Cheetah physiotherapy

Rachel Cartwright has rehabilitated a wide range of animals including cats, rabbits, goats, horses, reindeer and now a cheetah! 

Rachel Cartwright
Rachel Cartwright is a human and veterinary physiotherapist who runs 4 Point Physio Ltd in Birmingham

Duma is a two-year-old male cheetah residing at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, southern Africa. The organisation rescues many cheetahs from the illegal pet trade. 

He suffered a left sided acetabular and ileal fracture, which was managed through cage rest, medication and physiotherapy. 

Duma’s vet contacted me to assist with physio remotely. Initially, Duma had a shortened stride length and significant muscle atrophy on the left hindlimb (LH); 4cm deficit compared to right thigh circumference. The aim of physio was to increase muscle strength and hip AROM to return to running and jumping, and to minimise risk of injuries from interacting with his cheetah group, known as a coalition. 

I discussed rehab ideas with the vet, a challenge due to limited resources, the virtual nature and restricted handling of the cheetahs. 

I adapted exercises that would usually be used for domestic animals. 

The following progressive programme was performed daily by the vet using a bowl of meat as bait: 

  1. weaving, changing directions and walking in small circles 
  2. stepping on and off a raised platform 
  3. walking over raised poles 
  4. crawling under poles 
  5. jumping over raised poles. 

His rehab sessions gradually became longer and jump height was increased. After four weeks, he had made great progress. He had significant muscle hypertrophy, increased stride length/AROM and improved propulsion.

Duma was released back into the main enclosure with his coalition. Since then, he has had no issues, playing and competing with the other five cheetahs happily. 

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