Veterinary Sports Medicine
The line between the working dog and the dog performing in competitive sports is blurred and ancient. Greyhounds were so treasured in ancient times that only the aristocracy was allowed to own them. Although, Greyhounds were commonly used for hunting there is evidence at least as far back as 2500 BC that dogs looking very much like our present-day Greyhounds were used for competitive racing. Greyhound racing became a staple in Great Britain. The artificial lure, oval track in the 1920’s and legalized parimutuel betting in the 1930’s set the stage for widespread Greyhound racing in the United States.
Of course, for centuries Foxhounds, Deerhounds, Beagles, Pointers and many other breeds were hunting companions. These animals were responsible for many a meal eaten in homes around the world.
Although training methods were studied in great detail, it wasn’t until the fact that the same scientific approach to human diseases was applicable to our sporting companions that veterinary medicine became involved with sporting animals. This area of interest started to blossom in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Bateman in Veterinary Record noted in 1950 the accessory carpal bone fracture common to racing Greyhounds and described a surgical repair.
In the last two to three decades, an entire new area of canine human interaction has proliferated. Canine events are held by the thousands all over the world with very close knit-societies formalizing the rules and standardizing competitive achievements and goals. Likewise, the marriage of veterinary medicine to the improvement of dog health has given valuable hunting animals a second chance rather than the alternative of being replaced.
Veterinarians are just starting to recognize their potential role as valued partners in recommending fitness protocols as well as their medical role in treating sporting injuries.
Popular and competitive sports such as agility, flyball, lure coursing, weight pulling, dock diving, Greyhound racing, disc dog, carting, mushing and fox hunting are activities that not only need specialized training but also each has their own set of potential physical injuries determined by the stresses that the dog may encounter. Also, specific conformations may expose the competitor to specific injuries not common to different individuals competing in the same event.
The demands placed upon the animal competing in events based predominately upon confirmation also have many areas that would make the veterinarian the natural expert. Areas such as nutrition, dental and skin health, as well as overall conditioning are critical in conformation competitions and yet veterinarians have taken a minor role in bringing these beautiful animals to perfect form.
The entire field of Human Physical Therapy, which has a very long history going back to Hippocrates, has naturally been called upon to aid veterinarians in treating the canine athlete. Using techniques such as Range of Motion, Muscle Mass Measurements, Massage, Hot and Cold treatments, and assessing soft tissue injuries and boney conformations in an entirely unique way has made the partnership between Physical Therapists and Veterinarians a very fruitful one.
As common Physical Therapy techniques have been applied to canines over the past few decades, it has become clear that a true merging of the sciences to form a new science is necessary. Variations in joints and movement as well as significant variations in gait and weight bearing in the canine require rethinking the application of human physical techniques in the same way. In addition, the actual physiology and recovery of function varies greatly between these two species. It is fair to say that veterinarians need to study what Physical Therapy has to offer and then consider how those techniques might be applied to our canine athletes. Unfortunately, actual scientific study has held very little attraction even though Canine Sports Medicine is gaining in popularity.
Any Physical Therapist as well as any person involved in Veterinary Rehabilitation will tell you that the most valuable tool they have are their hands. This is a given, but as this field grows the area of modalities has grown with it. The use of swimming pools as well as underwater treadmills, ultrasonography and its associated phonophoresis, therapeutic lasers, and cavalletti exercises, as well as exercise balls, and stairs, have all become the day-to-day world of anyone performing animal rehabilitation.
At VCA VRA we are proud to have been part of this movement almost from the beginning. We have a large rehabilitation area that has a dry rehabilitation room, a wet rehabilitation room with a pool and underwater treadmills, an outdoor area with different surfaces to challenge an animal’s gait. Dr. H. Steven Steinberg has lectured internationally on rehabilitation for many years and is on faculty at one of two schools in the country that certifies rehabilitation experts. He also authored two chapters in Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, Wiley-Blackwell, April 15, 2013. Under the guidance of Ms. Renee Mills, our certified rehabilitation director, we see more than a dozen patients each day. We actively treat recoveries from various severe illnesses in an unusual assortment of animals. Although by far we see mainly dogs, we have treated cats, rabbits, hedgehogs and others. We pride ourselves on helping the aged, beloved pet to reach the goals of the owner-companion. Not every animal can go through the rigors of surgery and not every owner can afford the expensive surgeries being offered today.
VCA VRA has been actively involved in conditioning animals for competition and in recognizing common injuries in those animals that compete. We are becoming more aware of the forces and conditions that lead to injury. We are proud to bring our expertise to this new area of veterinary medicine and have a great facility and staff to make these athletes get to their next level of competition.