Physical therapy rehabilitates paralyzed Oak Creek dog
March 6, 2016
Oak Creek — When Angel the golden retriever/Labrador mix went outside at her family's rural Oak Creek home for a bathroom break one night in December, she saw something unfamiliar.
"She saw a cat running out of the barn, and she took off," said Joy Marx, who owns Angel along with her husband Michael.
Marx said it was an icy night, and the next thing the couple heard was a screeching sound. They discovered that 10-year-old Angel had somehow injured herself on the ice and her back legs seemed uncoordinated.
"She had done something to her back, and her back legs were paralyzed," Marx said.
The next day the owners made a trip to Steamboat Springs to see a veterinarian at Steamboat Veterinary Hospital.
The Marxes considered Angel's age and the costs that likely would be associated with a surgery and instead asked the hospital whether they could explore non-surgical alternatives rather than beginning with a costly MRI to determine whether surgery might help Angel.
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Angel was matched up with veterinarian Natalia Stiff, who is currently pursuing a K9 rehabilitation certificate through the University of Tennessee.
Stiff agreed to take on Angel as a case study for her ongoing certificate training, and devised a treatment plan that included laser therapy, physical therapy exercises, canine massage and other techniques.
Stiff said that many pet owners don't know about alternative rehabilitation therapies and instead jump to surgery as a solution.
"Surgeries are very successful, but it's very expensive," Stiff said. "It is not very common for a dog to be rehabilitated through physical therapy alone. The fact (that) it is unusual isn’t a reflection of the efficacy of the treatment method; rather, it is a reflection of the strong bias that still exists toward more traditional, expensive and invasive treatments, including MRI studies, medication, and surgery."
Angel's owners used canine massage — which Joy Marx is currently training in — as well as laser therapy and physical therapy exercises in the two-and-a-half months following the dog's injury.
Because Angel never underwent an MRI or other tests, she never received an exact diagnosis, but the therapies have proven successful and the senior dog is able to walk once again using all four legs.
"She's regained a real good quality of life and we don't have to help her at all," Marx said. "I think whenever surgery can be avoided, it's a good thing for everybody, especially for the pet. I would definitely encourage physical therapy and massage therapy."
Stiff said she hopes Angel's story will inspire other pet owners to consider rehabilitation therapy for their injured pets. In addition to being cost-effective, alternative therapies can serve as a bonding experience for owner and pet, Stiff said.
"The rehabilitation therapy field is relatively new for veterinary medicine, and few pet owners have been exposed to success stories where it has been used," Stiff said.
Stiff also said that a strong commitment from Angel's owners to perform the necessary rehabilitation work with Angel led to the animal’s successful recovery.
"It is ultimately the owners who perform the bulk of the treatment, which is one of the reasons it is so cost effective. In the case of Angel, the owners were perfectly cooperative, and know that they played a major role in her recovery," Stiff said.