CORVALLIS, Ore. - The same physical therapy and rehabilitation techniques used to prevent injury or help humans recover from injury, illness and surgery - from electronic nerve and muscle stimulators to acupuncture - may soon become commonplace in treating dogs, cats and other pets.

Many of the world's top experts on animal rehabilitation will meet Aug. 7-11 at Oregon State University to give this emerging field a major boost. The First International Symposium on Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy in Veterinary Medicine is attracting worldwide interest, with participants coming to Corvallis from more than a dozen countries, from Argentina to South Africa.

OSU organized the conference to help facilitate dialogue between physical therapists who work with humans, and veterinary medicine educators and practitioners.

"The rehabilitation of animals is a relatively new field, particularly in the United States," said Jeff McCubbin, a professor and associate dean in OSU's College of Health and Human Performance. "It is more available in Europe and Australia. There is, however, a growing interest among physical therapists in animal rehabilitation as a natural outgrowth of their training for work with humans."

The American Physical Therapy Association recently organized a special interest group of professionals interested in veterinary applications. Some 1,000 therapists have since joined.

Motivations for veterinarians are slightly different, according to Linda Blythe, a professor and associate dean in OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. Many veterinarians are seeking additional training and information to offer better service to pet owners, who are being besieged by advertisements and claims in lay publications.

"There simply hasn't been a lot of information about rehabilitation and physical therapy in veterinary medicine curriculums in the United States," Blythe said. "A lot of PT modalities, from magnets to ultrasound, are being offered to the pet-owning public through magazines. While that may sound good, without proper knowledge and training some techniques may actually be harmful to animals.

"What this conference seeks to do is bring science into animal physical therapy and rehabilitation and determine what practices may be most efficacious," she added.

Most of the work in animal rehabilitation and therapy has focused on performance animals, or "animal athletes," including greyhounds, sled dogs and race horses.

Cost and a lack of training have been prohibitive factors preventing more widespread use, at least in the United States.

But studies are showing that people are more willing to spend moderate to large amounts of money on their pets, and as more veterinarians become trained in physical therapy techniques - and technology advancements continue - the costs of treatments likely will become more affordable.

The OSU conference has attracted some of the top experts in animal rehabilitation. Some of the speakers who will make presentations include Amanda Sutton, a physical therapist for the British equestrian team at the 1996 Olympics; Dr. Allen M. Schoen, a graduate of Cornell University who has lectured worldwide and written books on acupuncture and other alternative treatments for animals; Dr. Robert Gillette, president of the Canine Sports Medicine Association and a professor at Auburn University; and Dr. James Gannon, author and internationally regarded expert from Australia on greyhounds and sporting dogs.

Other leading experts include Dr. James Waldsmith, an equine veterinarian from San Luis Obispo, Calif., and member of the U.S. Olympic equestrian team; Dr. David Levine, physical therapist and researcher at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and vice president of the veterinary medicine physical therapy special interest group of the American Physical Therapy Association.

Among the topics that will be explored:


  • Integrated physical therapy in animal health.


  • Nutritional support of rehabilitating animals.


  • Principles of post-surgical wound healing relative to physical therapy.


  • Therapeutic modalities, including thermal therapies, ultrasound, magnetic fields, electrical stimulation, acupuncture, and laser therapy.

"The United State trails Great Britain and Australia in animal physical therapy, but there is a rapidly growing interest here," Blythe said. "There are a very small number of veterinarians with expertise in physical therapy techniques in the U.S. to address these issues and most of them will be at the conference."

The conference, which will be held at LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus, is open to the public. Registration is $325 for the entire conference, or $125 for a single day. It is designed for veterinarians, veterinary technicians and physical therapists. A complete schedule is available on the web at Note to Editors: This story originally contained a World Wide Web address. The characters used in Web addresses will not telecommunicate in our system. Please call us at 541-737-6945 for the address.

The conference is a collaborative effort by the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Health and Human Performance at OSU.

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Linda Blythe, 541-737-6945