-surfaced obstacle course, over Cavaletti poles or around cones, all to improve strength, perception and balance.”

“And we often we use tools that are typically used in human PT such as physio balls, wobble boards, theraband tubing, fit discs and more.”

Dr. Palmer is the first to admit that not all dogs enjoy the process.  “It can be a challenge for sure, to encourage dogs to exercise who would far prefer to nap on the couch!”  In these moments, both Palmer and Straut have go-to, surefire strategies.

“Let’s just say that some patients are highly motivated by treats—and they’ll do the work if they know the reward is coming.  And we happily provide that reward because we know that the work is making them better,” said Dr. Straut.

More information can be found at and clients can book physical rehabilitation appointments by calling 781-902-8400.


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