The mushrooming of businesses centred on pets such as grooming centres, pet stores, beauty saloons, boarding services and pet cafes, illustrates how important animals are to people.
However, physiotherapy or rehabilitation for pets is a relatively new field in Malaysia’s veterinary treatments.
Pet physiotherapy is common and in demand in developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
Seeing it as a new opportunity in Malaysia, canine physiotherapist Sydney Chik decided to start her own pet rehabilitation centre called Paws Rehab Centre.
Chik started out as a physiotherapist for people and worked for two-and-a-half years at a local private hospital before changing course due to her passion for animals after she found out that canine rehabilitation courses were available abroad.
During the year-and-a-half she spent studying canine rehabilitation in the US, she realised how in demand veterinary rehabilitation was, with well-equipped rehab-specific equipment and therapeutic programmes and treatments.
Upon returning to Malaysia, she started off by working closely with non-profit animal shelters such as Second Chance, Cherish Life Home, Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better, Save a Stray and Furry Friends Farm.
Chik received her first case from Second Chance shelter, a puppy named Lil’ Elvin which was rescued with two hind legs paralysed.
“It was too late for Lil’ Elvin to undergo rehab as he was suffering from joint contractures, a condition of stiff joints that leads to the loss of mobility,” said Chik.
But hope was not lost as Chik came up with the idea of making a wheeled walking aid for Lil’ Elvin.
“Such devices for dogs and cats are very common in the US but not here so I adopted the concept and created one using PVC pipes instead of the usual aluminium and steel, to lower the cost,” said Chik.
The walking aid uses rubber wheels to reduce noise and is held together with stainless steel screws so that it is easy to clean. Paralysed pets tend to have no bladder and bowel control, and therefore need regular cleaning.
Chik customises each walking aid according to the patient’s size and physical condition and offers the devices at a prices of between RM230 to RM350.
Chik began making house calls at the request of the animal shelters she was working with, to provide physiotherapy in the comfort of pet owners’ homes.
That lasted for about three months as Chik realised that house calls limited the type of therapy she could offer.
“I can only carry portable equipment with me such as gym balls, yoga mats and small electronic machines as I was moving around,” she said, adding that the travelling was tiring and time-consuming.
As a result, Chik decided to invest RM50,000 to set up a home-based clinic in October last year, which now houses Paws Rehab Centre.
The investment mainly went towards the clinic’s renovation, electrotherapy machines, a treadmill, a pool, pet supplies and other rehab-related equipment such as gym balls and yoga mats.
“Since this is a completely new field here, I decided it was risky to rent a premises. Fortunately, I have the use of an unoccupied property owned by my father here in Subang Jaya,” Chik said.
Besides referrals from animal shelters, Chik approached veterinary clinics around her area to introduce the physiotherapy services she offers. Word eventually got out and she started getting referrals from other veterinarians and pet owners that she had treated.
“Physiotherapy complements standard veterinary treatments. Therefore, vets recommend undergoing rehabilitation treatments to improve a patient’s recovery process,” Chik said, adding that physiotherapy for animals worked in the same way as it did for people.
Treatment aims to improve, restore and maintain mobility.
Chik is running the centre by herself at the moment as the only physiotherapist, providing services from assessments to treatments.
“I’m still capable of running it alone as cases are appointment-based and I can arrange my schedule in advance.
“There will be an average of four to five cases a day during the weekends and two to three cases on a weekday. Sessions costs RM50 and onwards depending on the problems being treated. Most of my patients make frequent visits as rehabilitation is not a short-term process.
“I work very closely with the pet owners and I don’t allow them to leave their pets here during the sessions or put them here for boarding,” Chik said, adding that it was not just about bringing pets for treatment, but also the commitment of pet owners to help their animals improve.
She also urged pet owners to learn how to perform simple exercises for their pets at home to improve the rehabilitation progress.
When asked about the challenges she faced as a canine physiotherapist, she said working with animals was already a challenge.
“Unlike humans, animals are not able to explain their discomfort or pain so it is all based on my own assessments,” she says.
Chik said she always had a natural bond with animals, which allowed her to touch them, but still took safety precautions to avoid any mishaps.
Paws Rehab Centre provides electrotherapy, hydrotherapy, therapeutic exercise and manual therapy for orthopaedic and neurological issues in animals and also those suffering from sports injuries and obesity.
Chik also sells customised wheelchairs and splints, pet supplements and accessories such as toe-grips and harnesses for disabled animals.
Chik takes part in pet fairs to provide free consultation and public talks to create awareness and educate the public on animal physiotherapy.
“Before therapy came about, the easy way out to handle injured or handicapped pets was to euthanise them. But now with physiotherapy and equipment, plus the commitment of pet owners, your pet might just have the chance of living a decent life,” she said, adding that younger pet owners were starting to accept this treatment option.
Chik said it was hard for her to gauge the viability of her treatment centre as it was still a new establishment. But looking at the frequent visits by pet owners, she foresees that the centre will come along fine and expects to recoup her investment after two to three years.
If all goes well, Chik hopes to move to a proper clinic within the next two years for better accessibility as the current centre is located within a housing area.
“My ultimate goal is to set up a one-stop centre for pets, inclusive of boarding facilities, grooming services and a pet café among others,” she said.