Every day, my neighbor takes her aging German Shepherd, Cleo, for a walk down the driveway and into a field next door. Cleo suffers from hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy, meaning that her hip joints are malformed and arthritic, and her lower spinal cord is gradually degenerating. She looks like the letter “J” when she walks. It’s painful to watch, and painful for Cleo.
Beyond pain medications, not much has been available for dogs that suffer from these disorders, some of which are genetic, and some just normal wear and tear. But Hudson Valley Animal Wellness, a 1,500-square-foot facility in Kerhonkson that opens this month, specializes in animal rehabilitation therapy. The list of therapies reads like the menu of services in a high-end spa: hydrotherapy, gait analysis, land treadmills, therapeutic stretching and exercise, and cold laser therapy, along with other alternative therapies like chiropractic, acupuncture, energy healing, herbal supplements, homeopathy, and behavioral wellness. This is a place where a dog like Cleo can receive help.
Hudson Valley Animal Wellness is the longtime dream of Eric Hartelius, a DVM in Kerhonkson who built the center next to his traditional practice. “I decided a decade ago that traditional medicine alone did not answer all the needs of our patients,” he says. “The mission of the wellness center is to bring a unique blend of traditional and alternative medicine to maximize the quality of life of the pet.”
Dr. Hartelius first evaluates the pet to determine the source of the problem. Is it in the animal’s hips, knees, or back? Is it a neurological? A dog that can’t move well because of severe arthritis, back injury, or obesity, for instance, might start its therapy on an underwater treadmill, under the supervision of a specially trained vet technician. The buoyancy of the water helps the dog move more easily, allowing it to improve its muscle tone and strength.
As the dog gets stronger, the amount of water is reduced and the treadmill is sped up to increase resistance. Eventually the dog might graduate to the land treadmill, which has an incline to gradually increase the workout. The land treadmill might be the first therapy of choice for a dog that doesn’t need the extra support of the water, just muscle conditioning.
It can even be an indoor exercise option for dogs who can’t work out in bad weather.
The same stretching mats and colorful fitness balls you see in gyms are at the Wellness Center, and they work just as well for dogs. When their front two paws are on the ball, animals have to work core muscles to stay balanced — with the help of the vet tech, of course.
Hudson Valley Animal Wellness offers class 4 cold laser therapy, in which a high-energy light deeply penetrates the cells and stimulates mitochondria, which speeds cell renewal and healing. Laser therapy can treat acute and chronic injuries, sprains, strains, arthritis, swelling due to back disc problems, and muscular-skeletal abnormalities. It also helps to regenerate nerve tissue after surgery. “This is a powerful machine that is used in human physical therapy,” says Dr. Hartelius.
In fact, what the center is offering is physical therapy for dogs. But, explains Dr. Hartelius, the physical therapists who work on humans don’t care for that language, “so we call it ‘animal rehabilitation medicine.’”
The goal is to help animals who have difficulty moving or are in pain to get up, move, and be as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. “We can reverse a trend,” says Dr. Hartelius. “An arthritic pet moves less, so its muscles get weaker and the joints get stiffer. By increasing the flexibility in the joints and the strength of the muscles, you can move the dog or cat in the opposite direction.”
And when your animal is your best friend, that’s worth everything.