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Caring for your dog as he/she gets older

There is nothing more stressful than seeing your pet in pain and unfortunately at some point in their life this is often the case.

Animal physiotherapy is a non-invasive complementary therapy, used to aid the natural healing of musculoskeletal conditions. All animals, whether they are a family pet or a top agility competitor can benefit from physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy can be used to help your animal when they are suffering from injuries, degenerative diseases, when they require pre and/or post-operative rehabilitation, conformation abnormalities or to enhance their performance and reduce the risk of injury. Physiotherapy encourages your animal to heal naturally and efficiently using Manual therapies, Electrotherapies and Remedial Exercises.

Below are two cases that featured in Paws & Hooves Summer newsletter. Both are older dogs who have benefitted significantly from physiotherapy.

Harry is a thirteen year old Golden Retriever who was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) three years ago. IVDD is the protrusion of the intervertebral disc into the spinal column compressing the spinal cord.


Veterinary Specialists were amazed at how he was still walking with the severity of his discs. Surgery was considered however was not recommended so Harry was prescribed with Gabapentin, an analgesic which is most effective for treating neuropathic pain. Harry improved though still struggled on his hindlimbs and his owner was now looking at ways to improve Harry’s mobility so Milton Keynes Veterinary Group referred Harry for physiotherapy. Harry’s owner was reluctant as she herself found physiotherapy useless and she was afraid that it may make Harry’s symptoms worst. Harry started having physiotherapy in October 2013 and has regular sessions every 4 weeks to keep him moving comfortably. These are a few words from Harry’s owner: “What a surprise. She was very gentle and Harry for the first time was able to walk up the ramp to my car easily without me lifting him. Every session seems to improve him even more. He started running when on short walks and when we were training our other dogs he wanted to join in. He also decided to start jumping into chairs which we are trying to stop. I just couldn’t believe it especially when he was chosen as a replacement for the Rally Obedience team at the N.E.C. in December. He was brilliant in the practice and enjoyed every minute. I don’t think Nisha realised what happened after his last session. He refused to leave the waiting room and come home with me. The receptionist and I were laughing especially when he tried to scratch the door to get back for more. I think Harry scratching the door is the best recommendation.” Ms Neale

Rama is an 11 year old Labrador Retriever who started having physiotherapy in September 2013 when his hindlimbs suddenly became very weak. Rama has arthritis in some of his joints which causes stiffness and sometimes lameness.


After his first session of physiotherapy involving massage, range of movement, phototherapy and pulsing electromagnetic field therapy his owner noticed a significant improvement in his mobility. Rama started by having weekly sessions which then became twice a month and now he is currently having physiotherapy every 6 – 8 weeks to keep him moving with ease. In addition to his regular sessions he has a home treatment plan involving massage and range of movement exercises which his dedicated owner does with him every day. Rama is also taken on short walks and if he’s not up to it he spends the day resting.

A few tips which will help to improve your dog’s mobility:
  • Your dog may love their really long walks in the woods however have you noticed when they come back they tend to settle somewhere quiet and have a really long rest. Older dogs do sleep more often though it is a good idea to shorten their walks and take them out more frequently. This will give their joints and muscles time to recover which will keep them fit.
  • If your dog is struggling with steps into the house or out to the garden, lift them in and out if possible without causing them discomfort or try fitting a ramp or another step to make it less steep for them.
  • If you have a dog that pulls on the lead, try them with a harness instead. This will put less pressure on their neck and back making their walk/experience more comfortable for them and you.
  • Try to walk your dog on soft ground such as grass rather than pavements so concussion is limited on their joints.
  • If possible provide your dog with a deep/orthopaedic bed which will prevent pressure sores and keep them comfortable through the night.
  • Easier said than done this one, where possible discourage your dog from jumping on and off the furniture. Instead assist them on and off or place something in between which they can use as a stepping stone.
  • Give your dog a good rub in the mornings when they get up to stimulate their muscles warming them up for the day ahead. As part of any physiotherapy treatment I design a home treatment plan which may include massage, range of movement and/or exercises which I will show you how to do.
A canine physiotherapy session

Palpating along the back to feel for areas of stiffness and muscle spasms followed by feeling the whole body for heat and lumps.


Treating the patient with red light phototherapy/Photizo Vetcare, which helps to increase vasodilation and also helps to warm the muscles up in preparation for massage.


Massaging specific areas of the body to treat a condition or a full body massage to relieve aches and pains. When required whilst massaging the patient they can lie on the pulsing electromagnetic field therapy mat, which helps to improve the blood supply, quality of cartilage in joints and relieve pain. It can also be placed over a specific area of the body if the patient is reluctant to lie down.

Range of movement exercises to reduce stiffness and improve mobility of joints.

Treatment techniques which I usually use on older dogs:

Manual Therapies
  • Warm muscles, stimulating tissues and increasing muscle tone
  • Build a bond between animal and physiotherapist
  • Release endorphins, providing the animal with a natural pain relief
  • Help to break down scar tissue and adhesions
  • Increase circulation ensuring an abundant supply of oxygen and nutrients to a specific area
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Increase lymphatic drainage
  • Encourage the removal of metabolic waste products

Range of movement (ROM) both passive and active helps to build and strengthen muscles, improve proprioception, mobility, strength and stamina. ROM can be maintained through exercises such as flexion and extension, adduction (moving a limb in towards the body) and abduction (moving a limb away from the body), protraction (moving a limb forwards) and retraction (moving a limb backwards). ROM can either be performed manually whilst the dog is recumbent, or remedial exercises can be structured in such a way to encourage ROM.


Pulsing electromagnetic Field Therapy(PEMF) can be applied at various settings to achieve different therapeutic outcomes:

  • Pain relief – by inhibiting the pain signal and reducing inflammation
  • Inflammation – it is particularly effective at reducing chronic inflammation in muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints
  • Maintenance of muscles specifically when reduced range of movement, neurological conditions and debilitating injuries are present

Phototherapy/Photizo Vetcare is red light/infra-red which increases vasodilation at capillary level, stimulates epithelial cells to reduce scar tissue and also helps to relieve pain. I regularly use this at the start of a session as it prepares the muscles for manual techniques and encourages the release of endorphins.

Milton Keynes Veterinary Group is pleased to offer your dog a complimentary trial session with our Physiotherapist, Nisha Tosar of Paws & Hooves Animal Physiotherapy.

Your complimentary session at our Stoke Road surgery will involve an assessment of your dog, and a demonstration of the techniques and equipment used during a typical session. Lasting twenty minutes, Nisha will determine if your pet would benefit from Physiotherapy long term to help improve and maintain their mobility.

To book a session for your dog please call 01908 397777 and speak to a member of reception or call Nisha direct on 07866 508677.

Nisha Tosar BSc (Hons) PgD A.Phys is a member of IAAT and ASSVAP, both of which are recognised by Pet Insurance Companies.

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