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Canine Rehabilitation and Wellness: Physical Therapy for Dogs with Francisco Maia, founder of TheK9PT | Blooming Culture
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Canine Rehabilitation and Wellness: Physical Therapy for Dogs with Francisco Maia, founder of TheK9PT | Blooming Culture

· · · 1 comment

 Welcome to 2019!

Most of us start off with goals for being better people, adding in some extra fitness and leading an all-around more health consciousness lifestyle. But let’s not forgot about our 4-legged best friends too, who can’t always tell us what is going on. Shouldn’t we do the same for them? Remember it’s better late than never to incorporate a wellness plan for our pet’s too. I think most of us our guilty of waiting until our pet is showing signs of illness, pain or disease to start making changes in their daily regimen whether it be supplements, therapy, exercise, diet…the list goes on. But many of the items we will discuss can be added in as a preventive measure to maintain your pet’s health for as long as possible.

At Blooming Culture we want to teach you to Better Your Pet’s Wellbeing using a myriad of modalities that work together. We get a ton of emails with not just questions about CBD specifically, but about pet health. We don’t believe one thing cures all and want to empower you with knowledge on different options that we truly believe in that can help your pet.

When it comes to finding the best health care professional to treat your pet, it can be a daunting task. Your best friend’s life is on the line, so you want to make the perfect choice. But how do you do that? Research and reviews are helpful, but referrals by trusted sources prove to be better.

Today we are kicking off a weekly series focusing on the wellness of your pet. Our first two interviews are with wellness professionals who devote their time to improving a pet’s quality of life through physical therapy and massage. Hopefully, these in-depth Q&As will give you the insight and understanding as to what to look for when making your decision between the two and learning what is right for your pet.


Q & A with TheK9PT

"We specialize in improving senior dogs independence with their daily routine, living their golden years without needing pain meds."


The K9PT Canine Rehabilitation and Wellness logo


Define canine physical therapy. What is it? How do pets benefit from it?

It is important for me to first explain that, by law, “physical therapy” is a protected term. Only licensed physical therapists, who have graduated with their Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and passed their license exam, can claim or advertise that they perform physical therapy. Hence why in a lot of instances the term rehabilitation is used interchangeably in our field as other certified veterinary professionals provide those services.

But, legal issues aside, just like in human physical therapy the goal of canine rehabilitation is to achieve the highest level of function, independence, and quality of life possible for our patients. One of the main misconceptions about the field is that canine rehabilitation largely consists of laser therapy and underwater treadmill. However, it is my strong belief that the greatest asset of a successful canine rehabilitation practitioner is our knowledge in the field, combined with problem-solving skills to properly develop and progress a successful plan of care. Such plan of care should primarily focus on client education, progressive therapeutic exercises (along with a home exercise program), and manual therapy techniques. A well-educated clinician, with a pair of highly trained hands, will be much more effective than any fancy equipment.  

Canine physical therapy


What kinds of problems do you treat?

At TheK9PT we specialize in helping senior dogs improve their independence with daily activities, so they can live their golden years without the need to rely on pain medication. It is a normal aging process for dogs to slow down as they age due to degenerative joint issues such as arthritis, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing that pet parents can do to help them. We also see patients with a variety of other issues including knee issues (torn ligament, loose patella), hip injuries (arthritis, dysplasia), back problems (general back pain, disc disease, herniated disc) among others.

What does the evaluation process look like?

We start with a detailed review of the patient’s medical records obtained ahead of time from their veterinarian, including previous medical history, recent diagnostic tests, medication and nutritional profile. We also discuss with the pet parent what are their major issues and concerns, as well as goals that they would like to achieve for their pup. That period of talking to the pet parents also allow the dog to get comfortable with us before we do our hands-on evaluation. Afterward we perform a throughout functional assessment guiding them through different movements and activities, carefully observing how they move and if they have difficulty with any specific movement. After all that, we do a complete hands-on joint by joint assessment, evaluating all body parts through palpation, range of motion, joint mobility/alignment, etc. Finally, we put it all together and explain to the pet parent the meaning of what we found during the evaluation and discuss an appropriate plan of care that will help address their pup’s specific needs.

Physical therapy for dogs

What is the difference between physical therapy and chiropractic?

The AVCA (American Veterinary Chiropractic Association) defines a chiropractic adjustment as a “short lever, high velocity controlled thrust by hand or instrument that is directed at specific articulations to correct vertebral subluxations”. Their rationale is that “subluxations affect the nervous system, local muscles, joints, and even distant organs, glands, and body functions”. Physical therapists receive extensive training in manual therapy as well, but instead of focusing on subluxations it emphasizes improving mobility and flexibility along joints and muscles, as well as decrease pain and swelling through graded mobilization techniques. We use manual therapy as one modality of treatment; however, what differentiates physical therapy is what comes afterward. We use manual therapy as a passive treatment to get the patient feeling and moving better, giving us a “window of opportunity” when patients will respond better to a more active approach, including a progressive and challenging exercise program which will help maintain the improvements achieved through manual therapy for the long-term.

What are some of the treatments you use?

Most patients benefit from a combination of manual therapy (including soft tissue massage), laser therapy and a progressive exercise program. However, we can also use electrical stimulation (TENS) for pain relief as well as neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) to assist with muscle strengthening as needed. With that being said, one of the most important components of what we do at TheK9PT is our prescription for a home exercise program. We emphasize teaching pet parents the tools they need to learn to maintain their dogs healthy as they age. Our goal is not to see a patient continuously for an indefinite amount of time (although in some cases that is necessary for overall wellness) but instead to empower the pet parent on making the right decisions on behalf of their pups.

Laser therapy and holistic veterinary medicine for dogs.


Do you use hydrotherapy?

No, we do not. As a matter of fact, when I decided to open a mobile canine rehabilitation practice, I was often asked how I could do rehab without an underwater treadmill. But the reality is that physical therapy is more than one modality of treatment, and although hydrotherapy can be helpful with some patients most of them do better with a progressive exercise program instead. I have written an article that discusses that in further detail and would highly recommend for those who would like to learn my rationale behind that philosophy.

What’s the average number of sessions for treatment?

The average number of sessions can vary depending on each patient, including their diagnosis, if they had surgery, and which issues need to be addressed.  But, as previously mentioned, our goal is not to see a patient continuously for an indefinite period but instead to empower the pet parent on making the right decisions on behalf of their pups for long-term health.

 What’s the cost and does pet insurance cover it?

Yes, pet insurance companies do cover canine rehabilitation; however, the level of coverage can vary depending on each individual policy. We always recommend contacting the insurance company to find out specific details regarding or policy. The AARV also provides a general guideline for pet parents looking for more information. 

Can pet parents do the physical therapy at home?

As previously mentioned, one of the most important components of what we do at TheK9PT is our prescription for a home exercise program. The more the pet parents gets involved, the better results they will see. However, it is important to keep in mind that physical therapy is not a “one size fits all approach”, and that a detailed evaluation performed by a canine physical therapist will be needed to address your pup’s specific issues and needs.

Do you have a facility, and/or do you make house calls?

Currently, we only offer house calls. One of the main reasons I opened TheK9PT was because I realized that there was a need for someone to provide the commodity of house calls to some clients. I was working at a clinic and noticed how many clients were unable to follow through their programs, even though they were trying their best to do what was best for their dogs. Even more so with our specialty of helping improve the quality of life for senior dogs, it can be hard for most of them to endure the commute it requires in a city like Chicago to go a clinic.

Canine physical therapy and rehabilitation


How do I find a reputable canine physical therapist? What qualifications do I look for? 

That is a great question because it can be quite confusing for the public to know if they are working with a qualified professional. This is such a new and emerging field that there are no specific degrees or diploma in college that someone can attain. Instead, physical therapists and veterinarians can go through certification courses to build up on their knowledge and learn the skills required to work in the field of canine rehabilitation. Working with a veterinarian or physical therapist with a certification in canine rehabilitation will ensure that your pet receives rehabilitative care from a professional with the proper training. Simply look for these letters after their name: CCRT or CCRP. These stand for certified canine rehabilitation therapist and certified canine rehabilitation practitioner, respectively. An individual with one of these certifications has received formal training in canine anatomy and physiology, canine behavior and handling, common conditions and injuries, physical therapy assessment techniques, manual therapy, physical modalities (e.g., ultrasound, laser, TENS/NMES), therapeutic exercise, neurological rehab, and more. In particular, physical therapists are regarded as rehabilitation experts given our four or more years of schooling on the subject-before any kind of training with canines has begun. Read more about why it is important to work with a certified canine rehab professional.

How do you differentiate yourself from other physical therapists?

I have been told by numerous clients that one of the biggest differences they have noted when working with me was how I was able to put everything together, from medical history to a full physical therapy evaluation, explaining to them in a way that it made sense and it didn’t feel intimidating or overwhelming. One of the biggest issues in healthcare today, either in human or veterinary medicine, is the lack of time that practitioners have with their clients which leads to short appointments and a lack of rapport built between them. That is one of the many reasons why I enjoy doing house calls as it allows me to spend more time with them, while seeing the dogs in a more comforting and relaxing environment that is familiar to them.

Can you give me some examples of success stories?

There are so many, and I would encourage reading through them on our website or on google/Facebook. One of the most rewarding things for me is to see a senior dog, who has been struggling with activities that were once simple like daily walks and getting around the house, improve to the point that clients describe them as acting like a young pup once again. Biscuit, who just turned 15, is one of the main examples on how physical therapy can help improve their quality of life.

But if I had to pick my absolute favorite success story it would be Emma. By the time I saw her she had had a knee surgery on each leg to repair a torn ligament, and one of those surgeries had severe complications leading to a fracture. Her parents were very diligent and had taken her for weekly rehabilitation sessions for over a year at another clinic and had already spent thousands of dollars on therapies that did little to nothing according to them. I explained to them our philosophy of focusing more on manual therapy and a progressive exercise program instead of modality-based programs, with emphasis on a detailed home exercise program for them to follow. We started an intensive 12-week program and we saw tremendous results! In their own words Emma is doing the “best she's been doing in 3+ years since her first surgery!”. Afterwards they continued with her program at home, and now we only see each other every 4-6 weeks for a “tune-up” and to update her exercises.

This is a relatively new field.  How do veterinarians feel about it?  

They are generally very supportive and appreciative of physical therapists gaining further knowledge to work with animals and providing our skill set to help their patients. But, it is such a new field that it is barely (if even) mentioned during their education in veterinary school. Because of that we work diligently to educate both pet parents and veterinarians, either in-person or with online content, on what physical therapy really entails and that is more than just using laser therapy and underwater treadmill. 

Canine massage


Alternative medicine is gaining popularity. What do you think about CBD oil for pets? How would you integrate it into the overall physical therapy treatment plan?

I believe it is a great alternative for chronic pain management and I have seen tremendous results with my patients who have been using. Chronic pain management is vital for a successful rehabilitation program for senior dogs, but the amount of information online was overwhelming when I was learning more about the topic. It was also hard to find a trustful source, so I was very excited to meet with Andreana and learn how Blooming Culture is helping pet parents in Chicago with a local business that provides high quality and sustainable CBD oil.

You say you’re on call 24/7? How do you do that? 

That means that EVERY client has my personal cell phone number, not just the business number to contact. They can reach out to me at any time with questions or concerns, even on weekends and holidays if needed.    

At the end of the day, what do you say to yourself?  

Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter?” – Brendon Burchard. I have found my true passion in canine physical therapy and live every day to the fullest to help as many pet parents as possible. That has led me to not only have a successful business, but also to serve as inspiration for other physical therapists who wish to do the same. I have been able over the last year to start coaching and mentoring physical therapists all over the United States who have that same goal, and through them I will be able to continue helping even more pet parents beyond just Chicago.

 Francisco Maia, founder of TheK9PT