Physical rehabilitation for animals

Physical rehabilitation focuses on the treatment of injury or chronic arthritis/disease to decrease pain and restore function. Rehabilitation is a very important part of the healing process. Every patient is treated as an individual and will be given a therapy plan that offers the best opportunity for a successful outcome. Multimodal management looks at the entire animal and not just one area. Therapies are used to strengthen muscle and prevent atrophy, decrease edema/swelling and improve range of motion.

A physical examination and history and a series of additional measurements are taken to assess for muscle atrophy and range of motion as well as quality of movement. An evaluation is done to determine where problems exist: atrophy, weakness, decreased range of motion, instability, and difficulty in performing activities of daily living such as getting up and down and climbing stairs, and pain. A physical rehabilitation program is individualized based on each pet’s needs.

Physical evaluation:

  • Measuring PROM (passive range of motion)

  • Assessing neurological reflexes

  • Assesing CP (concious proprioreception)

  • Measuring abdominal circumference








A pet’s quality of life may be compromised by chronic disease or arthritis, injury or postoperative pain. Quality of life is improved by helping pet’s gain better mobility and deal with pain and the debilitating effects of disuse such as atrophy. Rehabilitation speeds recovery time after surgery or injury. Pain management is paramount and may include joint supplements, medication for pain management, management of inflammation and incorporation of other modalities such as Photizo light, therapeutic ultrasound, acupuncture, NMES. Hydrotherapy including controlled swimming allows for comfortable exercise in the weightless environment of a pool. A home exercise program is then designed to achieve optimal healing and fitness.

    Home visits can also be arranged.
    Post-surgical therapy is offered at Paws Resort.
    Products to assist with physical problems are also available.

    Rehabilitation can be used for:


    Arthritis Cardiovascular conditioning Cartilage problems Degenerative myelopathy (DM) Depression
    Elbow dysplasia Fibrocartilagenous Emboli (FCE) Hip dysplasia Hyperactivity Ligament damage or rupture
    Legg Calve Perthes disease Muscular disorders Muscle atrophy Nervous system disorders Orthopaedic injuries
    Osteoarthritis Osteo Chondroitan Dissecans (OCD) Obesity and weight loss Paralysis Post-surgical recovery
    Spinal injuries and disease Skeletal disorders Soft tissue injuries Spondylosis  

    The benefits of rehabilitation include:


    Cardiovascular fitness Improved circulation Improved physical fitness Minimizing pain Psychological well-being
    Reduced anxiety and stress Reduction in swelling, stiffness Relief from pain Weight loss Fitness, stamina & muscle tone
    Increased mobility of joints Increased range of motion None weightbearing exercise Nervous system disorders Orthopaedic injuries
    Osteoarthritis Osteo Chondroitan Dissecans (OCD) Obesity and weight loss Reduced inflammation Reduction in muscle tension
    Relaxation Strengthening of muscles      

Modalities used:


Massage is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body. Massage is the systematic, therapeutic application of mobilisation techniques with the specific goals of relaxation, enhanced circulation, stimulation of drainage, and the release of muscle related problems such as trigger points.

If massage therapy is used in conjunction with passive stretching, it contributes to the overall function of the body. Muscle spasms are often protecting a deeper problem and it is essential to be able to differentiate the different types of soft tissue injuries. Massage goes a long way to relax stressed and painful animals.

    Enhances muscle tone and pressure receptors Decreases recuperation time Helps prevent muscle injuries Improves circulation of blood and lymph Improves oxygenation of tissues
    Increases metabolism Improves range of movement Improves gait quality and performance Maintains strength and flexibility Reduces fibrous tissue adhesions
    Relieves muscle spasm and stress Stimulates elimination of waste and toxins Stimulates endorphin release    

Therapeutic Ultrasound:

  • A dog being treated with ultrasound.

Therapeutic ultrasound warms the tissues and improves tissue flexibility. It is used in tendon and ligament injury. Therapeutic ultrasound creates mechanical vibrations (sound waves) which result in heating of deeper tissues.







Reduces pain Reduces muscle spasms Increases healing Increases elasticity of tissues Breaks up scar tissue
Increases blood supply Decreases stiffness Reduces inflammation    


Water has amazing healing properties. Pets are able to move and strengthen in the weightless environment that water provides. The buoyancy of water allows for post-surgical and painful joints to function in an environment that decreases concussion. Increased range of motion in water is made possible by the weightless environment of water and its ability to help joints move more freely.

It is also a fabulous form of cardiovascular conditioning and a great way to build muscle and reverse atrophy.






Decreases pain Mobilises joints Decreases inflammation Releases endorphins Relaxes muscle 
Improves circulation Relaxes muscle spasms Decreases oedema (swelling) Increases range of movement Non weight bearing exercise
Increases metabolism Support for weak dogs Reduces of frustration Increases muscle strength Improves muscle patterning
Improves muscle tone Improves muscle recruitment Weight loss Reduces lameness Improves cardiovascular fitness
Earlier return to normal activities Slows some symptoms of degenerative diseases Improves quality of life

Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation and TENS

Electrical stimulation is used to cause a muscle to contract that is unable to function after injury or spinal surgery. NMES passively exercises muscles.  TENS is also used to decrease pain.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is used primarily to manage pain.

TENS works by stimulating faster sensory nerves with an electrical impulse, causing an overload of interneurons, which limits the ability of sensory nerves to transmit pain signals to the brain, creating analgesia for the patient. Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) stimulates the nerves that cause the muscles to contract, and is used to rehabilitate muscles. NMES can be used to help prevent muscle atrophy, increase local blood circulation, and maintain or increase joint mobility. It is particularly useful in patients with oedema, delayed wound healing, or in those unable to perform voluntary movement.

  • TENS to reduce pain

  • Using NMES to activate a muscle








Wound healing Decreases pain Reduces inflammation Re-educates muscle Reverses atrophy
Strengthen muscles Increases neurological co-ordination Aids in normal muscle contraction Increases mobility Decreases oedema

Thermotherapy and Cryotherapy:
Heat and/or cold may be used to decrease edema and pain.

  • Using cryotherapy to decrease inflammation








Cryotherapy (Cold Therapy) Benefits:

Decreases swelling Reduces inflammation Decreases pain Decreases blood flow Decreases fever

Thermotherapy (Heat Therapy) Benefits:

Increases tissue elasticity Increases blood flow Reduces pain Increases tissue healing Increases muscle contractility

Photizo light therapy:
Activates cellular metabolism to increase rate of healing, decrease inflammation and pain. Also works very well for wound healing.

Photizo Light Therapy works by energizing compromised cells and increasing blood flow using LED light of a highly beneficial wavelength. In this way, the process of cell death is reversed, leading to quicker healing and recovery following injury. Go to the product page to find out more about this modality.

  • Arthritic joints

  • Wounds

  • Elbow dysplasia

  • Neck surgery


Decreases pain Stimulates cells to repair Reduce swelling and inflammation Stimulates the immune system Stimulates healing
Strengthen muscles Reduces muscle spasms Increases the blood and lymph function    

Therapeutic exercises:

  • Working on the peanut ball

Range of motion (ROM) and stretching exercises are very important to achieve improved motion of the joints after surgery or in patients afflicted with chronic conditions. These exercises are also important to help increase flexibility, prevent adhesions between soft tissues and bones, remodel periarticular fibrosis, and improve muscle and other soft tissue extensibility and to help prevent further injuries to joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The full motion that a joint may be moved through is termed the ROM. ROM is commonly measured with a goniometer and each joint has characteristic angles, such as flexion, extension, abduction and adduction.

Passive ROM is motion of a joint that is performed without muscle contraction within the available ROM, using an external force to move the joint. Additional pressure at the end of the available ROM is stretching. Both passive ROM and stretching can be performed in conjunction with each other to help maintain and improve joint ROM.

Active ROM is the motion of a joint that may be achieved by active muscle contraction. In addition to increasing strength, coordination between the muscle groups is necessary because the guidance of assisting the patient through ROM is no longer provided. The active ROM may be performed during a regular gait cycle, in which the excursion of joint motion is relatively limited, or under special conditions designed to expand motion and more completely use the full available ROM. Examples of these activities include swimming, walking on an underwater treadmill, climbing stairs, crawling through a tunnel and to negotiate cavaletti rails.

  • Moving through the passive range of motion

Stretching techniques are often performed in conjunction with ROM exercises to improve flexibility of the joints and extensibility of periarticular tissues, muscles, and tendons. Conditions that results in adaptive shortening of tissues, including immobilization, reduced mobility, injury and fibrosis of periarticular tissues, or neurological conditions, may respond favourably to stretching.

Therapeutic exercise is perhaps one of the most valuable modalities used in canine physical rehabilitation. Some of the common goals of therapeutic exercise are to improve active pain-free ROM, muscle mass and muscle strength, balance, performance with daily function, and aerobic capacity, to help prevent further injury, and to reduce weight and lameness.

Proprioceptive training occurs when an animal is able to stand independently and safely, activities to improve balance may then begin. Dynamic balance is the animal’s ability to maintain balance while the body is moving, such as while walking.

The following activities may be performed to initiate active assisted exercises and to challenge the animal’s dynamic balance: weight-shifting, manually unloading one of the limbs, balance board, exercise balls, rolls and trampolines. Other common activities include stair climbing, standing exercises, controlled leash activities with a harness, dancing, pulling or carrying weights, walking across cavaletti rails and balance board activity.

Increases awareness of limb position Encourages weight shifting Increases co-ordination Increases stride length Challenges balance
Increases muscle tone Assists with weight bearing Increases muscle endurance Improves range of motion Increases muscle strength
Improves limb motion Increases flexibility Improves reflexes    


Acupuncture therapy is used to treat a magnitude of conditions. It is best known for treatment of back pain. It is often as effective as prescription medications without the side effects. Acupuncture will stimulate blood flow and promote healing of damaged tissues. It also stimulates the release of the body’s own natural pain mediators. It inhibits nerves that are responsible for chronic pain.

Acupuncture has long been used before and after surgery for pain relief and to hasten healing and return to function. Acupuncture treatments are a wonderful way to increase overall sense of wellbeing in older animals and animals with chronic diseases.

Reduces pain Releases endorphins Increases healing Relaxes muscles Increases circulation
Decreases stress Increases toxin removal      


The very warm water that the patient is immersed in will relax all muscles by the dilatation of the blood vessels. These patients receive a ‘whole body’ heat treatment, with all the associated benefits of thermotherapy, while the jets provide a soothing massage like sensation.



Decreases pain Decreases inflammation Releases endorphins Promotes relaxation Improves circulation
Relaxes muscle spasms Decreases oedema (swelling) Reduces lameness Improves quality of life Increases skin condition
Decreases stress        

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  • Patellar Luxation (Dislocated Kneecap)

    Patellar luxation is a problem commonly seen in dogs and occasionally seen in cats. The patella (knee cap) is a “floating” bone associated with the knee or stifle joint.

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  • Intervertebral Disc Disease

    Intervertebral disc disease is a problem associated with the spine and is the most common neurologic problem in dogs. Dogs generally present to the veterinarian because of difficulty walking.

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  • Hip Dysplasia

    Symptoms seen in dogs with hip dysplasia include:

    • Wobbly gait—the back end appears wobbly
    • Bunny-hopping gait (in the rear legs) when running
    • Difficulty manipulating stairs—particularly climbing stairs.

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  • Elbow Dysplasia

    Symptoms seen in dogs with hip dysplasia include:

    • Elbow dysplasia can cause lameness in young large-breed dogs and is commonly found in both elbows.
    • Elbow dysplasia is a generic term meaning arthritis in the elbow joint.

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