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Physiotherapy For Dogs

Dog Health

Dogs are like people in so many ways, so when your pet has an injury, undergoes surgery or is getting on in years and suffers from arthritis, it is only right that a professional, highly qualified Chartered Physiotherapy service is available to them.

The aim of an animal physiotherapist is to restore and maintain the mobility, function, independence and performance of your dog throughout any stage of his life, Rebecca Heald.

Dogs, like ourselves develop similar diseases affecting their mobility and quality of life such as arthritis, often causing stiffness and a reduced ability to exercise. Dogs, like footballers, can also suffer cruciate ligament injuries from chasing a ball! They often require surgery to treat this and many other conditions affecting their bones, ligaments, muscles or tendons.

Dogs commonly need surgery or visit the vets after an injury, and whilst veterinary surgeons operate on these conditions or manage the dog with rest and medication, the next step to a complete recovery is utilising specific expert knowledge and the specialised skills of a veterinary / animal physiotherapist, who is a Category A member of ACPAT.

Why Is Physiotherapy For Dogs Important?

Dog physiotherapy is vital to relieve pain and discomfort, and to build up strength and flexibility in order to regain normal movement and function to enable the dog to return to a happy, healthy lifestyle. Often you wouldn’t know if you pet had sore or tight muscles, or was suffering from weakness or a sprain in their muscles, tendons or ligaments. Physiotherapists are experts in hands on therapy and have gained years of knowledge and experience working with people, so they can tell what the problem is with your pet and what treatments and exercises are going to help.

How do human physiotherapists become animal physiotherapists and how are they regulated?

The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy,(ACPAT) is a clinical interest group of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). All ACPAT’s practising Category A members have a degree in human physiotherapy and are members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), the professional body. They must have a minimum of two years human experience before they are eligible to train as an animal or veterinary physiotherapist via a recognised ACPAT upgrading route.

Therefore it takes at least seven years to become a Category A member. Human physiotherapists are regulated by the Health Professions Council (HPC) and they protect the titles ‘physical therapist’ and ‘physiotherapist’. Unfortunately they do not recognise animals and therefore the titles ‘animal/veterinary physiotherapist’ and ‘animal/veterinary physical therapist’ are not protected. ACPAT members are regulated by the CSP. All our Category A members abide by the Veterinary Surgeons Act and will not see an animal unless they have been referred by a veterinary surgeon, they also have full public and professional liability insurance.

What happens during my dog’s physiotherapy session?

We perform a detailed assessment of your dog’s health, physical problems and lifestyle through questions, observation and then a specific hands on assessment. A specific treatment programme is designed and discussed with the owner. The first appointment often lasts an hour, with subsequent sessions taking up to 45 minutes. We often run clinics from purpose built treatment rooms or therapy centres, veterinary premises or we come to your home, dependent on your dog;s needs.

Will I be given advice on helping my pet at home?

We always provide dog owners with useful advice and teach many techniques to carry out at home to improve their pet’s recovery. There are also many precautions owners need to be aware of within the home after surgery or injury. Care on using the stairs, avoiding slips on laminate or wooden floors, assisting your dog in and out of the car, and ensuring they are safe and comfortable within their home is important and will be advised on, as dogs need a period of rest and recuperation in order to make the best recovery possible.

Is physiotherapy for animals similar to physiotherapy for people?

All the techniques used are similar to those used for people, but adapted with a sound background in animal anatomy and biomechanics and related to the animal’s condition. However I always stress that physiotherapy for animals should never be painful or cause distress, it should always be a pleasant experience. A lot of the dogs I treat often fall asleep they are so relaxed.

What treatment techniques may be used?

Treatments such as massage, soft tissue techniques, joint mobilisations and the use of heat and gentle stretches are implemented to aid circulation, healing and movement. Also, electrotherapy techniques such as therapeutic ultrasound, muscle stimulation and magnetic therapy are used to promote tissue healing and speed the recovery process.

How will my dog build up his fitness again?

Dogs also need to do specific exercises like people would to build up their strength, and improve their balance and co-ordination. Although they can’t go to a gym like we would, there are many exercises for dogs which owners can easily do at home or incorporate into their walks. Strengthening and balance exercises include slow walking up slopes and hills, doing circles and figures of eight, sit to stand exercises and many more all dependent on what injury, surgery or condition your dog has. It is important that the exercises are as enjoyable as possible for the dog, and that they are rewarded for doing them.

Can I still take my dog for walks after his surgery or injury?

I give owners a lot of advice on returning to walks, such as how far to go and how to build that up, also the best surfaces to walk on and how often their dog should be exercised during their rehabilitation in collaboration with their vet’s recommendations.

My dog is very old, will he still be able to do a rehabilitation programme?

Like people, no two dogs are the same, so each physiotherapy treatment plan and home rehabilitation programme is different and specific to each individual dog. It is important to take into account each dog’s age, breed, previous lifestyle, fitness and general daily routine, as well as that of the owners.

When is the best time for my dog to start physiotherapy treatment?

Physiotherapy is often best when started soon after injury or surgery, but it can make a huge difference to your pet’s physical health and quality of life at any stage during recovery, or at any age. The majority of pet insurance companies will cover the cost of physiotherapy treatment.

What canine conditions benefit from having physiotherapy?


Degenerative joint disease

Age related discomfort


Muscle sprains/strains

Surgery, or management of;

Cruciate ligament injury

Hip dysplasia

Triple pelvic osteotomy or joint replacements

Femoral head and neck excision

Patella stabilisation

Fracture repair

Elbow dysplasia

Neurological conditions such as;

Spinal surgery

Nerve injuries

Chronic degenerative mylopathy (common in German Shepherd dogs)

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How do I find my local animal/veterinary physiotherapist?

To find a local ACPAT Category A member or for further information visit

Having grown up with a household menagerie I always wanted to work with animals. I qualified from the Royal Veterinary College in 2005 with a post graduate diploma in veterinary physiotherapy and since then have been specialising my work in the treatment of dogs, which is a dream job for me. I also continue some part-time work for the NHS. I work closely with a number of veterinary practices, and often provide in-house veterinary physiotherapy for dogs who have undergone more specialised surgery in which they require a period of veterinary care. I am based in Darlington, County Durham but am happy to treat animals within the North East of England and throughout North, East and West Yorkshire. I also enjoy getting involved in teaching both veterinary nurses and students about physiotherapy, and provide colleges running equine and animal management courses with lectures, demonstrations and careers information.

Please do contact me if you would like to find out more about veterinary physiotherapy, or feel your pet would benefit from treatment. I can be contacted via my website


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