What is Veterinary Rehabilitation Therapy?
Veterinary physiotherapy or rehabilitation therapy utilises a range of non-invasive techniques to improve your pet's mobility, decrease the pain associated with movement, and improve their quality of life.
Therapies are hands-on and exercise-based, using a wide variety of tools and techniques to support your pet’s recovery.
Does my Pet Need to See a Physiotherapist?
Pets may visit a veterinary physiotherapist due to an injury, after surgery, or because they are experiencing performance or behavioural issues. Dogs and horses are the most commonly treated pets, but cats and other animals are often seen in clinics too.
What will Happen at my Pet’s Rehab Appointment?
Your veterinary rehabilitation specialist will discuss your pet’s condition at your first appointment, having already contacted your vet to understand their medical history.
They will undertake a thorough hands-on examination of your pet, looking at how they move and the range of motion of their limbs. They will assess their gait, overall condition and home life — such as how much exercise they get, their use of stairs, and their diet.
Each therapist is different, but you should expect them to work with you to develop an action plan for your pet. They may undertake some hands-on treatment, get your pet exercising, and discuss nutritional support.
Between appointments, you and your pet will have exercises and activities to do together, and they might recommend a joint supplement. Please don’t be offended if they suggest your dog or cat needs to go on a diet. Losing a few inches around the waist works wonders for the mobility of overweight pets, and maintaining a healthy weight is vital for your pet’s long-term health and wellbeing.
What Tools and Techniques Do Veterinary Physiotherapists Use?Depending on your pet's condition, your physiotherapist will use a variety of techniques and tools to help put the spring back in your pet’s step.
Massage and Manipulation Techniques
- Hands-on techniques include deep-tissue massage, stretches, and non-weight-bearing passive range of motion exercises.
Treadmills and Hydrotherapy
- Treadmills can be land-based or specialised to fill with water. Your pet can exercise in a safe environment, with increased support where necessary – controlling both the speed and incline of the treadmill. Some clinics will even have specialist hydrotherapy pools.
- Also known as balance therapy; your veterinary physio will use wobble boards, balance balls, and obstacle courses to engage and develop your pet’s muscles in more targeted ways – increasing range of motion and developing proprioception (knowing where their limbs are). This, combined with manipulation techniques, are the most widely used forms of therapy.
- Particularly good for reducing inflammation and swelling, therapeutic ultrasound differs from the diagnostic ultrasound that you might know from pregnancy scans. Therapeutic ultrasound gently heats body tissues, improving blood flow and enabling muscles, tendons, and ligaments to stretch.
- Cold laser therapy uses infra-red radiation directed into your pet’s soft tissue to accelerate the body’s healing process. It is often used in cases of osteoarthritis.
- Weight control plays a vital role in recovery. High-quality nutrition helps build muscle, and weight loss reduces the pressure on the musculoskeletal system whilst enhancing your pet’s overall health.
- Your veterinary rehabilitation therapist may also recommend joint supplements or nutraceuticals, particularly if your pet suffers from arthritis. These support your pet’s joint health from the inside and are a vital piece of the puzzle of techniques used to maintain your pet’s long-term mobility.
Heat and Cold Therapy
- Cold therapy is often used within the first 72 hours of an injury to reduce inflammation. Later, heat therapy can increase blood flow to the affected areas, encouraging natural healing and relieving pain. It is particularly useful in long-term conditions such as arthritis.
How long does physical rehabilitation take?
- Each session will last anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Physiotherapy is not a quick-fix solution. You should expect to see your therapist for several sessions over the course of a few days, weeks or months.
What happens next?
Hopefully, with treatment, the right exercises and nutritional support, your pet will be feeling back to their old self. Happy, active, and into everything!
In some cases, your therapist will recommend long-term treatments, exercises or supplements that you can continue with for the course of your pet’s life – supporting them well into old age.
Find a Veterinary Physiotherapist
Speak to your veterinary surgeon to be referred directly to a specialist clinic. Or find a veterinary physiotherapist here.