Welcome to Feta’s
torture physical therapy exercises! It’s time to get moving!
As we humans who have endured physical therapy can tell you, it is not designed to be fun or even especially comfortable. However, the end results are well worth the struggles.
Embarking on our exercise journey, there are three very important things to keep in mind: 1) discomfort is good, 2) pain is bad, 3) safety is paramount.
As my human PT doctors said, the goal is to exercise “to the pain” but not “through the pain,” because that can set you back even further. You want to just tickle the edges of your comfort zone, with the goal of stretching them just a little bit further each day, such that eventually you are back to life, back to reality! Since in this case we are working with animals, whose instinctive response to human-inflicted discomfort is to bite/scratch/claw/paw/etc., it is very important to keep your delicate parts (e.g., face) away from the pointy bits and also to be sensitive to your animal’s unhappiness threshhold – and do not push it to the point that your animal responds negatively!
(Full disclosure, Feta is a lovely, forgiving cat, but one time trying to snap a picture I got lazy, she got upset, and she clawed my arm pretty hard while trying to escape me poking at her. It was nothing serious, but if that had been my eyeballs, I would not be writing this post right now!)
With that out of the way, we start with our warm-ups. For Feta, whose primary current challenge is muscle tightness, we work on relaxing her muscle tissue through heat and electromagnetic therapy.
Since it is winter, and she enjoys being snuggly, I often begin by wrapping her up in her favorite soft blankie (a gift from our fabulous Auntie Meaghann) to warm her up all over.
We also do a 15-minute session with the Assisi Loop, which was kindly donated by someone to Westfield Veterinary Group, who then generously donated it to us.
We then move to some gentle massage, which is hard to describe and even harder to video! Basically, imagine gently petting your animal’s major muscle groups using your fingertips. With Feta Cat, imagine the pressure you would use for a gentle cheek rub, and using that pressure (or lighter) down the spine and legs, stopping and reducing pressure if you feel any signs of tension. Remember that your pet is likely to be sore, so be very careful and gentle.
This isn’t quite what I mean by “cat massage,” but you get the idea!
In this video, you can see my (unskilled) demonstration of some of Feta’s sore spots – she has a lot of back pain, no doubt caused by her odd two-legged movement and posture, so we are working on reducing that through gabapentin medication and our massage/exercises.
After a bit of relaxing massage, we move on to the “passive range of motion” stretches. These are especially important, very gentle, and are useful for almost all animals with any sort of physical/orthopedic challenges (I do them with my arthritic dog, also).
I place Feta lying on her side, with her stump down and her stiff leg on top. Then, according to the vet’s instructions:
• To perform PROM for flexion and extension of the stifle, place the upper hand above the stifle and lower hand below. Try to keep your hands close to the joint. Be certain that the stifle is supported to avoid any undue stress.
• Slowly and gently flex the stifle. The other joints of the limb should remain in a neutral position. Try not to move the other joints while working on the affected joint.
• Continue to flex the joint until the patient shows initial signs of discomfort, such as tensing the muscles, moving, turning the head toward you, or trying to pull away, but do not cause undue discomfort.
My best attempt at a video showing our stifle stretches can be found here!
One of the most important things to remember with these stretches is to work on keeping the animal relaxed. If your pet is upset and fighting you, they will be tensing their muscles and you will not be getting the stretching you need. You may want to have someone helping you keep your pet calm, have treats on hand to soothe them and reward them, do it in a quiet, comfortable location, whatever you need to do. Relaxation is really, really important!
For Feta, we also work on back-elongating stretches to help her spine. One of the most effective for her is nicknamed the “Lion King stretch,” for obvious reasons:
Holding the cat up in the air, with your hands supporting her behind her front shoulders and in front of her back hips, encourages her to stretch out the full length of her spine.
We are also working on any movement we can do to keep her actively stretching out her back – having her grip into something and pull while I gently hold/pull her hips back is ideal, but we can get similar movement from types of play, using some of her favorite toys, as you can see here. Brushing her briskly along her back while she lies on her side also encourages here to stretch out and elongate her spine.
We are also working on what we cal “tail walking,” which is encouraging her to bear weight on her “bum leg” and to essentially re-train her brain to recognize the sensation of normal movement in that leg. We do a lot of practice with that, and with “rear leg weight shifts” (basically pushing her mildly off balance so she has to re-adjust her position, using all those little balance muscles and putting weight on her leg), while she is eating her dinner. Since she is extremely food-motivated, and does not “guard” her food (again, be careful), she doesn’t mind me messing with her rear end during dinner time as long as she has some tasty cat food to distract her.
Note: be VERY careful using the tail in these exercises, as it can be strained/sprained, which would require additional rehabilitation.
As you can see here, she’s doing well with the weight bearing, even though the leg is still extremely stiff. I am also working on getting her to stretch her back while she’s standing – if I scratch her bum, she tends to kind of curl/flex away from the scratches, which puts her in a much better posture.
We have more exercises to work on once she gets some more strength and flexibility back. For now, we’re working on doing this routine 2-3x/day, which is keeping us plenty busy!!
I am thinking of trying clicker training with her in the hopes of making some of these exercises a little easier – what do you guys think? Should we go for it?
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