Benefits of physical rehabilitation:

Pets of all ages & sizes can benefit from physical rehabilitation.

Cases may vary from pre & post surgical patients (orthopedic & neurologic), arthritis, soft tissue injury, working & sports dogs.

Cats too !

By using a variety of manual & therapeutic modalities, physical rehabilitation can improve joint range of motion, comfort, muscle mass & return to function.



Therapeutic massage for animals is a type of manual therapy used to maintain and improve

physical and mental health. Massage therapy promotes relaxation of muscles, increased

oxygenation to the body, relief from pain, and improved joint flexibility. It can help prevent

injuries and aid the body with healing. Massage therapy also can strengthen the bond between

you and your pet.

Massage therapy offers many benefits and can help your pet’s physical and mental health in

several ways:

  • Increases circulation and helps eliminate toxins and wastes from the body

  • Improves joint flexibility and muscle tone, which can be very beneficial for older animals

and animals with active lives, particularly performance animals. Massage is also very

popular with agility dogs.

Massage therapy can be beneficial for pets that are recovering from injuries or have chronic conditions, by addressing the following:

  • Enabling atrophying muscles to work more efficiently and regain normal function

  • Reducing the recovery time from soft tissue injuries

  • Providing relief from muscle soreness and spasms

  • Relieving pain and discomfort associated with conditions such as arthritis and hip dysplasia

Therapeutic massage can be very beneficial but as with any new therapy, monitoring your pet

during therapy is essential. If your pet is on any medication, has a specific health condition or

injury, or other complications, check with your veterinarian prior to offering massage or starting a

massage therapy program.


Stretching is an important part of a dog’s physical well-being. For many dogs, whether due to

advanced age, injury, or surgery, concerns such as muscle atrophy, joint degeneration, loss of

flexibility, and subsequent pain are very common. Stretching can help address these concerns by

helping keep a dog fit, flexible, and feeling great.

It is important to observe and have an assessment to determine what stretching activities are

appropriate for your dog. A well-functioning dog may easily retain his natural elasticity and

suppleness. However, a dog with restricted mobility may have short and stiff muscles.

When a dog has shortened musculature or tonicity pressure is exerted on the joints, leading to decreased mobility. This affects the blood vessels and impairs blood circulation. Muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments then receive insufficient nutrition and less oxygen. Reduced blood flow also means that lactic acid accumulated in the muscles is not naturally removed from the body.

The lactic acid builds up along with other waste products, leading to irritation of the pain receptors in the muscles. This causes the dog to experience pain. Pain can cause further tension, which reduces

blood flow even more. This cycle can continue and cause further persistent problems and lead to

chronic pain.

Done in conjunction with massage therapy, stretching is an effective way to prevent muscle-related problems and strain injuries and can help improve the dog’s quality of life.

Stretching and massage can complement daily exercise and obedience training, and proper diet and can help build a strong bond between dog and owner. Stretching before activity (to warm up) and after the fact (to cool down) has a preventative effect. Before stretching is performed, it is important to have the muscles warmed either through activity or massage.

Range of Motion Exercises

Range of motion (ROM) exercises can increase blood flow to the joint cartilage and improve

overall range of motion at the joint. These exercises are performed to help maintain or improve

joint mobility and flexibility of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and to help enhance awareness

of neuromuscular structure and function. These exercises also help to manipulate all the muscles

and prevent the joints from stiffening. There are several types of range of motion exercises and it is important to discuss them with a veterinary rehabilitation professional to design a routine tailored to your dog.

Thermal therapy

Heat and cold therapy are commonly used for a variety of conditions. While it is a simple

approach, the proper use of heat and cold therapy can be used to help relieve pain and sore

muscles, treat acute injuries, and promote circulation.

Benefits of heat therapy include:

  • Increases blood flow and the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles

Stimulates the sensory receptors in the skin, which helps to decrease transmissions of

pain signals to the brain and partially relieve the discomfort

  • Facilitates stretching the soft tissues including muscles, connective tissue, and adhesions

Benefits of cold therapy include:

  • Reduces swelling following a traumatic injury

  • Decreases inflammation

  • Produces a numbing effect than can reduce pain

  • Decreases blood flow to an area that can help reduce pain

  • Lessens the likelihood of muscle spasms


The ideal conditioning program prepares the body for optimal shape and strength and maintains

the body at this level. At the same time, the conditioning program works to minimize the damage

that occurs during activity or performance. A poorly conditioned dog is very susceptible to soft

tissue damage or joint injury. The goal should be for a long-term healthy body condition for every

patient and, for athletes, a long, productive career not just an occasional outing. The conditioning

program should be designed to fit your pet’s lifestyle, training, and work or athletic requirements.

Various exercises can be implemented into a conditioning program.

The following are examples of exercises for canine conditioning:

Agility exercises: Obstacle course work challenges proprioception, increases range of motion,

and aides in strengthening of different muscle groups. Multiple obstacles or challenges can be

incorporated into the obstacle course, much like an agility course.

Physioball exercise: Ball exercises can be implemented to focus on core and limb

strengthening and body awareness. These exercises are challenging for the pet throughout

the entire body.


Reiki (rā-kē), which literally means “spiritual energy,” is a natural way to help pets and

animals of all shapes and sizes feel better. This gentle, hands-on therapy does no harm to

your pet and can help promote deep relaxation and restore balance to his/her body.

Created by Master Mikao Usui, Reiki treatment uses Japanese meditative and breathing

exercises as a tool for spiritual development. Reiki practitioners use intention, meditation,

and focus to build a “bridge” to the “recipient,” or patient.

Benefits for pets:

• Helps maintain physical, mental, and emotional well-being

• Provides relaxation

• Aids in healing after surgery or during illness or discord

• Reduces pain

• Promotes healing after trauma

• Offers additional support during hospice care

• May help with behavioral issues

Reiki is safe and can be combined with conventional veterinary medicine approaches.


Kirsty Oliver VN, DipAVN(surgical), RVT, CCRP, CVPP, VTS (Physical Rehabilitation).


Kirsty earned her Veterinary Nursing Degree from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the U.K in 1992 with an Advanced Diploma in Surgical Nursing in 1994. She relocated to the USA in 2000, taking a job as a Veterinary Surgical & Anaesthesia Nurse with a busy referral center in New Jersey. In 2005, she became a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner following completion of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine program. In 2010, she became certified in veterinary pain management through the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management & in 2018 was one of the first two technicians to pass & be admitted to the Academy of Physical Rehabilitation Veterinary Technicians.

Kirsty has been pursuing her love of physical rehabilitation for over 14 years & enjoys all aspects of manual therapy, body biomechanics & getting pets back on their feet again.

Kirsty is also a reiki practitioner. When she is not helping pets, she enjoys “puttering” in the garden, making energetic jewelry & drinking tea…well, she is British!

Kirsty has 2 cat companions. Sarge & Nina Beana.