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2008-10-01 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Finnegan in the underwater treadmill. Finnegan in the underwater treadmill. The Animal Medical Center (better known as "the AMC") in Manhattan has been a pioneering veterinary hospital since 1910. The AMC is also a non-profit teaching and research facility with more than 90 veterinarians collaborating in an interdisciplinary team approach and combining input from 17 specialties. In March, the AMC opened a pet rehabilitation and fitness center, the only one like it in New York City.

Last week members of the Metropolitan Dog Club toured the rehab center. This department assists animals with injuries, debilitating diseases, old age, and arthritis, plus has a fitness center to aid obese pets. Via technology, physical therapy and massage, and an exercise program, pet patients benefit from weight reduction, increased flexibility, mobility and muscle strength, improved muscle and neurological function, decreased pain, and the reduction of post-surgery recovery time.

The rehab center features state-of-the-art equipment: two underwater treadmills because warm water supports 60 percent of the pet's weight and also increases circulation; a hydro-tub with low-level electrical current to alleviate pain; a land treadmill (no water is better for pets with open wounds) and the inclined surface challenges patients to progress further along; electrotherapy and a laser for pain and nerve repair; ultrasound where thermal and non-thermal effects can warm up tissue; an overhead lift similar to those used with injured racehorses so weight can be distributed in each of 4 limbs; Cavaletti rails to flex and extend joints, and a quadruple biofeedback system with pressure sensitive pads that measure weight distribution and assess recovery.

In some ways, pet rehab is similar to people rehab. However, our quadruped pals have the advantage of shifting weight to three other limbs if one leg hurts. Most of the patients are canine; the few felines are even more uncooperative. Dogs don't understand the connection between their recent surgery and/or pain, and the pay off by hastening recovery through exercise and these fancy machines. The AMC staff is skilled at making each session fun. If need be, they entice with yummy treats.

Pets tend to do better if the anxious owner is not present (a phenomenon like dogs who cooperate better at the groomer without their owners watching, or from this retired teacher's vantage point—students who behave better when their parents are not in the classroom.) It's not unusual to have an engrossed pet patient enjoying himself so much that he's reluctant to leave rehab when the owner returns.

Often certain breeds are prone to specific orthopedic problems, such as Dachshunds and back disc disease; Toy size dogs and luxating patellas (kneecaps); Labradors and hip dysplasia. The AMC Rehab and Fitness Service recommends preventive exercises to strengthen core muscles and forestall these medical issues. The following simple exercises, especially good for inactive couch potatoes, help to keep dogs fit, healthy and happy:

•Give your pet a proper "warm-up". Walking is excellent; start at a comfortable pace. Move up to a trot; build endurance gradually.

•"Stretch" (upward) or "take a bow" provides needed spine extension.

•"Sit up and beg"- lure with a treat; hold position a few seconds. Great for core conditioning. Avoid this if your dog has a history of back problems or is currently overweight.

•Do the "Roll Over" luring the pet counter clockwise with a treat. •A "High Five" where pet reaches up puts paw on your hand, 2-3 times on each side, exercises shoulders, front legs and elbows.

•"Tug of war" - pull straight, not side to side. When you hold the tug straight to the floor, pooch works muscles in front legs too.

•"Seasick rock"- use a cushion, mattress, or commercial "bosu"- Pet stands on it. You rock it gently. Pet must shift weight to check balance.

•Incline your pet with a physioball, going up stairs (with a tiny goodie on every other step), or "dancing" to strengthen rear legs. If possible.reverse: exercise with hind legs to help front legs.

•"Stand on 3 legs"-lightly grip a leg so your dog cannot use your grip to support himself. This improves weight bearing and strength.

•"Back scratch dance"- most dogs like this and will shift weight in a dance from side to side.

•"Pony tail scrunchy" or "Peanut butter" placed gently on the nose forces pet to lift front leg and flex elbows.

During our visit, Finnegan swam for us in the underwater treadmill. Veteran of four surgeries, this tiny Maltese, abandoned after being hit by a car, was featured on "Good Morning America" when the Rehab Center opened. Finnegan loves the water and is regaining use of his legs. He's also a fortunate fellow- adopted by AMC's licensed vet tech- Renee Shumway- probably the only certified rehabilitation practitioner for animals in New York City.

For Adoption: Two special needs (spayed) kittens at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St., Babylon are rooming together in a lobby cage while they wait for their special someone. "Tori" the torti is blind but senses some

light as confirmed by a specialist. "Tammy" the tabby came into the shelter with a congenital open skull that has healed with time and antibiotics. They do not have to be adopted as a pair. Meanwhile "Namath" in Cage 6 is an active young Hound mix. He will run many a touchdown with his favorite football. His fly bitten ears suggest he's lived outdoors. Namath deserves comfy quarterback quarters.

Male: "Spike"-sweet Pinscher mix Cage 24; "Levon"- Shepherd pup Cage 19; "Panda"- Border Collie mix Cage 7; "Memphis" the blonde kitten shown in the leather jacket last week. Female: "Cutey"- Doxie mix Cage 25; "Tinkerbelle"- Lhasa mix Cage 31; "Fluffy"- pretty black semi-longhair cat on C-9.

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