Why Canine Rehabilitation?

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An active, pain-free dog is a healthy and happy dog. If physical limitations or movement disorders, due to acute conditions (such as surgery or injury) or chronic conditions (such as diseases, age-related conditions or obesity), hinder your dog’s ability to move without pain, discomfort or physical distress, rehabilitation therapy can help.

Common Conditions That Respond Well to Canine Rehabilitation Therapy Rehabilitation therapy can be used to address a variety of conditions related to the canine musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems. The most common conditions treated with rehabilitation therapy include:

  • Postoperative Cranial Cruciate Rupture Surgery – One of the most common orthopedic conditions in dogs, cranial cruciate ligament disease typically requires surgery to address the resulting instability of the knee. Post-operative rehabilitation is essential to restoring normal function to an affected dog.
  • Postoperative Femoral Head and Neck Ostectomy – A number of conditions and injuries (including coxofemoral luxation, femoral head and neck fracture and Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease) require this salvage procedure. Unfortunately, this surgery can result in excessive scar tissue that causes a decreased range of motion and abnormal muscle healing. Early and aggressive rehabilitation provides the best outcome possible for these patients.
  • Spinal Cord Diseases – If a dog is diagnosed with spinal trauma or a spinal disease such as inflammatory disease, degenerative myelopathy or intervertebral disc disease, goals for rehabilitation would be to manage the pain, maintain joint mobility, restore/prevent muscle atrophy and coordination, and improve proprioception (body-position awareness).
  • Geriatric/OsteoarthritisArthritis is a common problem in our geriatric patients. Unfortunately, declines in activity level due to arthritis pain are often perceived as normal age-related slowing down. In conjunction with exercises that will help improve your senior pet’s activity levels, multi-modal therapy can be used to help decrease joint pain associated with arthritis.
  • Obesity – One of the most common canine health concerns in the United States, an estimated 50% of dogs between the ages of five 10 ten are considered either overweight or obese. Obesity leads to serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and accelerating the progression of osteoarthritis. A weight-loss plan that utilizes exercises that are safe for patients of varying physical abilities while also offering nutrition guidance can be formulated. An indoor treadmill is especially useful for providing exercises to heat-sensitive pets during the hot summers.


  • Stretching – Improves and restores range of motion.
  • Medical Massage – Reduces pain and inflammation by improving circulation, while also preventing the formation of scar tissue.
  • Passive Range of Motion Exercise – Moves joints through their normal range of motion without bearing weight or contracting muscles. Commonly applied following surgical procedures.
  • Joint Mobilization – Skilled hand movements targeting key joints and muscle groups to improve extensibility, decrease pain, reduce swelling, and increase the range of motion.
  • Balance Therapy – Used to help pets regain balance, strengthen affected limbs, improve proprioception and understand that a healed limb is no longer painful, incorporating slings and stability balls.
  • Walking Exercises – Improve almost all aspects of physical function for pets, including the encouraged use of affected limbs. Pets may be walked on a leash or with the aid of treadmills. As the pet improves, challenges, such as stairs, uneven surfaces and inclines, may be gradually incorporated.
  • Cavalletti Rails – Horizontal bars placed at increasing heights and varying patterns to create challenges that increase stride length and range of motion while improving balance and proprioception.


  • Low-Level Laser Therapy – Reduces inflammation and pain, and accelerates healing.
  • Cryotherapy – Application of cold to manage pain and prevent inflammation.
  • Heat Therapy – Application of heat to increase circulation and manage pain.
  • Therapeutic Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation TENS – Artificially stimulates the contraction of muscles to improve strength and range of motion.
  • Acupuncture.


Rehabilitation plans require patience, perseverance and flexibility, as every dog is different and will respond differently to treatment. After a diagnosis is reached, establish reasonable treatment goals and endpoints to help guide each pet’s rehabilitation process.

Once a plan has been outlined, your veterinary professional will establish rehabilitation exercises and treatment modalities with low intensity and duration, then progressively increase intensity and duration as your pet’s healing and tissue strength improve. As your pet improves, your rehabilitation specialists will modify your pet’s treatment based on weekly health assessments.


Weekly appointments with your rehab practitioner aim to keep your dog and his or her treatment plan on track to meet recovery goals. Carefully following an at-home care plan is integral to your pet’s recovery, as daily exercise is essential to healing and strengthening.

Veterinary Professionals work with pet parents to teach them an exercise program they can practice at home with their pets between appointments to continue strengthening muscle structure and mass, increase joint range of motion and flexibility, and improve balance and proprioception. Performing your at-home care plan as often as prescribed will be a key component to your dog’s successful recovery.

Author: Dr. Jessica Pizzillo, DVM, CCRP

Link: https://www.pethealthhospital.com/canine-rehabilitation/

If you’re not able to find a veterinary rehabilitation professional near you, check out our virtual Rehab Experts who can help you and your dog without having to leave your home.