Last Modified: February 24. 2013 7:04PM
PLAINS TWP. – Mocha Holena has been competing in agility dog competitions since she was about 3 years old, routinely vanquishing opponents in catching Frisbees, hunting and dock jumping.
The 11-year-old Labrador retriever is anxiously awaiting the new competition season, said her owner, Laura Holena, of Pittston. But she fears Mocha's career might be coming to an end due to the arthritis that's attacked her joints.
Dr. Andrea Williamson and other staff members at the newly opened Northeast Veterinary Rehabilitation Center are dedicated to ensuring that doesn't happen.
Yes, Mocha is going to rehab.
Over the next few weeks, the prized pooch will undergo extensive physical rehabilitation – including massages, laser therapy and exercise on an underwater treadmill – to reduce the inflammation and pain in her joints.
It's all designed to give the die-hard doggy competitor a few more years to compete.
“Our trainer told us it would kill her to stop competing,” said Holena. “We're hoping this will increase her stamina and maintain the muscle tone she has.”
Located at 242 S. River St., the Northeast Veterinary Rehabilitation Center is the only center in Luzerne County dedicated solely to physical rehabilitation of animals. The hospital is part of the Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital, owned by Dr. Kirk Hassinger and Dr. Doug Ayers.
The center, opened in December, currently has 10 clients, all of which are dogs. It also offers treatment for cats, said Williamson, a veterinarian who has advanced training in veterinary rehabilitative medicine.
Treatment plans for pets mirror physical therapy offered to humans who are recovering from surgery for injuries to their joints, such as tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee, which controls movement from side to side.
Tears of the ACL (known as the cranial cruciate ligament in dogs) are among the most common orthopedic injuries to canines, particularly larger breeds such as Labrador retrievers, Williamson said. Physical rehabilitation is not required for a dog to recover from a joint injury, she said, but it decreases the amount of time needed for the pet to fully recover.
Take Lola, a 10-pound, 1-year-old Havana Silk Dog, for example.
Cheryl Gerrity, of Waverly, has been bringing Lola to the rehab center since she underwent a surgery similar to a hip replacement on her left rear femur about a month ago.
“You have a dog like Lola who gets surgery. It could take six to eight months without rehab before she can use the leg again,” said Williamson. “Our goal is to get her functioning and using the leg within three to four months.”
Lola was none too happy as Williamson and veterinary technician Megan Ziegenfus gently manipulated her paw during a recent massage therapy session. She didn't much care for her run in the underwater treadmill, either, repeatedly pawing at the glass in an attempt to reach her “mom,” who was cheering her on from outside.
The treadmill, which is filled with water set at about 86 degrees, is one of the best therapeutic treatments because the water provides additional resistance as the dog runs/walks, Williamson said. The buoyancy also reduces the amount of weight the pet places on the injured extremity, and the warm water is great for animals suffering from arthritis.
Other treatments include having the pet stand on a balance board, forcing it to use all four paws to maintain its footing, and the use of a laser on the impacted area to reduce inflammation.
Lola, a certified “drama queen,” according to Gerrity, whines through much of her therapy.
But Gerrity said she knows it's for the best. She's seen a noticeable difference in the dog's recovery since she began the once-a-week treatments at the center, she said. Gerrity also does at-home rehabilitation with Lola three times a day.
It's a major commitment, Gerrity acknowledged, but she's willing to do whatever it takes to help her beloved pet recover.
“She's like a child to me,” said Gerrity. “She's got a long life ahead of her. I need to know I'm doing everything I possibly can for her.”
In addition to rehabilitative therapy, the rehab center offers a weight loss program for pets and acupuncture treatments, which are used to control pain.
The initial consultation, which includes a full orthopedic and neurological exam and creation of a rehab plan, costs $112.
Levels of service vary, with one-hour sessions typically including massage, laser and underwater treadmill exercise. Pet owners also can choose 30-minute sessions for any one of the above listed services. Prices for the services vary and can be obtained by calling the center at 208-8877.