What is physiotherapy and how can it help my dog?

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What is physiotherapy and how can it help my dog?

Physiotherapy helps to restore movement and function after an injury, illness or long-term disability. It also prevents and reduces the risk of injury or illness in the future. Veterinary physiotherapy, both via video call and in person, embraces the same principles as human physiotherapy. Here we share with you some common problems where physiotherapy can help your dog.

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Conditions veterinary physiotherapy can help

The range of conditions or diseases a physiotherapist can assess and treat may surprise you! A qualified veterinary physiotherapist (VP) will work directly with your vet and they will share relevant clinical notes about your pet and may even discuss their case from time to time.

Whilst diagnosis is reserved only for vets, a VP is trained to problem solve, observe and identify the smallest imperfections, and can often reveal a more holistic image of your dog. VPs are specialists at assessing for and treating common problems, such as:

  • Lameness
  • Neurological deficits
  • Performance problems
  • Muscle, tendon and ligament injuries
  • Behaviour and chronic pain related issues
  • VPs should also be confident professionally discussing things like diet, appropriate exercise, supplements, braces, weight control, harnesses and much more!

Examples of conditions where there is published evidence that physiotherapy can significantly improve recovery include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sudden onset lameness
  • Long term intermittent or persistent lameness
  • Post-operative surgery e.g. TPLO surgery of the stifle (knee), fracture rehabilitation and hip replacements
  • Spinal or neurological conditions e.g. stenosis, intervertebral disc disease or sciatica
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Carpal hyperextension injuries
  • Muscle tears and injuries
  • Tendon and ligament sprains and strains
  • Amputations
  • Trigger points and myofascial pain
  • Respiratory physiotherapy for lung problems
  • Palliative and end of life care

What can a veterinary physiotherapist do if your dog has one of these conditions?

A VP will carry out an in-depth assessment of your animal, ask you lots of questions, discuss the clinical history of your pet and if possible, perform a full gait analysis. During a ‘hands on’ assessment, the VP may perform gentle manipulations and palpation techniques, as well as neurological baselines if necessary. A VP should practice excellent animal husbandry and handling techniques, causing the least amount of stress to your pet, keeping themselves and your pet safe and comfortable at all times. They may use equipment such as a stance analyser to take weight bearing readings, a measuring tape to assess muscle mass symmetry and a goniometer for joint range of motion measurements.

During a video consultation, most of this can still be done with owner assistance and a VP will guide you through anything you may need to do to help assess your animal. Following this, they will discuss any findings or thoughts in detail and formulate a clear and personalised physiotherapeutic plan going forward. This will almost always involve homework for you, the owner, and many VPs will be able to supply helpful exercise sheets, images or videos to guide you. VPs can apply or prescribe a whole range of treatments to suit your specific dogs’ needs, these may include some of the following -

  • Heat and/or cryotherapy
  • Many different types of massage
  • Passive range of movement exercises
  • Active range of motion exercises like functional transitions
  • Passive stretches or dynamic stretches
  • Exercise prescription such as cavaletti poles to encourage flexion/extension
  • Proprioceptive work to improve limb awareness
  • Application of clinically proven electrotherapies e.g. photobiomodulation LASER therapy, TENS machine, pulsed magnetic field therapy, NMES treatment and therapeutic ultrasound
  • Balance and flexibility work
  • Core stabilisation exercises
  • Maintenance, fitness and conditioning for working or highly athletic dogs

Could physiotherapy help your dog or do you want to know more?

This article was written by Charlotte Swarbrick, Veterinary Physiotherapist at Cochrane Physiotherapy. Contact Charlotte for more information or book a video appointment:


Cochrane Physiotherapy is a fully insured and registered human and animal physiotherapy business, which has been running physiotherapy clinics in Scotland since 2018. Since COVID-19, Cochrane Physiotherapy has been offering online video consultations which have proven to be very popular. Our physical clinics are based at Riverside Veterinary Practice in West Lothian

Charlotte is a member of The Institute of Registered Veterinary & Animal Physiotherapists (IRVAP). She originally qualified in Diagnostic Radiography at the Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Charlotte then worked within the NHS and other health and social care sectors for over 12 years before combining her lifelong affinity with animals and her extensive human medical and anatomy knowledge, which compelled her to train as a veterinary physiotherapist. Charlotte qualified from the Canine and Equine Physiotherapy Training course based at Nottingham University Vet School.

In her free time, you will find Charlotte walking her dogs (Brannigan the Bernese Mountain Dog and Roxy the lurcher) running or horse riding. She became absorbed into the cani-crossing world in 2016 and frequently takes part in races across the UK with Brannigan. Her rescue girl Roxy is also Therapet and volunteers her time for people living with dementia when she can.

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Published: 27/08/2020
Last updated: 29/03/2021
Charlotte Swarbrick BSc(Hons) PgDipVetPhy MIRVAP(VP), Veterinarian

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