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What Is Canine Rehabilitation Therapy?

Written by FOTP Team

Updated

Basset hound lying on grass

Canine Rehabilitation Therapy is a blanket term for all the different forms of therapy that can be part of a rehab plan. Typically drawn up after your dog has been diagnosed with an injury or chronic illness, canine rehabilitation therapy is a fairly recent development – and will be unique to your dog. 

Why Do Dogs Need Rehabilitation Therapy?

Canine rehabilitation therapy is often recommended for dogs who have chronic inflammatory disease or injuries (including spinal, tendon and ligament injuries). It can also help dogs suffering from arthritis, IVDD, nerve disorders and hip dysplasia. 

So what does rehabilitation therapy involve? Your vet will make a treatment plan, which could include some of these options:

Hydrotherapy 

The treadmill opens at one end to permit the dog in, and is then filled with water to partially cover the dog. (The lower the level, the more weight the dog will carry.) It’s great for building strength and resilience because the water level and treadmill speed can be adapted as the dog gets stronger. A treadmill is commonly used to rehabilitate dogs after operations or injuries. 

Pools, meanwhile, are often used for playing and general swimming, typically for pain relief and gentle exercise. The hydrotherapist might get into the pool with the dog to support their body, or use a floatation device to allow the dog to float in the water without any effort. Warm water is well known as a natural source of pain relief (which is why humans use birthing pools). It dilates the blood vessels and improves the flow of blood and oxygen around the body. It’s great for mental wellbeing, too. 

Investigate hydrotherapy if your dog has suffered from:

  • Osteoarthritis. When joints become stiff, gentle movement helps – and hydrotherapy removes the pressure of body-weight. 
  • Post-operative rehabilitation. Hydrotherapy was pioneered at the race-track: horses walked through water to recondition after a strenuous race. It’s great for dogs who are on a cautious exercise plan. 
  • Injured ligaments. After an injury or surgery, hydrotherapy is a gentle form of exercise. 
  • Sprained muscles. Dogs who have been put on an “active rest” programme can enjoy short sessions of hydrotherapy. 
  • Hip dysplasia. Hydrotherapy helps to make strong glute muscles, which support hip movement. 

Laser therapy 

It works by delivering light at a specific frequency, known to act on cells and kick-start the healing process. Although your dog may be equipped with a comedy pair of goggles for the treatment, don’t worry; the laser itself isn’t invasive. It’s a beam of light delivered through a glass-tipped wand and feels like a massage during treatment. 

Although the science has not been fully investigated, it is thought that the laser increases blood flow and aids collagen formation to improve the natural healing process. So laser therapy can be suitable for treating dogs with injuries or wounds, arthritis, IVDD, and any kind of inflammation – including post-operative and milder things like ear infections. 

Low-level laser therapy is available at lots of veterinary surgeries and it’s quick (taking minutes to deliver) and relatively affordable.

Veterinary Acupuncture 

Acupuncture is an ancient form of therapy involving very fine needles which are placed at strategic points on the body. Like laser therapy, acupuncture is believed to promote the natural healing process. So it is sometimes recommended as part of a programme for recovery or rehabilitation.

Veterinary acupuncture can be suitable for dogs with injuries as well as ongoing conditions like arthritis, hip dysplasia, and even anxiety. It is also thought to be beneficial in treating skin allergies, because it can improve circulation and speed up topical healing.

Electrical Stimulation Therapy 

Sounds kind of Clockwork Orange, but Electric Stimulation Therapy is believed to be safe and effective for dogs. It can stimulate muscles, helping to restore them for better movement and less inflammation. EST is sometimes recommended after a dog has suffered a sporting injury but can also be used to support post-operative recovery. 

If your dog attends a session of electric (or neuromuscular) stimulation therapy, the practitioner will apply gel to the target area and then apply an electrical current using a hand-held device. It’s like a TENS machine and the current will be small; it’s just enough to make the muscle contract, which stimulates healing and increases strength. Afterwards, rest is really important. 

Therapeutic Ultrasound for Dogs 

Did you know that ultrasound is used to provide therapy for humans and dogs? It’s not just an imaging technique to reveal the internal organs. The tiny sound-waves emitted by an ultrasound device travel through the body. They heat and promote healing in soft tissue, reducing pain at the same time.

Ultrasound is sometimes recommended as part of a treatment plan for dogs who have wounds, persistent scar tissue, or joint stiffness. It can’t be used for dogs with bone plates or tumours but is non-invasive and doesn’t cause any discomfort.

Other Physical Rehabilitation Methods

Physical rehabilitation usually involves guided movement and exercise. Your dog might rebuild their strength using a treadmill, have massage to release tension, or attend a therapy session with a canine physiotherapist. Sometimes “passive” techniques are used, where the therapist will gently move your dog’s limbs to increase their range of movement. 

Supplements To Support Your Dog’s Recovery

Our top pick for dogs whose range of movement has been limited? It has to be Move. It’s a blend of natural but clinically-proven ingredients to support healthy cartilage, joints and muscles. Dogs like the taste (it’s meaty) and their owners have reported back with glowing reviews!

Check Their Qualifications…

  1. Ask for a recommendation from your veterinarian. Your vet is the most reliable source of information. Don’t go Googling to find a cheaper option. 
  2. Check that the provider has the relevant qualifications – a veterinary qualification plus additional certificate in chiropractic, physiotherapy, or ultrasound treatments. 
  3. Investigate the clinic online and read their reviews to see how other dogs responded to treatment.