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Animal Physiotherapy

on November 19, 2020

What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is a science-based complementary therapy which can be performed with both humans and animals. Physiotherapy, or Physio, encompasses a range of techniques under its umbrella, from education and advice, to giving specified movements and exercises, to manual pain-relieving therapies.

For pets, physio is mostly used to provide enhancement of physical activity in working dogs and horses and ease any musculoskeletal pains, as a result of high energy activity. It is also used as a rehabilitation technique for animals having undergone intensive surgery, or sustained an injury, as well as helping to improve the quality of life in our more senior pets who are suffering with stiffness, arthritis or chronic neurological conditions.

What conditions can be aided by Animal Physiotherapy?

Many conditions can be helped with animal physiotherapy. These include: 

Soft tissue injuries

Rehabilitation post orthopaedic procedures

Muscle strain and spasms

Improve range of movement

Movement post wounds/ bandages and splints

Assisting wound repair

Rehabilitation for neurological conditions

Improving performance and preventing injury in working dogs, including warm up and cool down. 

    Some types of physio are used within veterinary hospitals as well, for pets who are hospitalised for long periods of time and are not able to get up and move about easily for themselves. Physio for these pets helps to maintain their muscle mass and avoids pressure sores and stiffness.

    What different strategies are there to provide Physio for pets?

    Physio for pets can be provided in lots of different ways and through a range of techniques. Some of these include:

    Manual Therapy

    This is a manipulative therapy, or a physical treatment, used by physiotherapists to treat soft tissue pain and disability; it includes kneading and the manipulation of muscles, joint mobilization and joint manipulation. Examples of manual therapy can include massage, muscle pain release, acupressure or joint mobilisations.

    Ice Therapy/Cold Packs

    This therapy can be provided in the form of ice massage, ice packs or cold water. Ice therapy helps to reduce inflammation and swelling, as well as providing pain relief by working on specific sensory nerves.

    Passive Movement

    Passive movement is provided to extend the movement in specific joints, muscles and tendons, and is done by gently isolating the movement of each area. This technique is a manual technique provided by a human gently manipulating the animal’s limbs.

    Active Movement

    Active movement is when a physiotherapist guides the animals to make specified movements of their own accord. This can include making an obstacle course where the animals have to walk up and down surfaces, pick their feet up to step over things or bend and turn in a certain fashion.

    Laser Therapy

    There are lots of different labels of ‘laser therapy’, including low level laser, cold laser or phototherapy. Most laser therapy involves using ultraviolet light directly on the skin, which will cause changes to the cells beneath the skin. This technique aims to provide pain relief, reduce inflammation, accelerate wound healing, promote tissue regeneration and restore normal cellular function as well as reducing the risk of scarring where wounds are involved.

    Ultrasound Therapy

    This is a treatment modality and is used to help treat inflammation, painful conditions, scar tissues, muscle spasms and to promote tissue healing. While ultrasound therapy is not effective for all chronic pain conditions, it can help to reduce osteoarthritis pain.

    Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields

    (PEMF) is a form of magnetic therapy using electromagnetic fields generated by copper coils. It targets the body at a cellular level, helping with a variety of disorders, diseases, conditions and injuries including bone fractures, reducing swelling and pain, promoting blood circulation, and stimulating the immune system.

    As some pets are more compliant than others, your physiotherapist will generally know certain tricks or techniques to encourage your pet to participate and get them to do certain movements, sometimes helped by including rewards of toys and treats.

    Who can provide Physiotherapy to Animals? 

    Veterinary surgeons and Veterinary nurses are taught very basic physio techniques as part of their training, mainly to help promote movement to animal’s limbs after orthopaedic operations, or patients who are recumbent for prolonged periods of time. Animals who are being treated for an injury, pain, or following a complicated procedure, are often referred to a specialised animal physio for treatment.

    Animal physiotherapists should be registered with the International Association of Animal Therapists or the Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners. With correct instruction and guidance, animal owners can be taught to give basic physio as well, usually as a part of a rehabilitation program.

    Does my pet need Physiotherapy? 

    Physiotherapy is usually something discussed with your local veterinary surgeon in relation to a recent or impending operation, long term or acute injury or pain. If your vet feels physiotherapy is an appropriate route for your dog, they will usually refer you to a physiotherapist.  If you feel as though your pet could benefit from physio, ensure that this is discussed with your vet

    Authors: Charlotte Brogden, Vet’s Kitchen Resident Veterinary Nurse and Artaine Harte, Gloucestershire-based qualified Physiotherapist for animals, SRN Dip A Phy.



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