Rehabilitation Therapy

What is rehabilitation therapy?

Although it’s been around a long time in the human world, rehabilitation therapy is just picking up speed in the veterinary community. In fact, in 2010, veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation was officially recognized as a specialty by the American Board of Veterinary Specialities.

Rehabilitation therapy can be used effectively to control pain, and to maintain and restore movement associated with degenerative conditions, injuries, post-surgery and for pets with neurological disorders. Rehabilitation therapy can also be used on canine athletes to increase performance.

Some of the more common health issues veterinarians treat with rehabilitation therapy include anterior cruciate ligament disease (ACL or torn knee ligaments); developmental abnormalities such as elbow disease; soft-tissue injuries; arthritis, especially in geriatric patients; and neurological disease such as intervertebral disc disease (bad discs that put pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves causing pain and disfunction; and fibrocartilaginous embolism or spinal cord stroke, which is a blockage in a blood vessel in the spinal cord.

Veterinary practitioners use a variety of rehabilitation modalities when treating pets including massage, therapeutic exercise, hydrotherapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation and laser therapy.

How does rehabilitation therapy work?

Pets who may benefit from rehabilitation therapy are assessed to determine what their injury or limitations are and then an individual rehabilitation program is developed for that particular pet.

Below is a brief explanation of how each modality works:

Manual massage

The therapist uses either active or passive movement techniques on the pet to help relieve pain and improve function following an injury or surgery.

Therapeutic exercises

Rehabilitation therapists agree that exercise is the cornerstone of any rehabilitation program. Physical exercise such as range of motion exercises and stretching help to reduce pain and improve recovery after surgery.


Using an underwater treadmill offers the pet a safe, comfortable and controlled environment to recover from soft tissue injuries, surgery and chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis. During hydrotherapy the buoyancy of the water reduces the need to put weight on painful joints or injured limbs, water resistance helps to support and strengthen the body and warm water increases blood flow and mobility to help the body heal.

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES)

NMES uses electrical impulses to create a muscle contraction. This helps to stimulate and strengthen muscles post-surgery or after an injury.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy works by stimulating a cellular response to the light of the laser that produces energy within the cells, which is very important for healing. Laser therapy is used for soft-tissue injuries, ramping up the immune system, areas of dermatitis, controlling pain in arthritic joints and for resolving swelling and bruising associated with surgery.

Are there any side effects to rehabilitation therapy?

The rehabilitation therapy industry in unregulated. That means you risk serious injury to your pets if they are not treated by a licensed veterinarian, certified in rehabilitation therapy. Before choosing a rehabilitation therapist ask lots of questions and ask to see their credentials.

What is the cost of rehabilitation therapy?

Rehab therapy is very effective and costs about the same as human physiotherapy. In Canada, the initial assessment costs about $110 and each subsequent visit, depending on the treatment, ranges from about $65 to $85. If you have pet insurance, you’ll have to check with your insurance provider to see what your policy covers.

How does rehabilitation therapy help pets with cancer?

Rehabilitation therapy is often used to help pets who have undergone cancer surgery, to get back on their feet and enjoying the things they love to do. The particular rehabilitation modality is chosen depending on the particular needs of the pet post surgery. Always check with your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist before starting any complementary therapy.

Is the practice of rehabilitation therapy regulated?

In the field of rehabilitation therapy, you don’t have to be a vet to offer rehabilitation services, so veterinarians advise, when looking for a rehab therapist, to ask a lot of questions and ask for their credentials. If your pets are not put in the hands of a qualified professional, there is the risk of exacerbating their condition or further injury.

This little Dachshund is undergoing laser therapy at Western Veterinary Specialist & Emergency Centre in Calgary.
This little Dachshund is undergoing laser therapy at Western Veterinary Specialist & Emergency Centre in Calgary.



This page has been reviewed by our Panel of Experts for accuracy. Our Panel of Experts is comprised of practitioners with varying specialties and perspectives. As such, the views expressed here may not be shared by all members of our Panel.

The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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