Felis ISSN 2398-2950


Contributor(s): Vetstream Ltd, Helen Fentem-Jones


  • Physiotherapy or physical therapy can be broadly defined as the restoration of normal movement and function using hands on techniques. 
  • In the small animal patient it is mainly used in the musculoskeletal system particularly in cases of poor performance, spinal and pelvic pain, soft tissue injuries, following trauma and wounds, and muscular and neuromuscular disorders. 
  • Understanding the sciences including functional biomechanics, neuroanatomy and physiology,and musculoskeletal anatomy and physiology, provide the knowledge and guide the use of physiotherapy in all species. 
  • Specific to the small animal physiotherapist includes also considering such things as restraints used, home environment, and what level of exercise the patient will return to. 
  • The interaction and mutual co-operation of the veterinarian and physiotherapist is a central part of the investigation, management, and rehabilitation of the small animal patient. It is also important in helping to keep all small animal patients, from the companions to the athletes and workers, healthy and performing to their maximum capacity. 
  • Any treatment plan should be based on the careful assessment of the patient by veterinarian and physiotherapist, a reasoned process of selection of appropriate interventions and treatments, to address the patient specific issues identified on initial assessment, and the careful follow up and re-examination of the patient. All treatment regimes should be based on the best available evidence at all times. 
  • The physiotherapist’s aim in this process is slightly different to the veterinarian in that the former is looking to make a functional diagnosis (identification of existing or potential physical/functional impairments, activity limitations, participation restrictions, or abilities/disabilities). The veterinarian is primarily focused on reaching a pathoanatomical diagnosis (what the pathology is and where it is located). 
  • The main physical interventions used in physiotherapy are manual therapies, soft tissue techniques, movement and specific motor re-education techniques, electrophysical agents, and exercise prescription in association with owner education and advice to restore function and improve the quality of life of the patient. 

Print off the Owner factsheet on Complementary therapies to give to your clients.

Role and responsibilities of the animal physiotherapist

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Physiotherapeutic modalities

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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

Other sources of information

  • McGowan C M & Goff L (2016) Animal Physiotherapy. 2nd edn. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, UK. 
  • Bromiley M (1991) Physiotherapy in Veterinary Medicine. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, UK.