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Module 3: Physiotherapy
Why do physio?
Physiotherapy is not just a medical treatment or profession; it is also a way to improve life
quality. It’s a way to make the life of your pet more comfortable which, in turn, should make
him happier. So, the benefits of physiotherapy are not only physical, but mental as well.
Whether it is because of injury or some medical condition, you should try physiotherapy for
your pet, but only after you have sought a course of treatment from a pet physiotherapist.
There are many types of physiotherapy. Taking your dog swimming or giving it a good back
rub may act as physiotherapy (if prescribed). Playing with your cat for half an hour or more
each day, so she could stretch her muscles a bit, instead of sleeping all day may be
prescribed for therapy. Use physio for your elderly pet to increase mobility in the joints. If your
dog had an accident, your therapist would most likely ask you to continue treatments at home
to rebuild muscle strength and help your dog recover faster. Lots of different types of physical
In this module we will look at several types of physiotherapy that may be prescribed for your
pet. Are you ready to continue? Let’s read on.
3.4 Cold therapy (Cryotherapy)
3.5 Therapeutic Ultrasound
3.6 Therapeutic exercises
Does your pet like to swim? Or take baths?
Hydrotherapy is the use of water for, well, you
guessed it - therapy. And when we talk about water
here, we can talk about it being used in all the states:
liquid, solid (ice) and gas. In hydrotherapy, the
temperature (hot, warm or cold) is the most
important factor. However, there may also be a
mechanical stimulus – for example, the use of
massage jets or rubbing your pet with a cloth while he’s in the pool. Additionally, substances
may be added to the water to create a chemical stimulus. (Think about an oatmeal bath for
humans or the addition of essential oils into a bath.)
Types of Hydrotherapy
When you are at the physio’s office you may see a special pool designed for your pet. This
pool is often smaller than a regular pool, with ramps for easy entrance and exit, and, most
likely, it is heated. It is this physio pool that is often used for prescribed exercise for your pet,
for example swimming (with or without the hydro jets on) to increase muscular strength.
Hydrotherapy pools are excellent as they require your pet to use many muscle groups.
Additionally, a pool allows for strengthening of muscles in a non-weight bearing setting.
(Think about running on a treadmill vs. water running in a pool. Definitely less stress on the
joints when you are in the pool.) And finally, the water can provide increased resistance. But,
what if you don’t have a pool at home? Bathing, washing, watering, and showering your dog
may be done at home and all can be used for hydrotherapy.
Bathing and washing your dog can have more than a positive effect on the smell of your pet.
By using water at a moderate temperature to wash and bathe, there is also a beneficial effect
on the tone of the neuromuscular system. Pouring water (watering) on a specific area of your
pet is also used as hydrotherapy process, but more often than not, the water is colder than
that used for bathing and washing, and specifically directed to one area – for example the
And how about a shower! Who doesn’t love that? Well, showering is a form of hydrotherapy
with a mechanical stimulus (that’s because of the shower head).
Once your pet physiotherapist has shared with you the proper temperature for showering
your dog (as temperatures could be anywhere from hot to cold) and where you should focus
the shower spray, you can easily continue this course of treatment at home.
Benefits of Hydrotherapy
The benefits of hydrotherapy for you fur baby (because aren’t they always our fur babies –
no matter how old they are) are many. Dependent on what your pet is being treated for, you
Increased range of motion
Relief from pain, swelling and stiffness
Increased tissue healing
Increased speed of recovery
Wraps may also be considered a form of hydrotherapy because of their use of water. Cold
wraps, warm wraps, and warm-wet wraps can all be therapeutic in nature. Let your
physiotherapist decide whether a warm or cold wrap is most appropriate for your pet. It is
possible to jump the wrong way and do harm, for example, cold wraps are best after surgery
as it helps reduce swelling, but once healing has taken place they may suggest a change to
are comprised of several layers and soaked in cold water (or used
in conjunction with ice cubes) to lower temperature or reduce
swelling on an inflamed area – just like you put an ice pack on your
ankle if you twisted it.
are prepared with heated water and often used to aid a pet’s
tissues, muscles or tendons – similar to you applying a heat pack
to aid your sore muscles after strenuous exercise.
Warm-wet wraps are used to treat acute inflammation in your pet (usually 2-3 days
after the beginning of the condition).
Laser means Light Amplification by Stimulated
Emission of Radiation. Essentially, a physiotherapist
will use rays of light to penetrate the tissues. The
absorption of the rays is different for the various
tissues. And, the depth of the penetration of the rays
depends on the wavelength of the light rays. Laser
rays are the ones that have the deepest effect on the
Laser use in veterinary medicine
Laser therapy can be of great use in the regeneration processes. When there are some long-
lasting lesions or injuries, laser treatment of low intensity can be used to speed up the process
of regeneration. Also, laser therapy can be used as acupuncture, in the way that instead of
needles, we can use laser rays. The method is completely harmless and in most patients the
symptoms are successfully eliminated. This method is used in treating inflammation of the
muscles, joints, tendons and many other conditions (And laser therapy acupuncture may be
a great alternative to traditional acupuncture if you have a pet with a fear/low tolerance of
You are usually allowed to stay with your pet while the have this therapy, and many pets
seem to actively enjoy laser therapy, as if they can feel it doing them good.
Electrotherapy, the application of an electrical current through the skin, while common as a
means for therapy in humans, has really only developed for our pets in the last twenty or so
Electrotherapy can be used for healing wounds, pain control or relief, and reduction of
inflammation. Some of the more advanced uses of electrotherapy involve the re-educating of
muscles and increased muscle strengthening. For example, if your dog has suffered an injury
to his hind limb, a physiotherapist may recommend electrotherapy to increase the strength.
By placing small electrical patches on strategic areas of your dog and then allowing an
electrical current to flow to these areas, you can cause the muscles to contract, which aids in
rehabilitating the area.
Additionally, your therapist might try using electrotherapy to increase blood circulation or help
with joint mobility.
There are some very specific forms of electrotherapy which your physio may discuss with
you. These may include galvanization therapy, ionotherapy, faradizing, and diadynamic
therapy. Be sure to ask your therapist about these specialized electrotherapy treatments.
A method of electrotherapy you may be able to perform at home on your pet is TENS. This
stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and involves the stimulation of
nerves in the skin via an electrode held in place with a sticky patch. This can help the relief
of long-term back pain or arthritis. Your animal physio first needs to show you where to locate
the patches (and shave some fur!) but this is definitely an option to explore.
3.4 Cold therapy (Cryotherapy)
Cold therapy involves exposing your pet’s body or part of his body to extreme cold for a brief
period of time. The cold leads to vasoconstriction, or the reduction of blood flow, to the treated
area. So why would we want to do this? By doing this, it reduces cellular metabolism and it
has an anti-inflammatory effect. Additionally, this can reduce the occurrence of muscle
spasms in our pets.
Many therapists may recommend cryotherapy as a treatment in our pets for: