PT for Dog Gastrointestinal Disorders: Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Issues?

Can physical therapy help with pancreatitis, constipation, colitis and many other digestive disorders your dog might face?

PT for Dog Gastrointestinal Disorders: Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Issues?

Your veterinarian is the first point of contact for help with these issues. Any gastrointestinal disorders require evaluation by a primary care specialist for

  • diagnosis
  • instruction on proper nutrition,
  • medication, and
  • supplements

Physical therapy is adjunctive care for internal disorders. However, it can be an effective and often overlooked source of relief.

Therefore, you and your vet need to think out of the box (or stomach lining!). A comprehensive approach will allow you to include all possible remedies for these challenging conditions!

Physical therapy modalities helpful for canine gastrointestinal disorders

Massage

Effleurage

Stroking techniques with the palm and fingers along the longitudinal fibers of the abdominal muscles as well as in circular patterns over the belly can

  • increase circulation
  • improve the tone of the striated muscles
  • facilitate contraction of the smooth muscles in the digestive organs

These will aide peristalsis or movement in the bowel tract.

Transverse friction techniques

Other types of massage using transverse friction can help to reduce abdominal adhesions after a traumatic injury or abdominal surgery.

Myofascial release

This manual technique helps undo deep restrictions the connective tissues surrounding digestive organs, often present with chronic inflammatory digestive issues.

Reiki

The skills of a Reiki practitioner can be beneficial in restoring balance and harmony within the body’s energy flow. Reiki helps to boost the immune system, much of which is located in the gut.

Reiki can

  • improve digestion
  • relieve constipation and
  • sooth irritable bowels

Acupuncture

While realizing that this is an article about PT, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the amazing benefits of acupuncture.

A certified veterinary acupuncturist can help balance the yin and yang of the digestive organs, using points along linear pathways called meridians.

Twelve of the fourteen meridians in animals are associated with

  • the stomach
  • spleen
  • liver
  • gall bladder and
  • intestines

Therefore it is apparent that this ancient technique has a role to play in aiding digestion.

Electrical stimulation

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation offers pain relief and increased motility in the intestines.

It may require shaving the dog’s belly and assisting the dog to lie still for 15-20 minutes.

TENS units can also be used at home, but I recommend having your PT or vet show you the exact placement of the electrodes and preset the waveform and pulse rate parameters before the first application.

tPEMF

Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy tPEMF is an exciting and relatively new modality that can be used at home, It is not only a stand-alone treatment but also an adjunct to PT, Chiropractic, Acupuncture, etc.

tPEMF has shown to be effective with inflammatory conditions. That is helpful not only with orthopedic issues but also with “somatic” organ conditions like colitis and pancreatitis.

The electromagnetic field is delivered via coils, rings or loops and uses a shortwave frequency.  Through “induction” the field creates a cellular reaction in the body to help

  • wound healing
  • improved vascular response, and
  • increased tone of airways and smooth muscles (such as found in the intestines)

Your veterinarian or therapist will advise you of any contraindications, and guide you on the placement of the device, treatment doses, etc.

Exercise

The two types of exercises can help your pet’s digestive issues: core strengthening and cardiovascular activity.

Core exercises

Exercising the abdominal and pelvic muscles help to strengthen, tone and provide physical support for the internal organs.

This is particularly relevant in animals such as dogs. Being quadruped (on all four limbs) walkers, the canine internal organs are positioned in parallel to the ground.

For humans, who are bipedal upright walkers, internal organs are perpendicular to the ground. To combat the downward pull of gravity, a human being needs good tone and control of their pelvic “floor” muscles (as with Kegal’s exercises where the sphincter muscles are tightened).

In a dog, the “floor” consists of their abs and these core muscles need to provide good support for the intestines and other digestive organs.

Core strengthening exercises also provide light mechanical compression of the bowels. That helps with elimination.

Core exercise should be performed two to three times per week.

Point of caution: avoid using core exercises for digestive issues with deep chested, high cut dogs such as Boxers or Weimaraners, as excess abdominal compression might cause gastric twisting or bloat.

Cardiovascular exercises

Cardiovascular exercises in the form of walking, running and swimming increases breathing and heart rate,

Increased heart rate helps to

  • relieve constipation
  • release gas
  • stimulate normal digestion.

It also stimulates your dog to drink water, which is essential to digestive health.

Cardio should be performed daily, at low to moderate speed, for a length of time or distance that challenges your dog to mild fatigue, but does not cause exhaustion.  If cardiovascular health is your goal (as opposed to building muscle mass or speed), it is better to focus on longer duration and distance, even if that requires a slower pace.

Further reading:
The Canine Digestion Process

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