How to choose the right physical therapist for your dog
Posted in Chiropractic Treatments for Dogs

Your dog is in pain, the vet has diagnosed a musculoskeletal injury and suggested “a bit of a massage” and you need help. You’ve googled it and come across some scary-looking YouTube videos, it’s a minefield. So how do you get the right physical therapist for your dog?

Google the contacts you have been given, then check:

☑️ Qualifications, anyone who is a physical therapist will have at the very least an honours degree or a master’s degree in human and animal chiropractic, or animal chiropractic (we are known as veterinary chiropractors)
☑️ Ensure the therapist has public liability insurance and is a member of at least one professional body. There are two umbrella professional bodies which we all sit under; these are AHPR (Animal Health Practitioners Register) and RAMP (Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners)
☑️ They also need to be a member of a training body. e.g I am trained in the McTimoney technique, so I am a member of the McTimoney Animal Association. The reason why they must be a member of these associations is it means they are adhering to best practices; they are being audited and they keep their training up to date
☑️ Have a look at their website, social media pages, and get a feel for them, their areas of speciality. e,g. if their website is full of pictures of them working on horses, chances are they don’t spend a lot of time working on dogs, so probably not for you

Next, get on the phone and have a chat, you are just getting to know each other at this stage. Remember this person will most likely be coming into your home and spending time with your precious dog. So, it’s important you feel comfortable with them.

Finally, take the plunge and book an appointment. The final check is if the therapist asks for a veterinary consent form to be signed. This is a legal requirement under the Veterinary Act and is an absolute must, otherwise, your insurance will be invalidated. Make sure this is asked for and completed before your first appointment.

After all this due diligence, you are ready for your dog’s first appointment. You should now have a successful experience and get the help you need to enable your dog to begin to feel better.

The day has arrived, your dog is going to have their first appointment with your chosen canine physical therapist.

I like to send new clients a welcome letter beforehand, with information and links to my website to help plan for a successful experience, as the expression “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is true!

I advise new clients to create a quiet and calm space for the treatment, away from other household members. Also, to ensure the dog is clean, dry, and has been fed and toileted.

Once the appointment has started and you are sitting down with the physical therapist, there will be questions, lots, and lots and lots of questions. A good therapist will want to know all the details of your dog’s history. For example;

☑️daily routine
☑️any other pets in the home
☑️pre-existing health conditions
☑️medication and supplements

It is important to get a full history before treatment.

We use the term “contraindications to treatment”, which means, if when taking a case history, something comes up that means we can’t treat in that area, then this needs noting and addressing. For example, low-level laser therapy is contraindicated for patients with cancer or a history of cancer.

While asking questions, your physical therapist will hopefully be showing a calm, but enthusiastic interest in their new patient, beginning to build a relationship, based on trust and choices. I like to allow a new patient to make the first move, (I like to play it cool), and I’ll use treats to build a positive association. I may go from sitting on a chair to sitting on the floor to encourage engagement with me, this is all part of the process.

Once the case history has been taken, it’s onto gait analysis, which means watching your dog move in straight lines in walk and trot, although for sporting dogs, I might want to see movements associated with their sport. The purpose of assessing movement is to primarily, see if there is a lameness present, and secondly to watch for any other changes to the normal range of movement which will help further assessment.

Then it’s show time! This means starting with the actual treatment itself………

Your dog is now best friends with their therapist and the magic is about to happen and by magic I mean the actual treatment itself!

Depending on the type of therapy protocol used, i.e. chiropractic, physiotherapy, osteopathy, myotherapy, sports massage therapy, will dictate the type of initial musculoskeletal assessment.

My palpation assessments, (palpation means to feel and assess), start with my patient standing with 4 paws in 4 corners of the body, which is called ‘standing square’ and I am assessing for musculoskeletal balance and symmetry. I then move on to assessing muscle tissue health. By assessing the amount of muscle, the tone, and sensitivity of muscle I can establish where the red flags are for pain and imbalance in the body.

Once I know where I need to make the chiropractic adjustments, I give the dog and handler a break and talk about my findings. Then and ONLY then, do I begin treatment.

Every treatment protocol will look different, but there is one thing it is imperative to understand; it is NEVER necessary to push a dog into feeling pain, beyond the point of calm tolerance within a treatment.

The experience of receiving treatment should be a positive and rewarding experience for a dog and their handler. The dog should be given plenty of breaks, and an opportunity to have a drink and rest during treatment.

Once a treatment is completed, I explain the areas of pain and imbalance and give aftercare advice. This could range from a standard 24 hours of complete rest before exertional activity, to referring a patient back to the vet for more investigation.

Every therapist should give you a summary of treatment and an aftercare plan. I like to book a follow-up appointment for 1-2 weeks later to assess how the dog is, and often, I will check in within the first 36 hours too.

It’s a lot to think about, but your dog deserves the very best. So when choosing a therapist to work with you and your dog, make sure they tick all the boxes and of course, ensure your dog likes them.

I hope this helped you and given you the right pointers when it comes to choosing the right physical therapist for your dog.  I love talking about this so if there is anything else you want to know, please just ask.


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