Friday, March 18, 2016

All Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Dog undergoing physical therapy treatment
Exploring the Benefits of Animal Physiotherapy

Animals have always been a part of my life, even before I took my first breath. Carrying me to full term was a difficult pregnancy for my mom, but it was her two Yorkies, Kirsch and Butch, who laid by her side and comforted her during the nine months that she was bed ridden. They could sense when my mom was in pain, and licked her face until the moment passed. They could feel when the baby was moving, and repositioned themselves next to her belly until the stirring soothed. And although they couldn’t speak English, their message was loud and clear, they were there to protect the family using their senses to guide the way.

It’s uncanny how in tune pets become to the needs of their owners. We don’t even have to say a word and they seem to instinctively read our minds, which is one of the many reasons why the bond between human and animals is so strong and the impact they have on our souls is so profound.  They are born with the eagerness to please us, willingness to sacrifice their lives to protect our own, and are baffled with the notion of disloyalty. They are our guardian angels -- with or without the wings -- asking only for our endless love and affection in return.  

Sometimes I wonder if I am doing enough. My German Shepard, McKayla, gives so much of herself to me, never complaining, nor asking for more, but it is my duty as her caretaker to learn to speak her language and do everything I can to ensure that her well-being and quality of life are the best that I can provide. On a basic level, this means making sure that her nutritional needs, daily mental and physical exercise quota, and yearly checkups are met. But furthermore I am responsible for researching the inherent problems associated with her breed and taking the necessary preventative measures to reduce their potential occurrence. German Shepherds are known to develop Hip Dysplasia, but how does that condition evolve, and what sort of monitoring and treatments are needed?

In my opinion, when it comes to complementary and alternative medical (CAM) treatments for animals, physiotherapy is considered the underdog – powerful in performance yet highly under recognized.  When people are experiencing back or neck pain, it is natural to think of a chiropractor. When our pets are experiencing pain, however, chiropractic does not necessarily come to mind. Perhaps it should.

Dr. Scott Oliver has had an established chiropractic practice in Luxembourg for over 11 years. He first obtained his Bachelor of Kinesiology from the University of Calgary prior to completing his Doctor of Chiropractic in Washington D.C. His desire to expand his practice to include the treatment of animals came while working as an Exercise Physiologist in Calgary when a fellow chiropractor told him about his treatments for horses on the rodeo circuit. Coincidentally, not long after that, a friend of Scott’s horse was having problems, and Scott agreed to try and treat him. The treatments proved to be beneficial and the horse’s mobility functions returned to normal. This one encounter was enough to inspire Scott to return to school and train to become certified in veterinary chiropractic. He attended the International Academy of Veterinary Chiropractic in Sittensen, Germany, and since then has been slowly building up his animal clientele.
Bucking Rodeo Horse
The most common animals that Dr. Oliver treats are dogs, cats, and horses. When a client comes to him for a specific problem, in principal he treats them the same regardless of species or symptomatology, saying “I analysis the whole body to locate and correct shifts or deviations from normal neuro-structural function.”

Most frequently, the types of problems he encounters are hip and pelvic issues in retrievers, lumbars in bulldogs, and horses that need to compensate for the movement of the riders on their backs. In the latter case he take his portable table with him to the stable to adjust the rider in addition to treating the horse. And depending on the severity and age of the problem, it can take anywhere from 1 to 3 visits, lasting around 15 to 30 minutes each, to see an improvement, but it’s usually more surprising how quickly changes can begin to occur.

“What I’m doing is looking for very specific neuro-structural shifts and correcting those. The results can be quite astounding but treatment is always based on what is found in the examination. Sometimes less work or adjustments get the most profound effects and sometimes more work is required. It’s sometimes a hard concept for people to understand, I do what is required- nothing more, nothing less.

“In a severe problem where the animal is enduring a lot of pain and/or lame, I may want to see an animal just a few days later. However, the majority of animals with severe cases would need only 1 time per week for 2 to3 weeks. Still, most cases do quite well with only once every two weeks and can decrease frequency of treatment quite quickly.”

Based on Dr. Oliver’s experience most breeds respond quite well to chiropractic treatments. However, certain breeds may relapse easier than others, which can happen when animals are bred for particular traits. When asked what are the different types of reactions that animals have to treatment, and the signs that he looks for to judge their level of comfort, Dr. Oliver replied,

“Usually the animal intuitively knows that you’re trying to help them and they are quite cooperative. Occasionally, if there’s an uncooperative situation, I think your own state of mind becomes very important. Remaining calm and focused, and oddly enough, asking the animal nicely to let you do what you’re trying to achieve always helps.”
In our case, when my husband and I took McKayla to see Dr. Oliver, he began by checking that all of her limb functions were working properly, and then proceeded to make corrections to the areas that were out of sync. As to be expected, at first she was a bit unsure of the situation, and proceeded to wander around the room and position her body away from him instead of sitting still. But after he told her that he wasn't going to hurt her, and the first adjustment didn't seem to hurt, she visibly relaxed and cooperated giving him her outstretched arms and legs to adjust instead of pulling back. When we asked how often we should repeat the treatment, Dr. Oliver suggested we bring her back in a few months, unless there was a specific issue. Routine checkups are a smart way for owners to keep an eye out for any problems.
Dr. Scott Oliver treating our German Shepherd, McKayla
Over the next few days we were amazed at McKayla’s increase in energy level, apatite, and profound ease of traveling up and down our 2 flights of stairs multiple times per day. Although previously she was not showing us any signs of discomfort, and her fickleness at dinnertime is an everyday occurrence, we could visibly see that the treatment had a positive effect on her overall well-being.

There are many types of animal physiotherapy, and just as with people, in some cases the different treatments can work together to complement each other.

Ms. Christiane Speltz is the co-founder of Déiere Reha, an animal rehabilitation center in Luxembourg. She completed her studies in Germany to become certified in veterinary physiotherapy and osteopathy.  Before joining Géraldine Flammang to open the clinic, she was working alone and making house calls. Christiane treats a lot of dogs, visits horses in their stables, and on occasion has been asked to visit farms to treat cows and donkeys.  She too believes that her treatments target the body as a whole, and not just individual symptoms.

“For the physiotherapy, we have a lot of dogs who come in after a surgery because of problems with the ligaments of the knee, or working dogs who come for an osteopathy check. Owners of horses contact me for a regular checks, or if they realize a difference from their horses when they ride them.  The treatment always depends of the problem that the animal has.

“If I come for a regular check for a horse, often one session is enough.  If a dog comes to us for muscle training, for example, Hydrotherapy, the improvement depends on a lot of factors, such as the age of the dog, or how often the owner can practice some exercises at home.”
Hydrotheraphy machine at Déiere Reha
At Déiere Reha, Hydrotherapy is done in a containerized pool and can be a bit nerve-racking for dogs the first time due to the noise and unfamiliarity with the equipment.  There is a ramp for entry and exit, and a treadmill at the bottom. When the door is closed, the heated water fills the tank up to the top of their legs, the depth depends on the treatment and the dog, and the buoyancy, viscosity, resistance, and hydrostatic pressure of the water reduces the stress on the joints, allowing the dog to move easier.

“We often have dogs who are scared so we take our time with the animal; also a lot of biscuits help as well. Also, the way that I’m working is a soft way, and most of the animals calm down. But you must always be aware that a dog has some pain, and pay attention to their body language.”

A first session can take around 1 hour to do a complete check of the body, however follow-ups are a bit shorter lasting around 40 minutes. In Christiane’s experience the animal may show more symptoms than before for the next 2 days due to the regulation of the body, after which they generally start to feel better.

“There is no specific difference between breeds when responding to treatment, the only difference is that different breeds have more problems due to their physic.”

Déiere Reha also offers additional physio therapy treatments such as Acupuncture - a form of alternative medicine involving thin needles inserted into the body at different points; Aromatherapy - using essential oils and other aroma compounds for the purpose of altering the animal’s mood and sense of well-being; and Bioresonance therapy – using electromagnetic waves to diagnose and treat illnesses. Speltz and Flammang, like Dr. Oliver, are continuously working to increase awareness amongst pet owners about the benefits of physiotherapy treatments. Physiotherapy is not a substitute for or in competition with traditional veterinary medicine. The various forms of physiotherapy are aimed at enhancing wellness and maintaining the proper functioning of nerves, muscles, and bones. This is different from traditional western veterinary medicine which is geared toward diagnosing a specific problem and fixing it.
Acupuncture being performed on a dog
Since our McKayla has benefited from chiropractic, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture treatments, I feel compelled to share our education with other pet owners. Both Dr. Oliver and Ms. Speltz are strong believers in the power of word-of-mouth, and have relied on such to enrich their reputation and grow their practices. I agree with both professionals that in Luxembourg, the seeds of enlightenment have already been planted and the roots are beginning to form. More and more people are hearing about the benefits of physiotherapy for animals, and are taking their pets for treatment. It will take time and require patience, but as the cliche goes, all good things come to those who wait.


  1. Very interesting thanks for sharing

  2. I really like the way you personalize your topic and bring it alive for the reader.

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