Pet Health Animal Physiotherapy

Published on March 30th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin


Animals and Physiotherapy what can it do?

Physiotherapy (or physical therapy) is a long-established part of rehabilitation after any injury. It allows us to retain (and regain) mobility and function, assessing the condition and strength of muscles and ligaments, and testing how flexible and supple our limbs are. Physiotherapy has been around in one form or another since the Ancient Greek period, and possibly long before then, in the form of massage, hydrotherapy, and other techniques – and though the involved technologies and techniques have been refined over the centuries, the underlying principles remain much the same.

While it’s most often thought of as a means of getting human beings back on their feet, physiotherapy is something which can treat a broad range of conditions in animals, too. Like its human counterpart, it’s often employed as a preventative measure in top-level athletes (like thoroughbred racehorses, who’ll bring in an income level that’ll justify the outlay), but it’ll also help to improve the quality of life of any injured dog, cat, horse or rabbit.

Veterinary physiotherapy is often pursued by vets looking to work more closely with animals, and training in the subject is increasingly being offered at universities and colleges across the country – at levels ranging from diploma to MSc. Students in the field tend to begin from a background in general veterinary medicine, but some might make the transition from equine or even human medicine. A good physiotherapist will have an extensive knowledge of animal anatomy, as well as a good rapport with the animals themselves – and so often those with a background in training and competition might choose to make the transition to physiotherapy.

What does physiotherapy do?

Physiotherapy is used to treat many different problems, but it’s main goals are as follows:

Increasing the range of movement

If an animal’s limbs have been rendered immobile for a period of time, then physiotherapy can be extremely useful in restoring the function of the limb. Typically, this is re-built over many sessions, with each one building on the progress of the last. Naturally, it’s sensible for this to occur very gradually – as pushing the body too far too quickly might cause a relapse.

Pain reduction

Often as a direct consequence of restoring mobility, physiotherapy will also help to get rid of some of the pain of the limb in question. This effect is circular; the less a limb hurts to use, the more inclined the animal will be to use it, and the more use the limb gets, the less it’ll hurt.

Strength enhancement

For animals who lack the mobility to properly exercise, muscle wastage can be a real problem. Physiotherapy allows for muscle mass to be retained in a controlled and relatively safe manner. This will ensure that the animal is able to move around as well as they could before when their rehabilitation is complete.

Preventing further injury

If an animal is recovering from an injury, then there’s always the chance of them relapsing or suffering a setback. Physiotherapy helps to guard against this, and to enable the animal to gradually return to a programme of full exercise. Once they’ve gotten to this point, physiotherapy can be employed as a preventative measure; but this is generally only countenanced in the case of high-performance competitive animals.

What is physiotherapy?

What is this wondrous technique that can confer all of these benefits? The truth is that the term ‘physiotherapy’ is an umbrella, under which you’ll find a wide variety of different treatment methods. Let’s consider some of them.


Massage is perhaps the oldest and best-established of all physical therapies. It involves applying pressure to the body in order to achieve relaxation. It developed independently in Ancient China and Greece, alongside the athletic disciplines. It comes in many forms; some of them are effective, others are less so. The most popular variety today comes from Sweden, and relies on five techniques: sliding, kneading, tapping, shaking and friction.


This is an ancient Chinese technique, which recommends that pressure be applied at certain points throughout the body. It’s efficacy is dubious, and so it’s often labelled an ‘alternative’ therapy. Of course, while humans might experience benefits because of the placebo effect, the same is unlikely to be true of animals.

Joint Mobilisation

Joint mobilisation is exactly what the name suggests – the therapist will attempt to gently guide the affected joint through its full range of motion. In theory, this range should slightly extend with each session until full mobility has been restored. Naturally, you don’t want to force the matter here, as doing so could cause the injury to recur.

Electro Stimulation

While many physiotherapeutic techniques have been around in one in or another for centuries, some of them make use of modern technologies. Perhaps the most obvious of these is electrostimulation, which involves pumping small electric currents through the effected muscles in order to stimulate them. It’s often used to prevent muscle from shrinking while the affected limb is immobile, as this can contribute to the likelihood of a relapse occurring.

What can physiotherapy treat?

So what benefits do these techniques confer? The list is fairly considerable. Physiotherapy is often prescribed to animals who have just come out of surgery, or to repair bone, tendon and ligament damage. If an animal’s gait is abnormal, physiotherapy can be used to correct it. If they’re suffering from osteoarthritis, then physiotherapy can help to limit the extent.

The applications of the treatment are many. That said, there are some conditions that physiotherapy might make worse – specifically infections and digestive problems, where increased blood-flow might cause toxins to spread more easily around the body. Any condition, basically, whose treatment might consist of rest and relaxation (since, after all, physiotherapy is often a form of guided exercise.

In order to limit the chance of side effects, a vet will want to know the animal’s recent medical history. That way a balance can be achieved that will grant the affected animal with the best possible chance at a full recovery.

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About the Author

Debbie has worked for Beeston Animal Health for a number of years and although generally involved with the marketing these days she has a great deal of knowledge on many things to do with small animals.

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