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Posted 04/14/2024 in Pets

Animal Physical Therapy: Exercises, Modalities, Techniques

Animal Physical Therapy: Exercises, Modalities, Techniques

Animals go through injuries, pain, and mobility loss just like humans. If your pet has been recovering from surgery or any kind of pain, physical therapy will do wonders to help them.

The PT(Physical Therapy) process on animals can range from massage and exercises to Extracorporeal shockwave therapy. This also helps to manage the arthritis condition in pets. PT can be both manual and therapeutic exercises and techniques vary with the type.

Here are some of the common exercises to follow for the therapeutic process.


Hydrotherapy is a growing trend in the recovery process from physical pain, orthopedic procedures, paralysis, and dysplasia. It uses the buoyancy of water for strength, range of motion, and endurance.

Beneficial for:

  • post-surgery recovery
  • hip dysplasia
  • muscle atrophy due to metabolic conditions
  • osteoarthritis and paralysis
  • weight loss

It can be done with an underwater treadmill or whirlpools that involve cardio inside water. Resistance, hydrostatic, and viscosity help to float in water without providing excess stress on their limbs and joints.


Gait training is focused on the recovery process involving the walking pattern of your pet. This requires a lot of patience and is divided into two actions, Pace and Trot.

In pace, the left front leg and the left rear leg are at the same distance apart moving forward and backward together. On the other hand, Trot has the left front leg and the left rear leg together and separate while your pet is moving forward.

It helps with limb weakness and placement during the recovery process. You can use a slow land or underwater treadmill with three-legged hopping, dragging the limb, and assisted ambulation.

Agility Training

This home-based exercise practice will help your pet with nimbleness, coordination, and overall physical fitness. The training will have an obstacle course designed to navigate tunnels, jumps, and weaves.

Agility exercises can be more intense with muscle-building while coordination and balancing exercises are easier to attain. You should choose the exercise depending on your pet's physical and mental status.

Providing overstress during the process can have a negative impact.

Modalities are another common method of therapy especially used in dogs. It involves the use of energy sources (electromagnetic, thermal, mechanical, sound, and light) for physical simulation.

Some of the commonly used techniques are:

Electrical Muscle Stimulation

Electrotherapy can be Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) and Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation (TENS) but both are battery-operated.

EMS device is a small box with sets of leads placed directly on the muscle targeting the motor nerves. It helps with muscle atrophy, blood circulation, and joint mobility.

Likewise, the TENS unit has a set of electrodes laid on the muscle targeting the sensory fibers and the buttons help with the setting for speed and frequency. The electrical impulse will overload interneurons and limit the transmission of pain signals to the brain. This causes analgesia and hence pain relief.

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)

PEMF combines magnetic and electric fields to transport ions across the cell membranes. These ions are essential components that help with the healing process and cell metabolism.

Pets are placed in PEMF-infused jackets, beds, and pads run through a battery which can last for a good 20-30-minute session.

Beneficial for:

  • pain reduction
  • anti-inflammation
  • degenerative disorders like dysplasia and Osteoarthritis
  • blood circulation increment
  • cell proliferation and collagen formation

Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT)

When you push in high-pressure and velocity pulses, there is a change in pressure releasing sound waves. ESWT uses the same technique to generate high-energy shockwaves (only sound, no heat is produced).

As the shockwaves hit the tissue, there are two possibilities. First, it causes micro-fractures followed by inflammation which is useful for tendons and ligaments that have stopped the inflammatory process.

Secondly, the shockwaves have cavitation bubbles at the low-pressure region which bursts after striking the bone. As a result, calcified nodules or any minerals that are gathered after infection are broken down.

ESWT machines that use piezoelectric, electromagnetic, and electrohydraulic methods are available alongside a gel for pain relief. The process is helpful for osteoarthritis, pain management, tendinopathies, and non-union fractures.

Cryotherapy and Thermotherapy (Cold and Hot)

Cryotherapy can be done at home using ice packs but you will need to be careful as this can be painful to dogs and have to administer the situation. 

However, if you go to a veterinarian, they usually have super-cooled liquid nitrogen sprayed into the area of infection or surgery. Sometimes they use thin cryo needles and if the surface area is smaller, cotton swabs will do the trick.

What this does is form ice crystals in the tumor/lesion killing off abnormal cells and reducing the swelling process.

On the other hand, Thermotherapy uses a thermogenic agent to increase the temperature for physiologic changes on the superficial layers of tendons, muscles, tissues, nerves, joints, and ligaments.

Hot packs, infrared light, therapeutic ultrasonography, and hydrotherapy are some of the common methods for thermotherapy. The packs or pads are heated inside a wheat bag, or gel packs that have been placed in hot water, a microwave, or any source of heat.

To prevent burning, a damp towel is placed between the skin and the hot pack. This will help increase blood flow and remove toxins as heat dilates the vessels.

Laser Therapy

A light wavelength of certain power strikes the targeted nerves, tissues, muscles, or joints increasing cell metabolism. Laser therapy has the following physiological effects:

  • mitochondrial stimulation
  • leukocyte phagocytosis (WBC)
  • fibroblast production (proteins) 
  • ATP synthesis
  • angiogenesis (new blood vessels)

The therapy helps with pain management, tissue healing, and inflammation control.

The laser machine has four classes based on their power, Class 2, Class 3R, Class 3B, and Class 4. The wavelength determines the depth of penetration.

Usually, Class 3 and Class 4 are used based on the condition. Class 3b (500 mW) can be directly targeted at the joints or tissue while class 4 requires proper supervision as it has high energy. The therapy can range from 1 to 8 joules.

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