Physical therapy for dogs: massage, physiotherapy, acupuncture and more. Podcast on Newtalk’s Pat Kenny Show

To listen to this week’s podcast, see the foot of this page.
Traditionally, vets have focussed on medical and surgical treatments of mobility problems in pets, but over the past twenty years, there has been an increasing interest in the hands-on approach. Methods range from acupuncture to manipulations to hydrotherapy to therapeutic massage, for both dogs and cats. Vets sometimes offer these treatments, but more commonly, they’re carried out by practitioners with specific training in their particular field of interest. Vets will then often refer cases to these practitioners.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is well established in the human medical world. Surgeons are careful to instruct patients about its importance: if people don’t follow up their new hip surgery with the hard work of post-operative exercises, it’s well known that their recovery will be slower and the final result will not be as good. The same applies to a wide range of human mobility issues.
The veterinary world has been slower to appreciate the value of physical therapy. Of course it’s more complicated: you can’t make a dog carry out twenty repeats of knee-stretching exercises, and if you tell a cat to do twice daily neck rotations, you’ll just receive a baleful stare in reply. But in recent years, it’s been recognised that there are other ways of achieving the same goal of these voluntary exercises in animals.


Acupuncture is different from physical therapies, but it deserves a mention. The treatment technique, involving the stimulation of carefully chosen points by the insertion of very fine needles, is a traditional Chinese form of medical treatment. It has been proven to be effective for certain applications (such as pain relief) and is now a standard part of conventional treatment for many conditions (e.g. osteoarthritis). Some vets in general practice offer acupuncture but it’s more likely that you’ll need to be asked to be referred to a vet with a particular interest in this.


Physiotherapy is defined as the treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, heat treatment, and exercise rather than by drugs or surgery.
Some of these therapies can be done by owners at home (e.g. massage and gentle manipulation) whereas others clearly need to be carried out by a professional health worker in a clinical setting. Some veterinary nurses (such as Tania, in Pete’s clinic at Brayvet) have taken up a special interest in this type of work).

Physiotherapy involves three core skills:

  • Manual therapy (e.g. massage, mobilisation and manipulation)
  • Electrotherapy (e.g. ultrasound, laser and neuromuscular stimulation)
  • Exercise and movement (e.g. hydrotherapy and gait re-education)

Questions from pet owners

The following questions were answered on air

  • My cat has had a leg amputated due to cancer. Will he learn to cope?
  • Would acupuncture help my dog with arthritis?
  • How do you stop a puppy yelping and pulling on the lead when on walks?
  • Can I give my dog CBD oil for fused bones in his spine?
  • My Boxer keeps eating junk which upsets her digestive system. What can I do?
  • My collie dogs are frightened of getting into our car or van. How can I teach them to be more relaxed about this?

Pete also did a Facebook Live session answering more questions, which you can watch here.

Listen to the podcast to hear Pete’s answers to the questions by clicking below.

Listen to the podcast:

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