How can Physiotherapy help your dog?

Just like us, physiotherapy can assist your dog in many ways – from maintaining strength and flexibility for high performance athletes or working dogs, to re-learning the basics of transferring from lying to sit to standing and walking after a significant injury or illness. Physiotherapy is growing in demand, with owners seeking assessment, treatment and management from suitably qualified physiotherapists who use evidence based treatment techniques, which complement the work that their Veterinary Surgeon does for their animal’s health and well-being. 

Often owners want to know what they can do themselves to help their best friend recover from injury or illness, or simply to maintain health and well-being. Hands on physiotherapy and home exercise are two parts of a whole – individualized home exercises consolidate the physiotherapists work and allow you, the owner, to work on achieving your goals at home on a daily basis. Simple changes to your current exercise and play can make a significant difference to your dog’s progress – focusing on combining specific stretching, strengthening and balance exercises with play time to make rehabilitation a positive and enjoyable experience for both you your dog. 


Dogs can be very stoic – sometimes too stoic for their own good. It can be challenging to identify the often subtle signs of discomfort your dog may be experiencing – it may be as simple as your dog being “not quite right”.

 does your dog still have a spring in it's step?

does your dog still have a spring in it's step?

Potential signs of discomfort to be aware of include the following:

  • Change in behaviour or character – anxiety, defensiveness, aggression
  • Sudden dislike of being touched or groomed
  • Vocalising – whining, crying
  • Reluctance to play
  • Reluctant to walk, trot or run
  • Skipping or bunny hopping
  • Becoming aversive to other dogs company
  • Reduced exercise tolerance and increased fatigue
  • Lameness – perhaps just on particular terrain or incline / decline
  • Difficulty with uneven terrain, hills and negotiating obstacles
  • Difficulty with mobility or stiffness after prolonged rest or bout of heavy exercise
  • Difficultly getting up from lying
  • Inability to ‘sit square’ – leaving one hind limb out to the side
  • Morning stiffness – “slow to get going”
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty jumping up to the couch, bed or in/out of the car
  • Poor performance
  • “not their usual selves”

 Gait assessment

Gait assessment

So what does the Physiotherapy assessment process involve?

  • Observation of your dog – assessment of both conformation and posture in stance
  • Gait assessment – both walk and trot
  • Gait assessment on various terrains, steps and ability to negotiate obstacles
  • Assessment of postural sets
  • Palpation of the dogs’s muscles and joints
  • Assessment of joint range of motion
  • Assessment of movement patterns and muscle strength
  • An orthopaedic examination where appropriate
  • A neurological examination where appropriate
  • Assessment of balance and coordination

Injury Prevention

Your physiotherapist can implement strategies and create exercise based programs with the aim of preventing or reducing the quantity and severity of injuries. We are generally familiar with the concept of injury prevention programs in professional sports teams and as well as in the workplace - our dogs can also benefit from considering how to prevent injuries from occurring.   

Injury prevention strategies are developed based on:

1.    Overall injury risk assessment of the workload, activity or sport that the dog participates in – sport / work / activity risk assessment. 

2.    Individual injury risk assessment – screening the individual dog for potential muscle imbalances, asymmetry in movement patterns or restriction in joint range of motion which may predispose a dog to injury.

3.    Analysis of the major injury risk factors for the individual dog, taking into consideration the role and lifestyle of the animal.

4.    Implementation of generic and specific injury prevention strategies.

Your physiotherapist can develop an individualized and appropriate conditioning program, which is balanced by taking into account strength, endurance, proprioception, balance and skill training, taking into account the work or sports specific demands placed upon the dog. 

Disorders of the hind limb

  • Iliopsoas strain
  • Gracilis and hamstring myopathy
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Coxofemoral luxation
  • Cranial cruciate ligament insufficiency
  • Patella luxation
  • Achilles tendon injury
  • Peripheral nerve injury

Disorders of the spine

  • General back pain
  • Congenital malformations 
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Post trauma
  • FCE Fibrocartilagenous embolization
  • Degenerative conditions
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Post spinal surgery 

Disorders of the forelimb

  • Muscle strains and tears
  • Supraspinatus tendinopathy
  • Infraspinatus myopathy
  • Biceps tendinopathy
  • Medial shoulder syndrome 
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • OCD – Osteochondrosis / osteochondritis dissecans
  • Ununited medial epicondyle
  • Incomplete ossification of the humeral condyle
  • Congenital abnormalities or malformation
  • Carpal injury
  • Management of scar tissue and oedema
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Peripheral nerve injury

Post Surgery

Physiotherapy is commonly utilised post-surgery. Regardless of the type of surgery, the animal will have some level of post-operative pain, just like in humans. Dogs often suffer from muscle atrophy (which may have started prior to surgery due to pain, dysfunction and limb disuse), and the dog may adopt abnormal movement patterns in order to compensate for pain and weakness post-surgery. Physiotherapy provides rehabilitation with the goal of optimizing function of the affected area as soon as possible, enhancing recovery post-surgery and striving to prevent the animal from developing compensatory movement patterns and problems. Physiotherapy is commonly used after the following surgeries:

  • Shoulder and elbow surgery
  • Cranial cruciate ligament surgery
  • Patella luxation repair
  • Achilles repair
  • Femoral head and neck excision
  • Triple pelvic osteotomy
  • Total hip replacement
  • Post fracture repair
  • Post limb amputation
  • Spinal surgery

Athletic, Work and Show dogs

The dog has been ‘man’s best friend’ for over 30,000 years, and the human – canine bond has grown from strength to strength. The canine athlete is not just the agility dog. Dogs perform many varied occupation roles, including physically guiding those with vision impairments, search and rescue, explosive detection, security work to therapy assistants in the hospital. From an agricultural perspective, the Border Collie, Cattle Dog and Kelpie remain loyal and reliable partners in organizing domestic herds on the farm. From a performance perspective, there are many events which test the agility, appearance, physical ability and obedience of the dog. Physiotherapy has a key role to play in both injury prevention, optimizing performance as well as in rehabilitation and guidance regarding safe return to sport and work post injury or illness. 

The Older Dog

Just like us, the aging dog experiences senescence or decreased function. Bodily changes due to aging can lead to clinical issues such as decreased proprioception and muscle atrophy. Common problems encountered in the aging dog include obesity, muscle atrophy, decreased bone density, neurological changes, metabolic changes, cognitive changes, neoplasia, sensory changes (loss of hearing and sight) and seizures. The role of physiotherapy in the geriatric patient is to address pain management, improve mobility, coordination and proprioception, address obesity and manage any ongoing conditions, ultimately focusing on optimizing quality of life. In addition, your physiotherapist can provide advice on home modifications and equipment which may make the home safer for your elderly dog as well as making life easier for you, the owner.