How do you lure a reluctant cat through a rehab exercise program?
With feather toys, cooing, and lots and lots of treats.
For Willow, a three-year-old domestic shorthair who fractured both elbows last summer, physical rehabilitation has allowed her to regain strength and mobility.
Orthopedic surgery at UW Veterinary Care repaired Willow’s broken bones. Then Courtney Arnoldy, a physical rehabilitation specialist, took it from there, helping to provide Willow with the best opportunity for a full recovery.
Arnoldy founded UW Veterinary Care’s small animal rehabilitation program in 2003. Cats compose about 10 percent of her caseload, with dogs making up the majority of her client base.
Across several sessions, Arnoldy led Willow through a variety of exercises, including leg lifts, stepping onto and down from a platform, walking up and down a ramp, and crawling under
horizontal poles. The exercises, which slowly progressed in length and intensity, were aimed at improving Willow’s sitting and standing posture and her walking mechanics. The ultimate goal: to allow Willow independence to move around the house and play safely following months of being restricted to a kennel, apart from short walks with a harness and leash, while her bones healed.
Michelle Ceizyk is fostering Willow in her home for Touched by a Paw, a cat rescue organization based in Whitewater, Wisconsin. She practiced the exercises daily with Willow while in return getting licks on
her forehead from the sweet feline. The regimen at times required some creative license, for example digging out an old aerobic exercise step to mimic a platform that was used at the teaching hospital.
Arnoldy says Ceizyk’s strict commitment to the rehab plan helped optimize Willow’s potential.
“Working with the rescue group, in particular Willow’s foster mom, Michelle, was a wonderful experience,” she says. “They have been so dedicated during Willow’s recovery.”
At a follow-up appointment in December, Willow’s radiographs showed she was healing well, and she demonstrated more confidence and ease while navigating the exercises. Happily, Willow got the green light from her care team to gradually increase her activity at home and her time outside of the cage.
“She’s ready to take off and play,” says Ceizyk.