Physiotherapy for Working and Competition Dogs

Police dogs, sheep dogs, gun dogs, and those who compete regularly in field trials, flyball, agility and obedience are the athletes of the canine world. These dogs can be prone to suffering long term minor musculoskeletal injuries, having been subjected to more stresses and strains than the average pet dog. These injuries do not always manifest in an obvious lameness or signs of pain. In the working dog, the most common undiagnosed injuries tend to be Grade 1 muscle strains which can result in the handler observing a dip in performance or behaviour change. It is important that any dip in performance should be investigated.

Regular musculoskeletal checks are recommended to keep working and competition dogs in the best condition. These checks can help identify any small issues/injuries before they evolve and become larger and more problematic. It is also easier to treat minor injuries when identified early, rather than keep the dog working and allow these injuries to become established leading to changes within the tissues.

General signs of injury in the working dog

  • Weight shifting or obvious lameness
  • Difficulty jumping into and out of the car
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Swelling and heat around joints
  • Muscle wastage
  • Stiffness particularly post exercise
  • Reluctance to exercise or train
  • Reactive to being touched
  • Increased course/run times
  • Knocking down poles
  • Coming out of weaves
  • Shortened stride
  • Putting an extra step in before a jump


Physiotherapy for Pet Dogs

There are many orthopaedic and neurological conditions that can affect dogs at in various stages of their life. Young dogs can encounter developmental diseases, for example:

  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Osteochondrosis dissecans
  • Patella luxation
  • Limb deformities
  • Avascular disease of the femoral head

Middle aged dogs may acquire conditions such as:

  • Fractures
  • Muscle contractures
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Acute & chronic soft tissue injuries, involving muscle, tendon, ligament or joint capsule.
  • Joint luxation
  • Nerve injuries
  • Spinal disc disease

As the dogs become older, they may suffer with arthritis, back pain due to spondylitis or degenerative myelopathies.

Whether these conditions are treated with surgery or conservatively, physiotherapy can play an important role in managing these conditions. With advancements in operations, a suitable pre and post operative rehabilitation approach in the form of physiotherapy is essential. This will improve the speed and quality of healing, provide pain relief, and provide a long term management programme. Physiotherapy plays an important part in the reinstatement of normal proprioception, joint mobilisation, muscle strengthening, correct movement patterns, which results in the restoration of full functional activities to improve the pet’s quality of life.

General signs that your dog may require physiotherapy

  • Difficulty jumping in and out of the car or high surface
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Had recent surgery
  • Difficulty going up and down the stairs
  • Become depressed or grumpy
  • Suffered injury or accident
  • Not wanting to go for a walk
  • Doesn’t want to run or play
  • Movement has become stiff or weak
  • Showing signs of tenderness to the touch

Elderly dogs

As dogs become older, they are more prone to muscle soreness and joint problems. Physiotherapy can help by supporting or improving an older dog’s flexibility, muscle tone, mobility, and give symptomatic relief from arthritis.

Providing appropriate exercises and sensory motor stimulation by regular massage and other manual techniques can increase joint mobility, relieve aching muscles and could help slow down canine dementia. Electrotherapies can also be used to help alleviate pain from arthritis and stiff muscles.

Regular massage and other manual techniques can increase joint mobility and soothe achy muscles. Electrotherapies can also be used to ease the pain from stiff muscles and arthritis.