Advance Newsletter 2012

  • WSU’s Veterinary Patient Wellness Service

    How We Care for Your Animal

    by Marcia Hill Gossard '99, '04

    Who says cookies can’t be good for you? When Lori Lutskas goes to work each day, she carries a bag of cookies with her to encourage her patients to do their exercises.

    “We do cookie stretches,” said Lutskas, a licensed veterinary technician and WSU’s veterinary physical rehabilitation practitioner. She puts a cookie (aka a healthy dog treat) on a dog’s hip so the dog will stretch around to get it. “We try to make it fun.”

    underwater treadmill
    Lori Lutskas, WSU’s veterinary physical rehabilitation practitioner,
    working with one of her patients in the underwater treadmill.

    One of her patients, a six-year-old dachshund named Dexter, was referred to WSU by his local veterinarian after he stopped using his hind legs and began dragging them as he walked with his front legs. Dexter was having back pain and an MRI revealed one of his discs was pressing on his spinal cord, causing the paralysis in his hind legs, a fairly common condition in dachshunds.

    After surgery on his spine, Lori began physical rehabilitation with Dexter using a therapeutic underwater treadmill to help him regain use of his muscles. Because he could not yet move his legs for himself, she “walked” his hind legs to mimic normal walking. After just one week, he began taking steps on his own. By day 11 he was walking with occasional use of a sling for assistance.

    “Neurology patients are some of the most rewarding,” said Lutskas. “When you have a patient that can’t walk and then through treatment they can, it is very gratifying. If the animal was paralyzed then seeing even two steps is remarkable.”

    Dexter ended up staying at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for two weeks since he was also part of a study evaluating the advantages of underwater treadmill therapy. Preliminary findings in the ongoing study are that animals begin walking sooner and recover more quickly when hydrotherapy is added to their treatment plan.

    After two follow-up visits, Dexter is doing well and only having occasional stumbling or missteps. Not all patients regain the ability to walk, Lori explains, and for those patients a wheel chair can be a good option.

    But physical rehabilitation isn’t just for surgery or neurology patients. Clients can also be referred to WSU to help with other conditions such as osteoarthritis or obesity.

    When you have a patient that can’t walk and then through treatment they can, it is very gratifying.” Lori Lutskas, WSU veterinary physical rehabilitation practitioner

    “Hydrotherapy can make a difference for geriatric patients who have osteoarthritis,” said Lutskas. Because animals can use their limbs without bearing full weight in the underwater treadmill, their muscles can strengthen faster and joints can move with less pain.

    Clients whose animals have received chemotherapy say that hydrotherapy improves the mood of their animals. According to Dr. Stephanie Thomovsky, WSU clinical assistant professor of neurology, after cancer patients receive treatment in the underwater treadmill they seem less depressed, eat better, and appear to feel better.

    “For cancer patients who may have a brain tumor or restrictive activities, hydrotherapy is low impact and provides mental stimulus,” said Dr. Thomovsky. Dr. Thomovsky is also currently working to become a certified rehabilitation practitioner and will help oversee the new Patient Wellness Services unit, which is expected to be formed in the fall of 2012.

    “The vision is to provide integrated wellness service that would offer physical rehabilitation, pain management, and complementary therapies like acupuncture,” said Dr. Bill Dernell, chair of the Veterinary Clinical Sciences department.

    Wellness services can help make recovery smoother for patients and ease other conditions like osteoarthritis or pain management for older animals. Acupuncture after orthopedic surgery or neurosurgery may, for example, ease a patient’s pain. It has also been shown to help animals with osteoarthritis and chemotherapy patients.

    WSU veterinary student Emiko Namatame (’12 DVM) inserting
    needles at acupoints. Students can learn about acupuncture and other
    complementary therapies as part of the WSU curriculum.

    “Complementary therapies can make the healing process quicker and improve an animal’s quality of life,” said Dr. Mushtaq A. Memon, associate professor certified in acupuncture medicine. “Acupuncture, for example, can complement what we are already doing with traditional therapies.”

    While a team approach in pain centers is common in human medicine, it is progressive in animal medicine and WSU is one of the places leading the way. At the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, just like in human medicine, every animal patient must have a pain assessment to get a better sense of where an animal is feeling pain and how the treatment is working.

    “With pain management, everyone can bring something to the table and take a team approach.” Dr. Steve Greene, professor and anesthesiologist. “It is the way veterinary medicine is headed.”

    And WSU is also training its veterinary students in patient wellness services. The college offers a complementary and alternative medicine course including acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care. The pain management course addresses topics such as chronic pain, rehabilitative therapies, and ethics of pain management.

    “Our pain management course is really pioneering,” said Dr. Tammy Grubb, clinical assistant professor and anesthesiologist. “It is a semester long class, which is more than is offered at many other veterinary schools in the country.”

    As pets are living longer, chronic pain is something veterinarians see more of, said Dr. Grubb. By taking a team approach, issues like chronic pain can be addressed through physical rehabilitation, complementary therapies, or other pain management techniques.

    “As our services expand, we also hope to offer other complementary therapies such as chiropractic care and massage to our patients,” said Dr. Dernell. “As with all our service units at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, we will offer the best evidence-based wellness patient care using the latest technologies. And we will continue to offer the best wellness training to our veterinary students.”

    To learn more about wellness services offered at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital visit

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