10 Rules Of Thumb In Canine rehabilitation

1- Goniometer And Tape Measure

Animals do not talk to tell us how effective the treatment is. Therefore, regular measurements and assessments of the biomechanics are necessary.

The basic tools used are:

  • A tape measure is used for the circumference of muscles.
  • A Goniometer measures the angle of flexion and extension of each joint.

These tools are for the rehab practitioner what the stethoscope is for a doctor.

2- When To Use A Cold Or Hot Pack?

Cold Packs:

Cold packs will be used against inflammation and on joints when the injury just happened or when it flares up because of an excess of exercise. Cold packs tend to be used at the end of a therapeutic exercise session.

Hot Packs:

Hot packs are vasodilator and used on muscles to help stretching and for stiffness. We tend to use them at the beginning of the session of therapeutic exercise.

3- Passive Or Active Range Of Motion


Passive Range Of Motion does not require the use of muscle. The joints involved are flexed and extended by the owner. Not using the muscle is the key to prevent pain associated with an injury on muscles. This exercise is among the first basic ones done post-surgery or after an acute trauma when any other form of exercise is too sore.


Active Range Of Motion involves the muscles to be actively used by the animal. The joints and muscles are used during specific therapeutic exercises targeting a joint or group of muscles.

4- Canine Hydrotherapy: Walking or Swimming?

This topic is a large part of canine physio and rehab.

Swimming involves fast movement of the joints and can flare up an inflammation. Therefore, walking into water is much safer for most conditions. You need to ask your rehab practitioner when it is safe to start swimming.

5- How Much Exercise?

New activities always have to be introduced gradually. If too much exercise is done at the beginning your pet will be even more lame and stiff.
If this is the case a cold pack must be used for 10 minutes and the quantity of exercise has to be reduced by 50% on the next day.

6- Exercises By The Owners

Many therapeutic exercises can be done by the owner. An experienced practitioner will give exercises to be performed at home in between each visit. The practitioner will then assess the progress and adapt the therapeutic protocol.

If no progress is made after a few sessions then a new full assessment is recommended to look for an uncommon or second injury. In addition, it would be recommended to have your veterinarian run complementary examinations.

7- Braces – Splints – Joint Supports

These supports help to maintain stability in joints, reduce the range of motion and the pain. In the case of potential important activity of your dog, fitting him with joint support will help manage the pain and prevent inflammation.

The typical conditions which will benefit from them are Hip and Elbow dysplasia, Arthritis joints in senior pets, post-cruciate injuries or following surgeries.

After surgery, supports will protect limb, joint or fracture reconstruction. Typically, painful and arthritic joints would only need moderate activities.

8- Immobilization And Muscle Atrophy

In the case of a cast, splint or lameness your dog will not be able to use his leg. The muscles will then lose their mass and atrophy. It usually takes twice the time to regain this muscle mass than the period of immobilization.

Prevention is a must!

Any exercise will make a big difference in slowing down the progression of muscular atrophy during the immobilization period. Following the removal of a cast, physio sessions must be started ASAP.

9- Everyone Needs Balance Exercises

Balance exercises work on the core muscles and enhance proprioception (balance).

Typical pets who will benefit these exercises are:

Senior pets getting more stiff and losing vision need to improve their agility
Following surgery, pets will need to stimulate proprioception to improve the impaired limb function.
Agility and working dogs: excellent balance and core muscles are essential
For obese pets in need, strengthening core muscles is the first step toward fitness

10- Limb Function Post-Surgery

Limb surgeries such as cruciate ligament rupture, fracture, amputation, hip dislocation, and patella are very common with dogs and cats. The level of weight-bearing is a good indication of what type of rehabilitation care the pet should receive:

No weight-bearing: Pain management, drugs, and laser therapy + Passive ROM + Massage
Touch-toe Early weight-bearing: Laser therapy + Therapeutic exercises Active ROM + Stretching
Confidentweight-bearing: Therapeutic exercises + Stretching and Strengthening