Canine Rehabilitation: Physical Therapy for Dogs

Physiotherapy, Rehabilitation, and Sports Medicine in Dogs

dog using underwater treadmill for physical therapy

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Physical therapy is not just for people. Dogs can also benefit from techniques used in physiotherapy. It's called canine rehabilitation and is essentially sports medicine for dogs. Here's how canine rehab can help improve your dog's mobility, comfort, and quality of life.

What Is Canine Rehabilitation?

Canine rehabilitation is a term used to describe physiotherapy or physical therapy for dogs. It works in a similar way to human physical therapy—practitioners provide various treatments and services to help restore movement and function. Canine rehab can help improve mobility and range of motion and mobility and reduce pain, stiffness, and inflammation. It's often used to help dogs recover from injuries and surgery or to manage chronic conditions like arthritis.

Why Choose Canine Rehab 

Some vets will provide instructions for simple exercises and treatments you can do at home to improve your dog's mobility and reduce discomfort, but sometimes the situation calls for more advanced physical therapy. Your vet may recommend physical therapy in the following situations:

Types of Canine Rehab

Physical therapy for dogs includes several types of non-invasive treatments designed to help dogs, many of which are used concurrently throughout treatment. A canine rehab professional will design a plan that fits your dog's needs.


Hydrotherapy is a form of physiotherapy that uses water for rehabilitation. Water offers buoyancy, making it easier for weakened dogs to stand on their own weight, but it also provides resistance that helps build strength. Common equipment includes underwater treadmills and pools. The rehab professional will assist your dog to ensure the process is safe and beneficial for your dog.


There are several precise exercises that can help strengthen and stretch muscles. A dog might be guided through an obstacle course consisting of structures like cones, ramps, and steps. Exercise balls are sometimes used to help with balance and strength. The therapist will also do some manual passive range of motion exercises, which involves manipulating the affected joint or limb while the dog is at rest and gently stretching the area.

Your canine rehab professional may also show you exercises, stretches, and massage techniques you can do at home to help your dog with recovery in between rehab visits.

Other Treatments 

The therapist will likely use some form of massage as well as heat and/or cold to manage inflammation. Acupuncture may also be recommended.

Special equipment may also be necessary to perform certain treatments that work on a deeper level to promote healing and recovery in the joints, muscles, and cells.

  • Cold laser therapy uses a painless laser to promote healing on a cellular level.
  • Electrotherapy involves the use of mild electrical pulses to increase strength and range of motion and reduce pain. It can help repair muscles and reduce swelling.
  • Therapeutic ultrasound uses painless, inaudible sound waves to repair muscles and reduce inflammation. It's different from diagnostic ultrasound, which is used to create an image.

How to Find a Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner Near You

If your dog is in need of physical therapy, your veterinarian may refer you to a canine rehab provider in your area. You can also search for one on your own as well, and then ask your vet for a referral. The canine rehab professional will need your dog's medical records to create the ideal physical therapy plan.

Who Provides Services

Practitioners are typically veterinarians, veterinary technicians, or human physical therapists who have completed a certification program in canine rehabilitation. There are a number of programs out there that carry different titles.

CCRT: Canine Rehabilitation Therapist (veterinarians and physical therapist) via the Canine Rehabilitation Institute

CCRVN: Canine Rehabilitation Veterinary Nurse program (veterinary technicians/nurses) via the Canine Rehabilitation Institute

CCRP: Certified canine rehabilitation practitioner (veterinarians, physical therapists, and veterinary technicians) via the University of Tennessee Certificate Program in Canine Physical Rehabilitation

CCAT: Certified Companion Animal Rehabilitation Therapist program via the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine