Sports medicine, rehab for animals gets okay by vet med association

A stamp of approval this spring by the American Veterinary Medical Association to certify specialists in sports medicine and rehabilitation for animals will create new opportunities for students at Oregon State University – and better care for dogs, cats and horses in Oregon, and around the nation.

Two of the first 27 “diplomates” of the newly formed American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation are faculty members at OSU, where the national move to develop a program for animal rehabilitation was launched more than a decade ago.

“This is a new discipline, created after rigid review, that has taken many of the concepts of sports medicine and rehabilitation for humans and applied them to animal care,” said Linda Blythe, a professor in OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and one of the first diplomates named to the new college. “Using these techniques allows animals to recover more quickly from injury or surgery, and allows older animals to live longer and have better quality of life.”

Certified veterinary technician Nichole Hovelsrud works with Guinness, using the underwater treadmill to strengthen the dog’s muscles and help his degenerative hip condition. (photo by Mark Floyd)

The American Veterinary Medical Association has created a number of specialty colleges over the years, including internal medicine, emergency and critical care, surgery, anesthesiology and others. These colleges identify experts in the field, set standards for diplomate status, and create a certification process – all geared toward providing better care for animals.

The College of Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation is the first new college to be approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association in the past 10 years. Blythe was one of the architects of the new movement, which gained momentum following a 1999 symposium held at OSU and attended by some 300 human and animal health care practitioners from around the world.

“It was the first time such a meeting had ever been held to explore how to create a professional field for animal sports medicine and rehabilitation,” Blythe said, “and interest since has skyrocketed.”

Blythe helped conceive the idea for such a symposium after spending five months in Australia in 1992 working in a clinic that treated racing greyhounds. Her work on those treatment protocols led to a textbook on the topic.

OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, which is the only program of its kind in Oregon, is emerging as a leader in sports medicine and rehabilitation. In addition to Blythe, Erica McKenzie was named one of the founding diplomates and is known for her work with sled dogs at the Iditarod and exercise physiology in horses.

In the fall of 2008, OSU opened its Small Animal Rehabilitation Center. Directed by Wendy Baltzer, the center treats a number of dogs and cats each week for conditions ranging from neurological disorders including stroke, to osteoarthritis, muscle and tendon tears, cancer and diabetes, and injury prevention. There is an increasing need to treat athletic dogs that are injured in agility trials, dock jumping and other competitions.

Baltzer also has developed a widely recognized protocol for treating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in dogs.

The new American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation has recognized specialties for both dogs and horses. OSU received attention last fall from its installation of a high-speed horse treadmill, where clinicians can diagnose respiratory issues in horses while the animals are running at speeds of 25 miles an hour or greater.

“OSU’s expertise and unique facilities are providing extraordinary opportunities for students to learn these new techniques in sports medicine and rehabilitation,” Blythe said. “It will make them even more marketable upon graduation – and help them provide better care for animals.”

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