An alert and smiling dog, outside on the grass.

Physical therapy

Team Walmart Pets

June 18, 2021


min read

If you’ve had orthopedic surgery, you know how important post-operative rehabilitation is. But did you know that the same goes for our canine and feline friends? In addition to shortening recovery times, physical therapy can help dogs and cats decrease pain while increasing muscle strength, mobility and flexibility.

What does physical therapy help with?

Like pet parents, physical therapy can help pets who have undergone orthopedic surgeries — from procedures to correct ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments, to total hip replacements, and any surgical bone fracture repair. 

But physical therapy isn’t just for surgical cases — pets with neurologic conditions like intervertebral disc disease or vestibular disease can also benefit from regular physical therapy, as will dogs suffering from arthritis or those who are overweight. Rehab therapy can also benefit elderly pets.

Physical therapy for dogs and cats has taken a cue from human medicine, where physical therapy has been used to benefit our health for centuries. What started out as simple range-of-motion exercises and massage has evolved to include modern treatments like hydrotherapy and therapeutic lasers. 

Here’s a closer look at a few other rehab methods:

A balanced approach 

If your dog has been referred to a facility for physical therapy, the first thing you might see when you enter are balance balls. These large, inflatable balls (often seen in human gyms and health clubs) are used to increase your pet’s balance and coordination, encourage weight bearing and strengthen weak muscles. You may also see balance boards that serve the same purpose.


Just as it does for humans, water therapy involves your pet using several muscle groups swimming in a low-impacting setting, thereby minimizing the stress on joints. Many veterinary physical therapy facilities have warm water pools or underwater treadmills and offer hydrotherapy for dogs and cats. 

Pet slings

In the period immediately following surgery, your pet may need help standing up, and carts and slings can lend a hand. Consult your pet’s physical therapist to get a good fit and for help learning to use these and other rehabilitative aids properly.

Physical therapy exercises pets can do at home

The most important part of physical therapy will probably happen when you leave the doctor’s office. Your pet’s physical therapist will instruct you on things you will need to do at home. If your pet needs to work their joints in the water, one of these pools will have you covered.

Passive range-of-motion exercises, as well as hot- or cold-packing sore areas, will likely be prescribed to help your pet through her recovery. Following the doctor's orders will give your pet the best “leg up” to get back on her feet.

Pet Health

Photo by May Gauthier on Unsplash