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  • Writer's pictureCristina Macke

6 Signs Your Pet Needs Physical Therapy!

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

"You play a critical role in recognizing when something is wrong with your pet, and implementing a customized physical therapy treatment plan can help you get back to doing what you love with your best friend."

The field of animal physical therapy, also known as animal rehabilitation, plays a vital role in the physical wellbeing of animals and pets. Still, not all pet parents are aware of the benefits and efficacy of animal rehab when it comes to recoverying from injuries and improving the quality of life of our four-legged friends. Here are six simple signs that your pet may benefit from animal physical therapy.


6. Your pet is scheduled for surgery.

If your pet is scheduled for surgery, consider physical therapy during recovery. Research shows that post operatively, canines can lose up to a third of their muscle mass within three days! Without adequate muscle mass, recovery is prolonged and compensations can cause pain in neighboring muscle and joints. Canine rehab has been shown to be safe and effective day one post-op. Furthermore, reducing pain and inflammation early in the recovery process facilitates the healing of tissues and promotes normal movement patterns of the limbs.

5. Your pet is recovering from surgery.

To the untrained eye, your pet may look fine, but one of the most effective predictors of injuries on one side of the body is a recent injury on the other side of the body. For example, an improperly healed knee significantly increases the risk of an injury to the opposite knee, normally within six months of the first injury! After all the time, effort, and money you’ve invested in treating your pet’s injury, the last thing you want is to have to go through it all again. Physical therapy addresses the many types of underlying post-surgical issues that can lead to further injury.

4. Your pet is in pain.

Pain is not “weakness leaving the body.” It is your body trying to tell you that something is wrong! One of the best indicators that your pet needs physical therapy is the presence of persistent pain. If your veterinarian cannot identify or rectify the issue, or if treatment is not producing sufficient outcomes, your next phone call should be to a physical therapist. Physical therapists have a doctorate-level education that focuses not only on treating pain but also addressing its underlying cause. Your pet’s pain may be perfectly manageable or curable with the right treatment.

One unique challenge in treating animals, as opposed to humans, is that they cannot tell you when they are in pain or what the pain feels like. In fact, dogs frequently play through pain and can tolerate an injury that lurks just below the threshold of “noticability.” This means that by the time you recognize that your pet is hurting, the pain is probably very significant. You can help your pet by being sensitive to small changes in their gait, activity level, or routine. Small changes can indicate big pain.

3. Your pet has a physical impairment.

If your pet has a limp, poor balance, an uncoordinated gait, or any other visible physical impairment, there are specific treatments that can help. Whatever is wrong will only get worse with time, and what would have been a perfectly treatable condition may eventually become a permanent injury. Don’t allow injuries or physical impairments to go unaddressed. Please call a physical therapist to discuss treatment options.

2. You are worried your pet might have to be put down.

Many pet owners worry they may have to euthanize their beloved pet because of pain and disability, which is having a negative impact on their pets quality of life. Rehab treatments tailored to address specific physical impairments can reduce pain, improve mobility and restore quality of life.

1. Your pet is perfectly healthy.

Just because your pet seems healthy or hasn’t had any serious medical issues does not mean that they are not predisposed to injury or that they are unlikely to develop future problems. Many animals are much more likely than humans to develop musculoskeletal injuries because of their high energy and the potential for high impacts on their bones and joints. Unlike humans, your pet may struggle to tell you that they are feeling pain or have an injury. They lack the language and sometimes the ability to discern that they are hurt. Even humans that have this ability often “play through injuries” and make them worse. Active animals can benefit from a physical therapy evaluation, because it may be the only way to identify a seemingly insignificant issue that could snowball into an injury or a chronic problem. Think of it as giving your pet an annual checkup or physical exam with a physical therapist.


While veterinary medicine is foundational to your pet’s health, physical therapy is an important adjunct to that foundation. As a pet owner, you play a critical role in recognizing when something is wrong with your pet, and implementing physical therapy can help you get back to doing what you love with your best friend.

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