Physiotherapy is a science-based physical therapy, which aims to restore optimal function after accident, injury or overuse.
Dogs, like humans, can equally benefit from physiotherapy, which looks at the whole individual (although many physios do specialise, eg cardiovascular, musculoskeletel, sports, aged, neurological), says Kristine Edwards, animal physiotherapist from Sydney Animal Physiotherapy who has been treating animals for more than 20 years.
“Physios use their hands to mobilise joints, stretch and massage tissues, improve posture, prescribe correct exercise, as well as use heat/cold/electrotherapy, taping, acupuncture and laser,” she says.
Ms Edwards opened the first animal physiotherapy clinic in Sydney in 2007.
“Many pet owners are unaware that physio is available and very beneficial to their pets,” she explains. “Physio is suitable for most conditions in dogs and is very gentle for ill or geriatric patients.”
Physiotherapy is most commonly used for dogs with back and neck pain, as well as cruciate rehabilitation and old age-related problems – stiff ,sore, lethargic and overweight.
“Frequency depends on the dog’s condition. With rehabilitation, say after knee surgery, two to three times weekly would be most beneficial. If the dog is suffering from back pain, maybe once a week and some just need an exercise plan,” she says.
A veterinary referral is required prior to the first physiotherapy appointment to ensure your dog has a correct diagnosis and received all relevant tests and any medical/surgical treatments necessary.
Ms Edwards remembers one case involving a 60kg Great Dane, two years old, with a cervical surgery and boarding at a specialist hospital one month after surgery, unable to walk and too hard for the owners to care for at home.
“It took three people to get her out of the car and in to see me. We did physiotherapy, which consisted of hydrotherapy, acupuncture, joint mobilisation, massage and assisted leg movements, and the dog returned to the specialist hospital up and walking ever since,” she says. “I got a call six weeks later from the owners, delighted the dog is at home and running and playing with the other Great Danes.”
For more information on physiotherapy for dogs and to find a qualified animal physiotherapist, visit Australian Physiotherapy Association website physiotherapy.asn.au. You can also ask your vet for a recommended animal physiotherapist.
“It’s important to ask the practitioner what qualifications they have. Just looking at websites can be misleading,” says Ms Edwards.