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8 Dog Physical Therapy Exercises for Recovery & Mobility

by Justin Girdler |

Dogs recovering from injuries or surgery often require physical therapy. This complementary treatment helps minimize pain, improve mobility and function, and promote overall health. Your veterinarian will include this step as part of your dog’s rehabilitation plan.

Learn more about different canine physical therapy exercises and how each one can aid in your pet’s recovery.

8 Common Types of Dog Physical Therapy Exercises

Listed below are the most common types of veterinary physical therapy methods that your vet can recommend:

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy uses heat to penetrate deeply into the tissues, increase blood flow, and provide pain relief. You can use a variety of heating agents such as hot packs, heat wraps, and towels soaked in hot water.

Doing this ritual before exercising your dog will help reduce pain and muscle tension. It’s also beneficial to dogs with spondylosis, chronic inflammation, and neurological conditions.


  • Reduces pain
  • Starts up the healing process
  • Improves tissue metabolism and flexibility
  • Decreases muscle spasms and blood pressure


  • Requires extreme caution with heat levels
  • Needs at least 72 hours to apply after injury
  • Potentially worsens swelling when done too early

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy is the method of applying a dry, cold source to the affected area, to alleviate pain. It can include ice packs, frozen rice bags, and cold compression devices.

Cryotherapy is typically given to dogs after surgery to reduce pain and swelling. It also decreases inflammation due to fracture repairs, osteoarthritis, and tendon and ligament injuries.


  • Decreases blood flow to the affected body part
  • Relieves pain
  • Reduces swelling and muscle spasms
  • Speeds up the healing process


  • Works best when used immediately
  • Only effective up to two weeks after injury or surgery

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy belongs to the manual types of dog physical therapy. It uses hand movements to release tension from the muscles and joints. Instead of focusing on one area, it promotes healing throughout the whole body. And just like in humans, massages put your pups at ease.

All in all, it’s a rehabilitation tool commonly used for dogs who suffer from joint and muscle injuries. It’s best to perform these motions with guidance from your vet.


  • Reduces pain and swelling
  • Relieves anxiety and stress
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Keeps muscle in good shape


  • Best done by a professional massage therapist
  • Can intensify pain and induce muscle spasms if done incorrectly

Passive Range of Motion (PROM) Exercises

The passive range of motion (PROM) exercise uses movement for the joints through the available range of motions without placing unnecessary stress on the muscles. It typically lasts for 15-20 minutes several times a day.

This series of exercises is ideal for any dogs who have lost their full range of motion. It also works best for stabilizing CCL injuries and helping dogs with fractures, surgeries, and soft tissue injuries to the extremities.


  • Relieves pain
  • Prevents tight muscles and joints during the acute rehabilitation phase
  • Improves blood flow and lymphatic flow
  • Increases production of synovial fluid to maintain cartilage
  • Promotes lubrication of the joints


  • Requires dog to be relaxed and willing
  • Doesn’t prevent muscle atrophy
  • Doesn’t improve endurance or strength

Laser Therapy

This form of canine physical therapy uses light waves to penetrate the skin and repairs tissues from within. Each light wave has specific wavelengths depending on the tissue that needs healing. For example, lower wavelengths work best for the skin, while high wavelengths dig deeper into the bones and muscles.

Dogs with chronic arthritis, traumatic injuries, surgical incisions, and tendon and ligament injuries can benefit from this therapy.


  • Reduces inflammation
  • Relieves pain
  • Promotes the wound healing process
  • Generally safe for pets when performed correctly


  • Requires specialized equipment under the care of a professional
  • Causes thermal burns if done incorrectly
  • Can damage the retina permanently if performed without protective goggles

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

TENS therapy is a form of electrotherapy used for acute pain and inflammation. It sends gentle waves of electrical currents to the affected area to help reduce aches. As they get used to the tingling sensation, your dog will feel less pain than before.


  • Aids in pain relief
  • Improves range of motion
  • Accelerates the healing process
  • Prevents muscle atrophy
  • Can be combined with other pain relief methods


  • Requires special equipment and supervision from a professional


This form of veterinary physical therapy has its roots in ancient Chinese medicine. It uses needles to aid in alleviating pain. It improves overall healing by targeting energy imbalance in your dog’s body. This way, your pup can heal on its own.

Veterinary acupuncture often works for dogs with joint inflammation and arthritis. Dogs with hip dysplasia, chronic back pain, and spinal cord issues can also benefit from this method. It’s generally safe for dogs of all conditions.


  • Improves blood flow
  • Brings more oxygen to the blood
  • Stimulates healing
  • Provides pain relief


  • Not a cure for disorders
  • Requires a series of visits to work
  • Needs cooperation from your dog


Hydrotherapy stands out from other types of dog physical therapy because of one unique element: water. In this method, your dog performs exercises while partially submerged in water. This environment allows them to work their muscles without adding stress to their bones and joints.

Hydrotherapy is ideal for patients suffering from neurological and orthopedic disorders. Dogs with fractures, CCL ruptures, arthritis, and related conditions can also enjoy the benefits of this method.


  • Works for multiple muscle groups with minimal strain
  • Increases muscle mass and strength
  • Improves range of motion
  • Reduces pain


  • Needs pool and specialized equipment
  • Requires willingness from your dog

Choose the Right Method for Canine Physical Therapy

Physical therapy plays an essential role in the rehabilitation process, and help your dog heal better. Thus, it needs to be tailored based on your dog’s disorder and goals for recovery. With the help of your vet, your patience and support are crucial to ensure that your dog successfully recovers and regains overall health.

Find more information to support your dog’s health in the Lick Sleeve blog.

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