Dog Fitness

by Mario Barbuto

Health and fitness centres useful even for guide dogs.

In Reggio Emilia, on 22 Adua Street, in a modern and functional structure called Dog Fitness, Ludovica Dragone has been working for a few years to relieve the physical and neurological pain of dogs through leading-edge physiotherapy and rehabilitative techniques.
Guide dogs for blind people undergo continuous psycho-physiological stress, and their life conditions on a daily basis are rather unusual for dogs. Can there be any advantages or remedies for them in facilities geared towards Dog Fitness?
Let us try to understand this through the words of the person directly involved who answered a few of our questions.
How many dogs receive treatment here in the centre every year?
We see every year between 200 and 250 new patients; we also have all the other dogs that we help in getting older more serenely and who regularly visit us for rehabilitative treatment.
How long ago did the centre open and what was the rationale behind this?
The centre opened in the fall of 2004. What motivated me in undertaking this project is the idea that if physiotherapy is fundamental for people to whom you can say 'do this and don't do that', surely it can be done for dogs as well.

The veterinarian is also constantly improving her own methods of surgery, in the field of orthopaedics or neurosurgery, and many of these surgery interventions cannot lead to the same results if the patient does not have an adequate follow-up. "We work towards having good surgery results so that dogs will improve as best as possible and as quickly as possible."

Picture - Small dog during a rehabilitation session

What are the most recurring pathologies and in what cases have you obtained the best results?

Our patients generally have orthopaedic or neurological problems. Among the orthopaedic pathologies, certainly hip dysplasia is what we see most often. Daily, we have to treat dogs affected by this pathology, whether because they are older dogs and the symptoms are obvious and the pain in the articulations is such that their lifestyle is altered, or because they are young dogs and, considering the absence of symptoms, we try to improve the muscle mass to provide greater well-being and limit the progression of the pathology.
Among the neurological pathologies, the management of post-surgery in patients that had slipped discs is without a doubt the pathology that we most often have to deal with. We have had great results even with patients that, because of the important damage to their bone marrow, had lost all sensitivity in their back limbs and their brain was no longer able to command their own legs.

Through proper rehab, we have obtained a good success rate with dogs that are now able to walk independently again, even with patients that once, when they were well, were put in a small trolley.
What is the training one must have in order to manage a centre like “Dog Fitness”?
I studied as a veterinarian and did my thesis on rehabilitative physiotherapy for dogs. I studied in the United States, at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and in North Carolina. To further my knowledge in the field of rehabilitation of domestic animals, I completed a course in the United States and obtained in 2004 from the University of Tennessee a degree as a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CCRP).
I participated, in the capacity of presenter, in national and international courses, seminars and conferences on the subject of rehabilitative physiotherapy for domestic animals.
I have been co-examiner for students doing their thesis at the universities of Bologna, Padova and Parma.
Since 2007, I am responsible for the study group SCIVAC in rehabilitative physiotherapy.

Picture - St. Bernard simulating a walk to reactivate the limb muscles

Are there any suggestions or tips to foster good physical health even for guide dogs, considering that they are often obligated to a sedentary life and few opportunities for free mobility?

Without a doubt, weight control is the first step in order to help a dog live a healthier life and grow old better. Many pathologies, whether they be orthopaedic or neurological, are worsened by excess weight. Three or four slow walks a day can be an excellent way to keep in shape even for a guide dog. It is not necessary to go for a quick run though it can once in a while be a happy and pleasant time for the dog.
Could a blind person practice physical rehabilitation therapy on the dog, considering the special movements that have always been shown in physiotherapy or massotherapy?
Even a blind person could do the specific manual treatment on his own dog. It would only be necessary for the veterinarian to see the dog more frequently in order to regularly monitor results and eventual progress, and to modify accordingly the therapeutic protocol.

Is there a story about a dog or a special event that you would like to share with the readers of Vedere Oltre?

Dogs are like people, there are those who, because of their own story or because they are simply "like that" without having done anything in particular, have a special place in your heart and you never forget them.

Picture - King Cavalier walking in a water tank

Every dog is special and that is why I think I can remember the name of all my patients! Given the name of your magazine, however, certainly Mirtillo deserves to be mentioned. It is the story of a Cocker that at the age of one year and a half became my life companion. The previous owners of this Cocker were not able to see the dog in a different way, beyond its disability (when it arrived here, it could not walk because of a vertebral luxation), and they could not imagine that his life could be full of happiness and autonomy. They did not believe and did not have the patience and the trust necessary in this case and so they gave up. Now Mirtillo is like me, he stayed with me and became the boss in the house and is part of the welcoming committee of Dog Fitness (I love to kid about his intrusive nosiness each time a new "guest" arrives), and he never leaves me, staying with me 24 hours a day. Never a day goes by that I don't think that he could have not existed, and never a day goes by without my being thankful because he is with me, absolutely independent and happy.

Dr. Ludovica Dragone
Holder of a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Parma, year 2001-2002, with a thesis on
rehabilitative physiotherapy for dogs.
Following her degree, she trained at the University of Tennessee with Professor D. Millis and in North Carolina with Professor D. Marcellin.
Certification as a Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CCRP) from the University of Tennessee. At the present time, she is the manager of the community clinic Dog Fitness in Reggio Emilia dealing predominantly with dog rehabilitation in neurology and orthopaedics.

Ambulatorio Veterinario Dog Fitness
Trattamenti di Fisioterapia Riabilitativa
Manuali e Strumentali
Via Adua 24/a – 42100 Reggio Emilia
Tel. 0522 924310
Fax. 0522 924310