Careveterinary doctor

Animal physiotherapy: How owners make their dogs fit

In humans, physiotherapy is an important part of the treatment of many diseases. The demand for dogs is also rising steadily. Animal physiotherapist Alina Gerstner explains what the treatment can do, how to find a competent therapist and what a session costs

For which diseases is physiotherapy useful in dogs?

In all those that affect the skeleton, tendons, muscles or ligaments. Especially often dogs with arthrosis or spondylosis (arthrosis in the spine) come to us. Even after cruciate ligament ruptures, meniscus problems and fractures, physiotherapeutic treatment is optimal. These can also occur in young dogs, for example when they step into a hole while playing. In case of problems with tendons, ligaments and muscles, physiotherapy also helps the animals. These can be, for example, inflammation, muscle hardening or blockages of the joints. We also often treat dogs after herniated discs.

Does the veterinarian usually suggest physiotherapy treatment?

Some veterinarians recommend physiotherapy for certain diseases, but by no means all – although the animal physio is on the rise. For example, we work with veterinarians who call us for rehabilitation measures in dogs. Often, however, we also have patients whose owners know other dogs who are already undergoing treatment, classic word-of-mouth propaganda.

If the dog suddenly behaves differently, this is an alarm signal. Some animals then no longer jump onto the couch or into the car. It is also noticeable if the dog does not put any weight on one paw. In addition, increased drooling, panting and repeated licking in one area indicate pain. Some dogs are also very restless, wandering around the house at night because they don’t know where to lie down. When a dog screams, it is usually in so much pain that the owner overlooked a lot beforehand.

How does the therapy work?

We divide the treatment into two components, pain therapy and muscle stabilization or muscle building. We first try to help animals with osteoarthritis out of their gentle posture through manual pain therapy in order to then build up the muscles in a targeted manner.

What forms of physiotherapy are there in dogs?

We carry out the manual therapy on the lying dog. We can offer lymphatic drainage, loosen fascia, massage and stretch. Devices such as lasers and ultrasound are also well suited for pain therapy and have a positive effect on the metabolism. Muscle building is particularly important in rehab. We offer this with and without underwater treadmill. It is optimal if the dog trains on the treadmill on site and the owner performs additional exercises at home with the animal.

Do dogs like to come to training – especially when they are in pain?

Often the dogs have had bad experiences before and are afraid at first. But they realize relatively quickly that what we do is good for them and relieves the pain. Then the dogs relax. But we only work in an area that the dog can endure. So we never go over the pain threshold.

How do I find a good, qualified animal physiotherapist?

Unfortunately, anyone can offer animal physiotherapy without having completed any training. That’s why it’s always good to ask the veterinarian for a recommendation. Many can name a good physiotherapist to whom they would also personally go with their animal. Otherwise, you should ask physiotherapists about the degree and also about the school where the training was completed. A solid education should have lasted ten months in block lessons or two years in a weekend course. It is also worth asking about the equipment of the practice. Expensive purchases such as an underwater treadmill usually have no beginners.

Can physio also be used preventively?

If the owner cares for the muscles of the healthy dog on a daily basis, then this is great for prevention. In shepherd dogs, for example, hip disorders are common. If the owner jogs a lot with the dog, then these are all activities that are rather stressful. To keep the muscles supple, loosening exercises are ideal. Such exercises are good to prevent later arthrosis.

With which exercise can dog owners do something good for their four-legged friends at home?

I can highly recommend introductory and exhaustive deletions. You can apply them all over your body. The owners should make sure that they never massage bony ground, but only the muscles. In addition to the spine, the long back muscle runs to the left and right. To massage the dog on the back, form a roof with your hands. The top of the roof saves the spine. Only on the left and right the muscles may be brushed out with pressure. Owners can massage the long back muscle for ten minutes.

How long does a therapy session last?

The units vary in length from practice to practice. With us, the first appointment, at which we check the dog completely, have read the doctor’s reports beforehand and look at the gait pattern takes 60 to 90 minutes. Then it all depends on the findings. Depending on how big construction sites the dog has and how much patience he brings, a unit takes 30 to 45 minutes.

How long do the dogs have to come to therapy?

With degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis, the owners need to know that the disease can not be completely cured. For dogs with osteoarthritis, permanent therapy in an individual rhythm is necessary.

What can an individual therapy plan look like?

For the first ten to twelve weeks, the dog and owner come weekly for pain therapy and muscle building. After that, we only see the dog again after 14 days and then check whether the dog is still symptom-free as far as possible. Together we test how large the intervals can become. Dogs with osteoarthritis need therapy all their lives. In the case of physiotherapy after a cruciate ligament rupture in an otherwise healthy animal, this is of course different. Since we can usually let the therapy slowly creep out after ten to 15 times.

Do you have another tip for dog owners whose pet could be helped by physiotherapy?

The owners should definitely take care of a suitable physiotherapy at an early stage. We are currently fully booked eight to ten weeks in advance and this is the case with many practices. So it is optimal to take care of a place directly, if you know, for example, that the dog should be operated.


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