Published: 03 July 2014

Vet school embarks on canine movement study

Surrey researchers use technology and techniques developed to improve human health to help dogs with paralysis and other neurological problems.

Working with the Department of Mechanical Engineering Sciences, researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine will analyse the patter of 120 paws belonging to 30 healthy smooth, long and wire haired miniature Dachshunds – a breed prone to spinal problems.

The study is taking place in Surrey’s Biomedical Engineering Gait Analysis Laboratory, usually reserved for human subjects. 

Using a 3D motion capture camera system, a pressure mat and a force plate, researchers will measure the dogs’ stability while standing and monitor how their back and limbs move during walking. Some of the dogs will be kitted out in 24 tiny reflective markers, so motion cameras can capture their movements as a 3D computer model.

Researchers hope to develop a system to score the dogs’ core muscle stability, similar to the one used for humans following a stroke.

The study's results will help vets to get an objective picture of what healthy dog core stability looks like so they can make evidence-based decisions about the rehabilitation of dogs that are unwell.

Study leader Dr Constanza Gómez Álvarez, Lecturer in Musculoskeletal Biology, said, “Currently, vets rely on clinical examination and neurological indicators to evaluate the recovery of dogs paralysed by intervertebral disc disease. We hope to establish an objective score for healthy core stability, so we can make an unbiased analysis of patients and tailor rehabilitation methods accordingly. We also hope to improve the understanding of how this breed moves and why these dogs suffer from back problems.

“The data will help us to investigate new forms of rehabilitation, for example low level laser therapy, with the aim of shortening recovery times.”

The research team, which also includes Dr Aliah Shaheen, Lecturer in Human Movement Analysis and Dr Clare Rusbridge, Reader in Veterinary Neurology and Chief of Neurology at Fitzpatrick Referrals, where part of the study is taking place, hopes to publish results from the study later this year.

Surrey’s new £45m School of Veterinary Medicine is currently under construction and will include a state-of-the art Veterinary Biomechanics laboratory for companion animals as well as a mobile lab for horses and livestock.

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