Let’s Talk Physical Rehab…for Pets

If you’re like most, you’velikely never considered including a physiotherapist in your pet’s heath care team.

When it comes to our furry friends, we often go to great lengths to ensure that they are happy and healthy. But what happens when they face medical challenges, particularly after serious operations? This is where the expertise of a pet physiotherapist can be invaluable.  

Understanding Veterinary Physical Rehabilitation 

Veterinary physical rehabilitation is the adaptation of human physiotherapy techniques tailored for animals. It is a valuable branch of medicine that uses evidence-based techniques to improve your pet’s quality of life. Just like humans, our pets have complex bodily structures that can suffer from damage, injury, and ageing. They have the same anatomical components, including skin, fascia, blood, nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. A veterinary physiotherapist undergoes specialised training and must be registered with a recognised body, such as the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC). 

Conditions Treated  

Pet physiotherapy can be particularly beneficial in the following scenarios: 

  1. Post-Orthopedic and Spinal Surgery: Surgery can be traumatic for soft tissue. Physiotherapy aids in tissue repair and pain relief, potentially reducing the need for pain medication. 
  1. Chronic Conditions: These include osteoarthritis, hip and elbow dysplasia, ligament diseases, and more. 
  1. Soft Tissue Injuries: Acute and chronic injuries to muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be treated with physiotherapy. 
  1. Obesity: With a staggering number of pets being overweight, weight management is crucial.  

In 2022, the APOP (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention) survey revealed that veterinarians classified 59% of dogs and 61% of cats as overweight or obese. What’s even more concerning is the fact that a third of pet owners with overweight pets think that their pets are at a healthy weight. Excess weight can exacerbate joint issues and lead to further health problems. 

What benefits can your pet gain from physical rehabilitation?  

  • Pain reduction   
  • Improved joint mobility   
  • Stronger muscles 
  • Better balance, coordination and body awareness  
  • Better recovery after injury 
  • Prevention of further injury 
  • Weight loss 
  • Improved quality of life 

What can you expect from a pet physiotherapy programme?   

A pet physiotherapy programme begins with obtaining a full medical history from the attending veterinarian to review. A comprehensive assessment, including a gait assessment to examine movement and observe specific gait patterns is done. The body condition, coat, skin, and fascia are examined for signs of disease, damage, or discomfort.  A methodical, full body evaluation from nose to tail is my personal approach. I look in the mouth to assess the condition of the gums and teeth. A healthy mouth is important too! Then I carefully evaluate every joint to assess integrity, range of motion and comfort, and all the muscle groups for tone, strength, and flexibility. 

Once I have a holistic picture of the patient, I provide feedback.   

I will suggest a personalised rehabilitation programme based on the patient’s history and my clinical findings. Each patient receives a tailored programme, because no two are the same, and each will need a unique approach.   

 Programmes may include: 

  • Soft tissue mobilisation (massage, stretching, myofascial release) 
  • Targeted exercises for specific muscle groups 
  • Pain management techniques like laser and electrotherapy 
  • Hydrotherapy using underwater treadmills or pools 

I can offer advice on modifications pertaining to the home environment, diet, and exercise programme.  

Remember, each small step can lead to significant strides in your pet's health and happiness. 

If you're considering pet physiotherapy, especially after your pet has undergone surgery, it's essential to work closely with your veterinarian and a qualified physiotherapist.  

For those interested in starting a physical rehabilitation programme for their pet, or if you have any questions, reaching out to a professional pet physiotherapist is the first step. They can guide you through the process and help your pet on the road to recovery and improved well-being. 


Antoinette qualified from the University of Pretoria with a Diploma in Veterinary Nursing at Onderstepoort in 2006. With a special interest in anatomy, movement, and surgery, she spent a year at the university assisting in theatre. In 2010, she completed a bridging course with the University of Tennessee in the US to become CCRP (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner). After 17 years of practising both nursing and small animal physical rehabilitation, assisting the healing process and alleviating pain still bring her great joy! For more information or to get in touch, visit www.healinghandspetphysio.com or contact hello@healinghandspetphysio.com

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