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Types of physiotherapy for small animals

There is not only human physiotherapy, but one for animals as well? Yes! And it this article we will explain all the different types of dog physiotherapy, their differences and which one of them might be the best for your dog.

Our doggy clients, whether those who use wheelchairs or those with orthoses, have extensive experience with physiotherapists. Just as we humans turn to experts when we have difficulties moving properly and painlessly, there are specialists for treatment of movement difficulties of animals.

It is a very dynamic and constantly evolving field, which perfectly complements the classic veterinary care. To get the most out of your specialist’s visits, the veterinarian and the physiotherapist should work together and, of course, share information. The physiotherapist prescribes and recommends appropriate therapy according to the diagnosis of the problem made by their colleague, a doctor in the veterinary office.

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How to find the right therapist

When choosing a good physiotherapist for your dog or other pet, keep in mind that it’s best to find an expert who can work with several methods and does not focus on just one.

As in humans, there are many methods and the best results for your injured or sick dogs will come from a combination or several of them. With regular visits to the physiotherapist, the methods used will be adjusted according to the current state of health and other characteristics, which are different in each fluffy individual and may vary as treatment or rehabilitation continues. This means that, unfortunately, a person who specializes only in one method will not be able to offer the necessary variability of techniques.

So, when choosing your dog’s physiotherapist, ask not only about their work experience, but also enquire in detail about their qualification. After all, the health of your fluffy family member is at stake here – and often a lot of money, too.

The portfolio of therapeutic methods and options is quite broad, and in this article we want to introduce you to the most used ones.

Many thanks to Mrs. Kateřina Plačková from the Physiodog Center in Prague for sharing her expertise and experience with us!

If you are looking for interesting and relevant information about the physiotherapeutic sector in your country, as well as lists of experts and specialized veterinary offices, check their association in your country!

And now let’s briefly introduce the specific techniques, so you know what you – and your dog – may encounter, or what procedures you may be interested in. For clarity, they are arranged in alphabetical order:

Active exercise

It is an exercise with the use of balance and locomotor aids and is a suitable complement to other therapeutic procedures. It is very useful when we want to compensate for over-loading one side of the body or when we need to correct walking patterns.


As the name suggests, this is an exercise using water – and a conveyor belt. Very often this is a key technique for patients after orthopedic and neurological surgery. Because the water naturally decreases the weight of the body, it makes it easier for dogs to move in ways that are too painful or hard when in a normal environment. At the same time, the water puts up adequate resistance during exercise, so that the weakened muscles are strengthened very naturally.

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Dorn’s method

This is one of the most popular methods in Czech Republic and probably the best known. It is very gentle and helps to eliminate joint pain. But, if you are trying to solve problems with the spine, be careful. In this case, with inappropriately indicated Dorn’s therapy, you could unknowingly cause harm. When it comes to the spine, always consult the precise medical condition with a veterinarian-neurologist. They alone can decide on appropriate treatment procedures.


This method is very widely used in human medicine and is also suitable for dogs. It is mainly used to relieve pain or to activate muscles.

Manual therapy of the skeletal system

This is one of the methods by which the therapist can correct various vertebral blockages or return the joint bones to the correct position. However, because each bone is tightly surrounded by the muscular system, it is necessary that such work with bones is preceded by perfect muscular relaxation of the treated area. In the case of the musculoskeletal system, it is generally true that everything is connected to everything, so it is always necessary to proceed slowly, with balance and care.


Who likes massages? Everyone! Rehabilitation massage is another very effective method that helps dogs during rehabilitation. Thanks to the massage of the right muscle parts, the blood circulation and overall regeneration of the tissues improves. Plus, it’s very pleasant and relaxing!

Passive exercises – mobilization

This type of exercise is suitable for patients who cannot influence the movement of the limbs at will – typically dogs who might need a wheelchair. During this exercise, the therapist strengthens the muscles so that they contract reflexively. Thanks to this, the muscle is kept in good condition and does not weaken too much, which would be case otherwise, since the dog can’t use it by himself.

This exercise is the basis for working with neurological patients and, if done correctly, can become the first step towards learning Spinal Walk. (The Physiodog center is the absolute Czech leader in this field, the success rate of spinal walking training is around 80%!)


Stretching requires a really experienced therapist, because it can also do more harm than good. However, if this technique is performed correctly on properly heated muscles, it is excellent for maintaining the correct range of motion in the joints. Thanks to stretching, the muscles are functioning properly, are flexible, well-perfused and less prone to injury.


As the name suggests, in this case the therapist works either with heat or, conversely, cold temperature to treat the muscles as needed. Cold therapy is less frequent, suitable for acute conditions. Heat is used for long-term therapy, because it helps better blood circulation to the tissue and relaxation. It combines perfectly with massage techniques, and even aromatherapy suitable for animals.

There are also other therapeutic options such as ultrasound treatment, acupressure or acupuncture techniques, and working with triggers points, which can be very well combined with massages.


As you can see, the choice of methods is really broad and each of the options has its advantages and contra-indications. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions and experience, all suitable methods fail and the dog will still need a wheelchair or orthosis. In that case, maybe even more care must be taken to ensure that the affected limbs remain in good condition for as long as possible and do not cause further problems or complications. And these techniques can significantly help in that area, too.

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