Crate Rest vs. Active Rest: Unlocking the Healing Power of Canine Rehabilitation Therapy after Surgery

It may seem logical to believe that resting after surgery is the ideal course of action… anyone who has undergone significant surgery can attest to the daunting challenge of getting up and moving. While it’s true that rest is necessary, especially after certain surgeries, this is not the complete picture, both for humans and canines.

As veterinarians, we strive to provide the best care for our patients, especially when they undergo surgery. Post-operative recovery is a crucial phase that significantly impacts the long-term outcome of our canine companions. That is why crate rest is often recommended after surgeries for animals. However, combining crate rest with Canine Rehabilitation Therapy (CRT), or physical therapy principles applied to animals, can yield remarkable results in surgical recovery. In this learning portal post, we’ll explore the importance of crate rest after surgery and how Canine Rehabilitation Therapy enhances the healing process for our furry friends.

So What Is Crate Rest?

Crate rest involves restricting a dog’s movements and keeping them confined to a crate or a small, confined area for a specific period after surgery. While some may view this practice as restrictive, crate rest plays a crucial role in the recovery process. The primary purpose of crate rest is to minimize stress on the surgical site and allow tissues to heal without any undue strain or risk of re-injury.

Wound Healing: By limiting a dog’s activity, crate rest prevents excessive movement that could reopen or disrupt surgical incisions. This promotes better wound healing and reduces the risk of infections.

Minimizing Complications: Excessive movement post-surgery can lead to complications such as swelling, hematomas, or even implant failure. Crate rest helps prevent such complications.

What About the Side-Effects?

The recommended amount of bed rest following surgery for humans has decreased over the years as health professionals have discovered that the benefits of early mobilization (i.e., getting up and moving within 24 to 48 hours of surgery) outweigh the negatives. Among these negatives are decreased bone density, sluggish digestion, increased pain, increased risk of developing blood clots, reduced aerobic capacity, and reduced muscle strength. In fact, with one week of bed rest, a person loses about 10–20% of muscle strength. It makes sense then that people who become physically active sooner are more likely to regain independence and quality of life more quickly, resulting in a shorter hospital stay. That’s why hospitals now recruit the help of physical and occupational therapists to get patients moving as soon as the day of surgery while following the appropriate precautions and protocols.

Strict Confinement…for 6 Weeks?

Considering the many benefits of returning to physical activity soon after surgery in humans, it is surprising that a significant number of veterinarians continue to prescribe for canines six weeks of strict crate rest following surgery. Both pet owners and veterinarians are rightfully concerned about safety, as the healing tissues need protection from strains that might impede recovery. While safety is crucial, extended periods of complete rest come with significant drawbacks, as mentioned earlier. Additionally, the welfare implications for dogs unaccustomed to prolonged crate confinement should be considered, as some may find it distressing based on genetic factors, previous training, and experiences.

Introducing Canine Rehabilitation Therapy (CRT)

Instead, active rest with a gradually progressed and controlled exercise program prescribed and supervised by a canine rehab professional is likely to be more beneficial than total crate rest. Studies have shown that early rehabilitation following an orthopedic or neurological surgery is not only safe but also results in shorter recovery times. One study out of the UK recommends the prescription of crate rest only when in conjunction with a graduated exercise program given that “musculoskeletal structures tend to become stronger with increased loading and weaker with reduced loading.” Of course, loading should be done in a progressive manner to avoid excess tissue strain, which is why it is important to work with a certified canine rehab professional who will be able to make specific recommendations throughout each stage of healing. The rehab process is, or should be, a lot more involved than simply putting a dog on an underwater treadmill (sometimes under the watch of someone without the proper training) and hoping for the best!

While there’s still plenty of room for research to be done on the subject of crate rest versus active rest, it stands to reason that getting your dog moving sooner rather than later, under the guidance of a certified canine rehab professional, can help your loved one safely return to being the bone-licking, tree-sniffing, stair-climbing canine you know and love in as little time possible.

Canine Rehabilitation Therapy Principles Applied to Canine Surgical Recovery

a. Pain Management: CRT incorporates various techniques like massage and cold laser therapy (photobiomodulation) to alleviate pain and inflammation in the surgical area.

b. Range of Motion (ROM) Exercises: Gentle exercises that maintain joint flexibility and prevent stiffness in surrounding tissues are a staple of CRT.

c. Strength Building: As the dog’s condition improves, targeted exercises help rebuild muscle strength, enhancing their overall mobility and functionality.

d. Balance and Coordination: CRT includes activities that challenge the dog’s balance and coordination, vital for regaining stability after surgery.

Tailoring CRT to Individual Cases

Every dog is unique, and CRT is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Veterinary professionals skilled in CRT evaluate each patient’s specific needs and tailor the rehabilitation program accordingly. Factors like age, breed, size, and the nature of the surgery all play a role in crafting a personalized recovery plan.

The Importance of Professional Guidance

While CRT can work wonders for post-surgery recovery, it’s essential to seek guidance from certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapists. These experts possess the knowledge and expertise to develop safe and effective rehabilitation programs.

The Best Recovery

Crate rest is a valuable tool in the initial stages of post-surgery healing, protecting dogs from further injury and promoting wound recovery. However, when combined with Canine Rehabilitation Therapy, the true potential of surgical recovery is unlocked. CRT helps dogs regain mobility, strength, and functionality faster and more effectively. As veterinarians, we must emphasize the significance of CRT and collaborate with specialized rehabilitation therapists to ensure our canine patients receive the best possible care and achieve the optimal outcome in their post-surgical journey.