Whenever a dog suffers from a broken leg, he’s going to need a dedicated plan to fix it and to get him back to being able to use it again. Obviously, we give a lot of thought to the appropriate plan of action to repair the leg. Which often means a costly surgery and a period of rest for recuperation after the operation.
However, one of the most important aspects of repairing broken legs, especially in dogs, is having a plan for his rehabilitation during this recuperation and after the bone has been repaired. This is very important because it ensures that the break heals as well as possible. And at the same time makes sure that he learns to use the limb properly and in a timely fashion. It’s also something that is still not always used as much as it could be in veterinary patients. But is definitely a growing field with an expanding body of evidence and appropriately dedicated professionals.
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What is rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation is used to describe the processes we can use to help support a healing break. We use it to help prevent any unwanted secondary effects, like muscle wastage. It also helps getting the pet used to moving and later using the limb properly. It can help to ensure an early return to normal leg function, aid in pain management, and prevent complications.
What is a normal rehabilitation programme for a broken leg?
Rehabilitation is not a one-size-fits-all process. The programme chosen varies greatly depending on the type of break; the method of correction; and the type of canine patient we are dealing with. It can take the form of very gentle exercises done soon after surgery. This often starts in the first few days, through passive movement of the leg. As the limb begins to heal, and the patient starts to use it themselves once again, the exercises progress in intensity and duration.
Patients will often have several rehabilitation sessions per week. But owners are given further exercises to do at home and an exercise regime appropriate for the dog’s progress. With time, and as appropriate to the patient’s stage of healing, other aids such as balance balls, cavaletti, or even a water treadmill will often be used as well. Other modalities such as laser therapy, or massage may be used to aid the healing process and keep the patient as comfortable as possible.
The aim is not only to maintain the tone and strength of the leg muscles whilst the dog can’t exercise as normal, but to give him confidence in using the formerly broken limb again. As well as provide some enrichment in what can otherwise be a long and frustrating period of confinement. Depending on the break and how well healing progresses, rehabilitation may take from 6-8 weeks, through to several months of therapy.
Is rehabilitation really that important?
After the stress of a surgery for a broken leg, it’s tempting to think that the hard work is done and all we have to do is wait for the bone to heal. But in reality, the hard work has only just begun. It can be easy to think of rehabilitation as an unnecessary step or an added inconvenience, and let it slide. However, there’s no use having a broken leg fixed if he doesn’t put it down again and has learned it’s easy to use three legs instead. Rehabilitation helps our canine patients get back to normal faster. It teaches them to trust in their healing leg. And just as importantly, it gives them something else to focus on whilst resting.
Should you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of your beloved dog having suffered a broken bone, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate rehabilitation programme for him, if they haven’t given you one already.