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Raising the Bar in Rehab

Pet Physical Therapy

Published March 14, 2012 4:47 PM by Lisa Mueller

My husband and I are starting to consider getting a dog. I'm not really sure how serious we are about it. We both work full-time and neither one of us wants to buy a dog only to have it be alone for the majority of the week. It's a big responsibility. So, of course, in true Lisa-planning style, I ordered a book about dogs to do some research and see if we are really committed to taking care of a pet.

As I was reading through the chapters this weekend, there was a little blurb on the side of one page about how physical therapy for pets may be beneficial if your dog would ever need surgery or sustain an injury. Wow! I had a few lectures about pet physical therapy in school and I've heard about it through some coworkers, but I never expected to see physical therapy services promoted in a dog book!

Obviously the concepts are the same - dogs (or cats) have bones, muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons just like humans do. Pets run, jump, walk and exercise too. It makes sense that they would be prone to injuries similar to what human beings experience. And, as physical therapists, this is another niche practice to expand our clinical expertise.

I searched online and found a few educational institutes aimed at teaching PTs how to adapt their skills to apply to animals. The Canine Rehabilitation Institute offers certifications to PTs (and assistants as well) through three courses and a 40-hours internship. They also have a link to veterinary rehabilitation jobs across the country. My little search online also found many rehabilitation centers for canines and pets, similar to rehab facilities for humans. Actually, as I was clicking on different sites I was led to a few pages describing animal amputations, braces, dog wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment made specifically for pets. It's amazing how much information is out there.

The pets I had growing up never had surgery or needed physical therapy, from what I could tell. I know if we end up getting a dog, I'll be more sensitive to look for signs of pain or weakness in my pet. What about you? Have you ever had a pet that needed therapy? Or, do you ever perform physical therapy on animals?


I work on different horses at the barn all the time.  Chriopratic therapy for horses is big.  It's also illegal for me to "practice" on animals in Texas if I were to actually charge for my efforts.  I don't know about other states.  Texas will not recognize CEUs from courses on how to treat animals.  

I didn't do a literature search so I don't know what the evidence is for this. Nor am I sure which data base to search.  Would the literature be in vet journals or human journals.  It seems intuitively PT would be beneficial.  

Several years ago there was a special interest group for animal therapy.  I think it was part of the orthopedics section.  I don't know if its still around.  I don't think it got much support.

Toni March 16, 2012 7:58 PM

Hi Lisa,

Years ago my GSD had a cruciate ligament repair done.  I took him to thr river to swim to get his ROM back and to start strengthening .  Later, I took him to a rocky beach near our home. Walking on a lead over the rocks helped  improve proprioception in his stifle, joint stability and overall balance.

He was able to hike again with me later that year.

My next animal is an elephant with nerve damage in her front leg.

Deb Cook

Deb Cook March 15, 2012 11:14 PM
Camden ME

Hi Lisa!  What a wonderful direction to look at for PT's!  Thank you for listing the resources that are available for those of us dedicated to animals :)   A few years ago I lost one of my beloved pets, T-Bone, a 130 lb bullmastiff, who I used to take into the deep end of my swimming pool when he strained his hips after a longer-than usual run.  Just as with my patients that I recommend for aquatic therapy, I thought 'why not?'   He did fabulously, and actually became quite fond of the water, even though I had to support him with noodles to keep his body afloat (130 lbs tended to sink like a ROCK!!)    Again, thank you for sharing!!  

Karen Schiff March 15, 2012 7:33 AM

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