The content was contributed by Dr Jane McNae from Paws-in-Motion Hong Kong, a pet physiotherapy service.
What is Animal Physiotherapy?
Animal physiotherapy or rehabilitation is an important component of the treatment for many musculoskeletal (muscle, bone, joints, soft tissues) and neurological conditions seen in dogs, cats, rabbits and exotic pets.
Rehabilitation utilises the skill of the qualified animal therapist to apply various physiotherapy techniques and clinical reasoning to manage pain and restore movement. In Hong Kong, physiotherapy for pets must be overseen by a veterinary surgeon to ensure the correct and safe treatments are administered appropriately by the therapist to ensure rehabilitation goals are met.
What are the benefits of Animal Physiotherapy?
The benefits of integrating veterinary physiotherapy are seen in a variety of animal patients: orthopaedic (bone/ joint) injuries and post-surgical patients, neurologically impaired animals, elderly and arthritic pets, athletic pets or obese animals.
Positive responses to rehabilitation therapy include:
- Pain control
- Faster post-surgery recovery
- Improved muscle strength and flexibility
- Enhanced circulation and tissue healing
- Increased mobility
- Improved neurological function
- Prevention of muscle atrophy (wasting)
- Weight management
- Faster return to function
Physical therapeutics and treatments
Physiotherapy is based on the integration of three main areas- skilled manual therapy, physical therapeutic modalities and therapeutic exercise which are selected for the individual patient and modified with each treatment to adapt with patient healing.
Manual techniques require excellent knowledge of anatomy of the individual species to ensure the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints are moved in the correct way. It involves a variety of soft tissue techniques such as massage, joint mobilisations and stretching used for both evaluating and treating patients. Therapeutic massage is used to treat muscle tension and tightness which frequently occur secondary to joint and neurological diseases. Massage stimulates endorphins which help to manage pain and decrease anxiety. Some of the techniques a qualified animal therapist will use during manual therapy include effleurage, petrissage, cross-friction and Tapotement.
Physical therapeutic modalities incorporate a variety of machines and equipment that may be used to help modulate pain and enhance tissue healing at various stages. These may include therapeutic laser, electrical stimulation, magnetic field therapy, hydrotherapy and thermal therapy.
Therapeutic exercise is a vital element of rehabilitation. A tailored therapeutic exercise programme is designed to be muscle specific and comprehensive to ensure it meets an individual pet’s needs.
Exercises are designed specifically for each patient, taking into consideration the type of tissues involved, surgical procedure, age and species of the pet, stage of tissue repair and the functional ability of the pet. Therapeutic exercises focus on proprioception and balance, neurological retraining techniques, strengthening as well as endurance training at the appropriate phases of tissue healing and patient progression.
Would physiotherapy be suitable for my pet?
Older pets which are no longer have the ability to move about as easily as their younger days will benefit from physiotherapy. Joint disease, neurological problems and muscle weakness all commonly occur in pets with old age. These conditions can cause discomfort, pain and difficulties in mobility with old age.
Physiotherapy is also important in helping pets to regain function and mobility after injury or surgery. Pre and post-surgery physiotherapy has been shown to improve animal patient recovery and return to function.
Signs that your pet may benefit from physiotherapy may include:
- Recent surgery to the spine, bones or joints
- An injury or accident
- Lost the ability to jump onto a high surface
- Developed difficulty in using stairs (up or down)
- Become stiff or weak
- Lost enthusiasm for playing and running
- Developed osteoarthritis, spondylosis (spinal problem) or other conditions associated with old age.