Bailey the boxer loves her underwater treadmill sessions.

Bailey is a high-energy dog. Fortunately, she lives with her family on a  farm where she can run alongside their four-wheelers and swim in a nearby river. Indoors, Bailey likes to walk on the treadmill. In fact, if she’s really anxious or excited, she will stand on the treadmill and call her owner, Keri Childers, to come turn it on.

One day last year, Bailey got stung by a bee and took off running. She hit a ditch full of tall grass and came out the other side limping. Childers took Bailey to her local vet who correctly diagnosed a torn ligament in her left rear stifle joint. Sometimes, partial tears can heal without surgery, but after several weeks with no improvement, Childers took Bailey to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for TPLO surgery.

A dog’s stifle joint is similar to the human knee with one big difference: In a dog, the end of the tibia is sloped so the ligaments in the joint work hard to hold it in place. Once a ligament is completely torn, the tibia slides down the stifle joint causing tissue distress, joint wear, and pain. TPLO surgery removes the slope at the end of the tibia making it possible to stabilize the joint. At OSU, Dr. Wendy Baltzer performed the surgery on Bailey.

Baltzer is a small animal orthopedic surgeon and the principal investigator in a TPLO research project sponsored by Nestle Purina. Although TPLO surgery is often very successful, any orthopedic joint surgery can accelerate the development of arthritis. Dr. Baltzer is studying post-surgical therapies that may decrease the incidence of arthritis. To do this, the project is enrolling dogs who have had TPLO surgery and dividing them into two groups: those who receive rehab after surgery and those who do not. The dog’s owner chooses which group they prefer then the dogs are further divided into those on a regular diet and those on a diet containing Omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin. “We need 23 more dogs to enroll in the study,” says Baltzer, “and that will likely take another 18 months.”

Each patient in the study wears a special harness that holds an accelerometer which measures the dog’s level of activity. Dogs like Bailey that are in the rehab group have a strict schedule of home and hospital exercise and therapy sessions. One of Bailey’s favorite sessions is the underwater treadmill which provides just enough resistance to build muscles and mobility while reducing trauma and pressure on the recovering joint. Of course, some dogs initially balk at standing in a tank of water on a moving surface, but Bailey loves it. When Childers tells Bailey it’s time to go to OSU, she heads for the door.

Sarah Smith, a certified veterinary technician at OSU, has worked with Bailey throughout her rehabilitation. Being able to get acquainted with the animals is one reason Smith likes working for OSU. “Because we get the extreme cases,” says Smith, “they are often here for an extended stay or repeat visits. I become very attached to them.” Smith is happy to report that after ten weeks of therapy, Bailey’s knee is completely healed. “She is back to her active life as a happy-go-lucky boxer,” Smith says.

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