Animal Rehab

What is animal rehabilitation?

Animal rehabilitation involves an in depth education system consisting of anatomy, physiology, common injuries and surgeries, behavioural issues, physical examination and treatment techniques.

Animal and human anatomy and physiology are very similar. As such, the conditions that are commonly treated in animal rehabilitation are very similar to those that physiotherapists see when treating humans. These conditions span to involve each practice area and CPA division. One big difference with animals is that they actively try to hide their pain or injuries, so it is sometimes difficult to recognize when your own animal may need help. Some common signs that your animal might have pain or an injury include:

  • Avoiding activities that they have always done (i.e. your dog may not want to jump in the car anymore or may avoid going up or down the stairs)
  • Difficulty getting up from lying, or difficulty finding a comfortable position
  • Changing how they carry themselves (i.e. head lower, back more arched than usual, limbs wider apart or crossing over each other when walking)
  • Changing behaviour – grumpy, depressed, or uninterested in his/her usual activities
  • Changes in apetite (eating less or more than usual)
  • More ‘accidents’ in the house than usual
  • Limping (that’s a more obvious one!)


What are some common conditions seen in dogs?

1.Orthopaedic and Sport Injuries

  • Ligament sprains – most commonly knee (i.e. ‘anterior cruciate ligament’) or shoulder ligaments
  • Muscle and tendon strains – for example shoulder ( i.e. ‘rotator cuff’ or bicep muscles/tendons), hip flexors (i.e. ‘iliopsoas muscle), or the Achilles tendon
  • Joint instability (i.e. joints such as the shoulder, knee, or ankle, that are unstable because of ligament or tendon damage) where bracing might be required.
  • Arthritis and joint dysplasia (mostly in the hip and elbow)
  • Arthritis of the spinal joints
  • Post-operative care (i.e. rehabilitation after surgery)
  • Injury prevention education for sporting dog handlers


  1. Neurology:
  • Disc herniations or degeneration causing pressure on the spinal cord or nerves
  • Neurological conditions such as Degenerative Myelopathy (similar to human ALS), strokes, spinal cord injuries, etc


  1. Geriatrics:
  • Animal rehab includes treating senior dogs to help maintain function by improving mobility (which may include prescribing various products to aid with mobility issues), body awareness, balance, endurance, and strength.


  1. Puppies:
  • Breeders often bring in their whole litter of puppies so that they can be screened for any dysfunctions that may affect development (i.e. back pain – a sore back or pelvis can cause a puppy to grow with a roach in the back and may also affect the development of the hip joint if there is pelvis pain and improper joint mobility).


  1. Vestibular Rehabilitation
  • Dizziness and imbalance either from an aging process (geriatric vestibular disease), or a specific problem with the inner ear (vestibular system)


  1. Obesity
  • ‘Fluffy to fit’ fitness programs focusing on exercise and healthy eating. ‘Fluffy to fit’ is a weight management program that involves an assessment/baseline of weight and body measurements and uses weight managements strategies as it relates to exercise and healthy eating (i.e. a review of current food intake and what changes can be made, a review of lifestyle and development of a progressive and safe exercise program, and finally lots of monitoring!)


  1. Chronic Pain
  • Also Palliative care and oncology


  1. Female Incontinence


9. Respiratory Care


What are some common conditions seen in horses?


  • Tendon injuries (i.e. Deep Digital Flexor Tendon, or Suspensory)
  • Ligament injuries (i.e. ‘Check’ ligament)
  • Kissing spine (vertebrae sit too close together and put pressure on each other)


  1. Neurological
  • Shivers (a rare neuromuscular disorder causing muscle tremors and weakness)
  • String halt (a neuromuscular disorder sometimes caused by a pasture weed)
  • Wobblers (malformations in the vertebrae in the neck that cause unsteady (wobbly) gait and weakness)


  1. Geriatrics
  • Hollowing spine (weakness and atrophy of the abdominal muscles)


  1. Sports
  • High performance athlete maintenance
  • Specific training programs


Athletic animals

Canine athletes compete in a multitude of sports in Canada. These amazing animals bring strength, endurance, determination, patience, agility, passion and pure joy to their sports. They also sustain a number of sports injuries! From muscle tears and ligament ruptures, to overuse injuries and turf toe, they require a lot of rehab!


Here are a few canine sports in Canada

  • Agility
  • Dock Diving
  • Flyball
  • Racing
  • Skijourning
  • Search & Rescue
  • Mushing
  • Carting
  • Field Trials
  • Freestyle Dancing
  • Hunting
  • Herding
  • Schutzhund
  • Scent Detection
  • Lure Coursing
  • Tracking


How animal rehabilitation can help

Most human physiotherapy techniques work just as well on animals. Animal physiology and anatomy is very similar to that of humans. Here are sample techniques that cross the species barrier.

  • Joint glides, mobilization and manipulation
  • Mobilization and movement (mulligan technique)
  • Manual traction
  • Acupuncture/Dry needling (IMS)
  • Modalities (EMS, US, Laser, Shockwave)
  • Exercise
  • Heat/Ice
  • Bracing/Splinting
  • Taping/Tensoring
  • Carts (wheelchairs)


Please see our list of Canadian physiotherapists who practice Animal Rehabilitation:

Find a physiotherapist


This content was created by the Animal Health Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association