Physiotherapy for Dogs

Physiotherapy is a term used to describe the use of physical techniques for the treatment of injuries and physical dysfunction.  The aim of physiotherapy is to restore or facilitate normal function or development.

The benefits of physiotherapy in human medicine are well recognised, as proven by the extensive physiotherapy departments within most hospitals.  Physiotherapy is often an indispensable aid in the recovery of many musculoskeletal conditions and injuries.

Nowadays the benefits of this therapy are rapidly becoming recognised in the prevention, cure and rehabilitation of many dog, cat and horse injuries and diseases.

The development of physiotherapy in animals was initially led in the field of equine performance animals with owners looking to optimise post injury recovery and overall performance.  Owners of domestic animals are now also realising the potential benefits of physiotherapy in a multitude of situations.

Animal Physiotherapy is a therapy which is used to support conventional veterinary medicine.  A veterinary surgeon must diagnose an injury before the aid of an animal physiotherapist is sought.

General conditions which can be helped by Physiotherapy

  • Osteoarthritis- easing pain and maintaining joint mobility
  • Back pain
  • Muscle spasm, strain or tightness
  • Muscle imbalance/ atrophy
  • Diseased or injured joints
  • Ligament injuries
  • Tendon injuries
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Paresis and paralysis
  • Wounds- facilitating tissue repair and minimising scarring
  • Optimising post-operative repair e.g. fractures
  • Improving range of movement and muscle tone
  • Rehabilitation

Physiotherapy Techniques

Your browser may not support display of this image.A physiotherapist will make an assessment of posture, gait and functional movement of an animal as part of an initial evaluation.  Problems identified are often unique to each individual case and these problems will be assessed by the physiotherapist when deciding on the relevant treatment technique to be employed.

As well as the skilled use of trained hands, physiotherapists use various techniques and therapeutic modalities when treating animals. Among these are:

Soft tissue mobilization Used to normalise muscle tone, reduce soft tissue adhesions and facilitate restoration of normal movement patterns
Acupressure Applying pressure to specific points. Allows free energy flow through the body causing relaxation and normalising of body functions
Joint mobilisation Increasing the range of movement of joints and decreasing pain
Therapeutic exercises Controlled exercises specific for the condition being treated.  Help to increase flexibility, strength and endurance. Aim to restore mobility
Hydrotherapy Uses the buoyancy of water to provide support during recovery, rehabilitation and strengthening exercise
Simulated laser Laser therapy reduces swelling and inflammation. Also provides pain relief and shortens recovery time
Ultrasound Helpful in treating tendon and ligamentous injuries
Neuromuscular stimulators Use electric currents to produce muscular contractions.
Pulsed magnetic field therapy Magnetic fields have a deeper penetration than other therapies and are successful in treating bone and soft tissue injuries
Thermotherapy The use of heat and cold in the treatment of injuries

Treatment may involve a combination of the above techniques.

Goals of Physiotherapy Treatments

Individual cases vary so the goals for each treatment will be specific for that patient.  However the goal for the majority of cases will be:

  • Your browser may not support display of this image.Improved mobility
  • Reduced pain
  • Return of strength and flexibility
  • Prevention of reoccurrence of injury

Physiotherapists use physical techniques to achieve a therapeutic effect in the animal.  These techniques are ultimately designed to enhance the body’s natural healing abilities.

Cost of Physiotherapy Treatments

Total cost of treatment ultimately depends on how many treatment sessions are needed.  Some cases may require more frequent treatments than others.  Individual cases will vary and it will not always be possible to predict the number of treatment sessions required but it is worth asking your therapist before treatment commences.  Insurance companies will often pay for these treatments as long as:

  • The animal has been seen by a veterinary surgeon
  • The veterinary surgeon has referred the animal to a physiotherapist
  • The treatment is carried out by an accredited therapist

It is worth investigating the insurance company’s terms and conditions on therapies before you take out a policy.

Qualifications of Physiotherapists

Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT).

ACPAT members are chartered physiotherapists trained in the human field and are members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, before specialising in animal physiotherapy.  ACPAT provides post graduate training for its members once qualified to treat humans.

Many members are trained at the Royal Veterinary College (University of London) with either a Post Graduate Diploma or Masters Degree in Veterinary Physiotherapy and are therefore awarded the title of Veterinary Physiotherapist.

This training route is open only to chartered physiotherapists.  The title of Animal Physiotherapist/ Veterinary Physiotherapist is not a protected title.  ACPAT members are recognised as Chartered animal/ Veterinary Physiotherapists.


“The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 provides that (with certain specific exceptions) only veterinary surgeons may carry out acts of Veterinary Surgery upon animals.”Veterinary Surgery” is so defined by the Act as to include the making of a diagnosis, the carrying out of tests for diagnostic purposes and both medical and surgical treatment.

Of the exceptions created by the Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962, one permits the treatment of an animal by Physiotherapy, provided such treatment is given by a person acting under the direction of a Veterinarian who has examined the animal and has prescribed the treatment of the animal by physiotherapy”.



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