Physical Therapy for Dogs: Can It Help Your Senior or Injured Pet?

Physical Therapy for Dogs: Can It Help Your Senior or Injured Pet?

Perhaps your dog is a senior who is starting to slow down a bit, or maybe he has just experienced a traumatic injury.  Maybe you’ve been told that your dog is at risk for orthopedic problems unless he loses a few pounds.  Whatever your dog’s history may entail, canine physical therapy may be able to help.  Physical therapy and rehabilitation is a rapidly growing field in veterinary medicine and many dogs can benefit from these treatments.  Before embarking on a physical therapy journey with your dog, learn how these treatments can improve your dog’s quality of life and how to find a veterinary rehabilitation professional in your area with these tips.

What is physical therapy for dogs?

If you or a loved one have ever attended physical therapy sessions, you’re likely already familiar with the concept.  During physical therapy, a rehabilitation professional will show how to perform exercises and stretches specific to your area of injury.  These exercises are designed to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, increase circulation to the area, and reduce pain.  Often, you’ll also be given a series of exercises to practice at home.  Some physical therapists will also administer other treatments, such as massage, hydrotherapy, or therapeutic ultrasound.

Many pet owners are surprised to learn that physical therapy for dogs is quite similar to physical therapy for humans!  During your dog’s physical therapy session, a veterinary rehabilitation professional will typically walk you and your dog through some strengthening and passive range of motion exercises.  This may take a little longer than a human physical therapy session – because your dog doesn’t understand what is happening, patience, training, and lots of positive reinforcement are used to make sure he gets the idea and enjoys the experience!  Physical therapy for dogs may also include other rehabilitation therapies, such as:

  • Underwater treadmill
  • Swimming
  • Acupuncture
  • Therapeutic laser
  • Therapeutic ultrasound
  • Balance board exercises
  • Ice or heat therapy
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES)
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Veterinary spinal manipulative therapy

Which canine conditions can benefit from physical therapy?

Veterinary rehabilitation and physical therapy is a field that is still very much in its infancy.  We are still learning new techniques and new ways to apply these therapies.  To date, physical therapy is primarily used to manage traumatic injuries, joint disease, neurological disorders, and orthopedic conditions.  Common conditions treated by veterinary rehabilitation professionals include:



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