In late January, Frodo, a 5-year-old dachshund, injured his back.

In late January, Frodo, a 5-year-old dachshund, injured his back.

His injury left him shaking, unable to walk. Every time his veterinarian tried to increase his activity, the injury would resurface.

Then he came to VCA Sawmill Animal Hospital for therapy, said Sally Harp, a registered veterinary technician and canine physical therapy technician. The goal was not only to reduce back inflammation, but heal Frodo's back so he could walk.

After beginning with laser therapy and moving to the hospital's underwater treadmill, Frodo has been able to increase his activity without back pain, Harp said.

"A dog that's feeling better is a happy dog," she said.

Frodo is part of a group of dogs and cats that are taken to the hospital's physical rehabilitation department for therapy.

While the department predominantly sees post-surgical patients, it also serves geriatric and overweight animals, and those suffering from neurological issues, Harp said. While doing rehabilitation three days per week, she may see anywhere from seven to 15 animals daily.

The underwater treadmill that Frodo and other dogs -- and even some cats -- use helps with the animals' range of motion, Harp said.

The water in the tank is high enough to achieve 65 percent buoyancy, which would be about waist level in a pool for a human. The water helps take the pressure off the animals' joints. The resulting increase in range of motion can then be carried to the ground.

Harp said she accompanies all animals in the tank for the first time, to teach them how to use the treadmill.

"I don't need them in there panicked and scared," she said.

Laser therapy can also be used to reduce inflammation and stimulate cell development, Harp said. Among the hospital's other rehabilitation services are massage, heat and cold therapy, strengthening exercises and ultrasound.

The veterinary industry became aware that physical therapy could be considered as adjunct therapy or as a surgery alternative to surgery around 2000, medical director Tod Beckett said.

The hospital has been offering physical rehabilitation since 2006. The services can also be a solution for people who don't have enough money to afford surgery for their pets.

With older, arthritic animals, many people think pills are the solution, Beckett said. In reality, nutrition, physical therapy and medication improve joints.

"Just throwing a pill at them isn't the answer," Beckett said. "There's a lot more you can do."