Pet Education

Veterinary Physical Rehabilitation

Dog on Water Treadmill Physical Rehabilitation

Veterinary physical rehabilitation therapy is similar to what is known in the human field as “physical therapy.” The term “physical therapy” is reserved for the practice of this service for humans by licensed therapists. Veterinarians commonly use the terms “veterinary physical rehabilitation” or “rehabilitation therapy” instead. Although not new, physical rehabilitation for pets is becoming increasingly recognized in the veterinary field.

Paw by paw, step by step…

Veterinary physical rehabilitation uses non-invasive treatments to rehabilitate injured patients, patients recovering from post-operative orthopedic or neurologic conditions, and pets with inammatory or debilitating conditions like arthritis. Common conditions that may benet from rehabilitation therapy include: hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease, back or neck pain, cranial cruciate ligament injury (surgical and nonsurgical candidates) and muscle strain. Physical rehabilitation for pets can potentially help return a patient to normal function sooner, restore mobility and strength, and enhance pain relief.

Initial Veterinary Physical Rehabilitation Exam

An initial comprehensive exam is performed and a treatment plan is recommended. A rehabilitation program usually consists of a series of treatments depending on the patient’s needs. Home instruction is also provided to educate the pet owner on the proper environment, activity level, and exercises for their pet. Nutrition, medication, and supplements may
also be discussed.


Treatments may include the use of various equipment or modalities, such as therapeutic laser or ultrasound, as well as “body work” such as therapeutic massage and targeted exercises. Hydrotherapy with the use of an underwater treadmill or swimming is commonly incorporated with veterinary patients. Water therapy can be a great low-impact exercise that helps with mobility and strengthening. Acupuncture may also be included, which can help provide pain relief, relax muscle spasms, and increase circulation to the aected areas.

Licensed veterinarians only

Veterinary physical rehabilitation should only be performed by an individual with appropriate education and training in accordance with state law and veterinary board regulations. Veterinary rehabilitation therapy in the state of California should be performed by a licensed veterinarian. Veterinary technicians or licensed physical therapists educated in animal physical therapy, anatomy and physiology may practice physical rehabilitation for pets only under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

by Joanne Bak, DVM, CCRT
Certied Canine Rehabilitation Therapist


Animal Specialty Group