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The Advantages of Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Services at Steele Creek Animal Hospital

An In-Depth Conversation with Dr. Susan Bonilla

Dr. Susan Bonilla—or Dr. Susan, as she's known to her patients and clients—has a passion for integrative medicine with focuses on acupuncture and rehabilitation therapy. She completed her animal rehabilitation training at the University of Tennessee and has a certification in acupuncture from the Chi Institute.

Listen to Dr. Susan explain why she feels it's so important to provide you and your pet with access to these important therapeutic and rehabilitation services, and how these alternative treatments can help your beloved companion live a long, healthy, pain-free life.

You're passionate about integrative medicine and certified in acupuncture and canine rehabilitative therapy. What attracted you to these newer, non-traditional areas of veterinary medicine?

Dr. Susan: I was accidentally introduced into integrative medicine. Four years ago my dog, Ruffles, was 14 and suffering from horrible arthritis pain. Due to a liver mass that's non-surgical, she cannot handle traditional anti-arthritis pain medications. My husband and I were even considering putting her down because she was in so much pain. During this time I was completing my clinical year at the University of Florida, where I was introduced to canine rehabilitation therapy and acupuncture. My eyes were now open to these incredible alternative treatment options that could help decrease inflammation and arthritis pain in place of the more traditional approaches. Ruffles could still have a happy and healthy quality of life.

Upon graduating veterinary school, I decided to take a year off before practicing to become certified in acupuncture and canine rehabilitation therapy. I'm so glad I did this, because I love being able to show my clients multiple options beyond pain medications to relieve arthritis pain, heal faster after orthopedic surgery, and regain mobility after spinal surgery. Ruffles is still with us, pain-free, and will be turning 19 in June 2015.

steele creek animal rehab specialistsWhat are some of the most common therapeutic techniques used by you and Dr. Young at Steele Creek Animal Hospital?

Dr. Susan: We have a large range of rehabilitation options for our patients. One of the most utilized is the underwater treadmill. We use it for pets that are recovering from spinal surgery to re-learn how to walk, after orthopedic surgeries like knee surgeries to promote re-use of the affected limb, for weight loss, for arthritic patients to regain muscle and mobility without stressing their joints, and as a cardio workout for agility dogs. Our underwater treadmill even has jets that provide more resistance for our athletic patients. Shockwave therapy is our newest treatment option available at Steele Creek Companion Animal Rehabilitation Center. Shockwave therapy utilizes high-energy sound waves to stimulate cells and release healing growth factors in the body that reduce inflammation and swelling, increase blood flow, help bones to form and heal, and enhance wound healing. Shockwave is often used to treat arthritis, hip and elbow dysplasia, tendon/ligament injuries, fractures, back pain, chronic wounds, and shoulder lameness.

Steele Creek Animal Hospital is one of only a few veterinary hospitals in the Charlotte area offering canine rehabilitation services. What makes Steele Creek’s services unique?

Dr. Susan: As the first animal hospital in the Charlotte area to offer canine rehabilitation services, Steele Creek has the most experience. We see a vast range of rehabilitation needs. We've treated dogs that are unable to use their front or back limbs. Through rehab we can reteach them how to sit, stand, scratch their ear with their back legs, and eventually walk and run again. We also see patients that are not candidates for orthopedic or spinal surgery. Because we have so many treatment options, we make a rehab schedule that fits each patient's need, as well as each client's schedule and budget.

Rehabilitation therapy isn't necessarily an option people think of—or are even aware exists—when it comes to their pets. What should pet owners know about the improvement rehabilitation therapy can enable?

Dr. Susan: With more rehab facilities available for humans, pet owners are actively looking for rehab for their pets after surgery or as an alternative to surgery. It's our older, arthritic pets that owners tend not to think would benefit from rehab. It's very common for owners to assume their senior pet is slowing down because they're old. What they don't realize is most senior pets are slowing down because they are in pain due to underlying arthritis—not simply because they're growing old. Senior pets with arthritis have many options, such as high-quality joint supplements, weight loss programs, proper pain medication when necessary, laser therapy to decrease pain, platelet rich plasma injection that lasts over 6 months to promote healing and decrease inflammation in arthritic joints, and shockwave therapy.

Are there any rehabilitation success stories that are particularly memorable?

Dr. Susan: I treated a newly adopted cat named Barley that originally had been an outside cat. While he'd spent most of his time outside, the owners noticed he had a funny gait, and when they decided to make him part of the family they brought him in for a full check-up. We found he was very uncomfortable with any petting, touching or palpation of his hips. Radiographs were taken and we found he had severe hip arthritis. We discussed all the options available for him and decided to start with injectable joint supplements and acupuncture. Mom was a little skeptical about acupuncture, but approved a couple of treatments. After one month, he starting jumping on couches and tables—something he'd never done in the past. Now he's much more comfortable walking around and even allows me to pet him around his hips! He comes in once a month for maintenance acupuncture.

I also think of Maggie Mae, a Chesapeake Bay retriever with cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing disease in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, eventually preventing the liver from functioning properly. Since Maggie Mae doesn't have a normal liver, anesthesia is very dangerous. One summer, she managed to rupture both knees. The ideal option would have been to surgically fix both of her knees, but due to her liver, she could not undergo surgery. Therefore, we measured her back legs and made molds of her knees to have custom knee braces made. She used the braces as part of her rehab, which included underwater therapy and multiple therapeutic exercises to strengthen the muscles around her knees. She can now walk around at home and even play fetch without needing the braces.

To learn more about the extensive therapeutic and rehabilitative options available to your pet at Steele Creek Animal Hospital, please visit our website or call us at (704) 588-4400.