Post OP Physiotherapy and Hydrotherapy for dogs 

In this month’s blog, we’re going to take a look at how animal physiotherapy and hydrotherapy can work together to help support patients that have had a surgical procedure.

I’m sure most of us have been to visit a human physio at some point or another. Just like humans recovering from an operation, dogs (and cats of course!) can really benefit from a period of rehabilitation after they’ve had surgery. Human physiotherapy has been around for a really long time, and animal physiotherapy is quite new in comparison… never fear though! It’s a fast-evolving situation, and the standard of animal physiotherapy available is now really high, with some of the best veterinary practices, individual practitioners and canine rehab centres in the country offering this service.

There’s also an increasing amount of published research available for use of physiotherapy modalities such as cold therapy, prescriptive exercise, tools such as medical lasers and, of course, hydrotherapy!

Let’s take a look at what the physio/hydro/rehab programme for a dog that’s recovering from surgery might look like.


Firstly, gentle physiotherapy interventions can begin as early as the immediate postoperative stage, when the patient has come out of the operating theatre. Cold therapy used at this stage can be used to help control inflammation, reduce bleeding, and can be useful in helping with pain.


There’s usually a short period of prescribed rest to allow healing to get going. Remember – we know when we’ve had surgery and we know we have to take it easy. Although we know they are really intelligent, dogs aren’t able to think in the same way as us and don’t have the same understanding of needing to rest. So whilst it’s really important to keep dogs quiet during this stage, we realise that this can be a bit tricky with those very bouncy dogs! Crate-training prior to the operation, and investment in a good crate can help make those early days just a little easier.

During this quieter time, your veterinary physiotherapist will become your best buddy!  , they can be helping your pet with some nice gentle range-of-movement exercises, some lovely massage or soft tissue work to help with blood flow, waste product removal, and muscle tone, as well as sometimes using other devices such as medical lasers, red light devices or medical ultrasound to help things along. All this will help the body prepare for getting moving again, and will help to minimize any muscle loss or problems with limb function following the operation and rest.


After the initial period of rest is completed, hydrotherapy can be one of the best forms of recovery when combined with physiotherapy. It’s important to get patients moving in a controlled way once their initial rest is over – this will help to begin rebuilding their strength by easing the dog back into their normal activities safely, strengthening their muscles, ligaments and tendons around weakened areas, or areas that have had to work a bit harder to compensate whilst the animal has been poorly.

Your animal physiotherapist will work out a carefully devised rehabilitation plan, starting with simple slow exercises and manual therapy to start the road to recovery. They will look at each patient individually, and take into account the type of operation they’ve had, followed by putting together a plan that will allow for the best outcome.

This is where post op physiotherapy and hydrotherapy for dogs can work together perfectly to form the ideal Dream Team!

The buoyancy from the water helps to decrease pain and minimises the weight placed on joints and muscles, allowing them to be rehabilitated with less pressure on them. Hydrostatic pressure of water – alongside physiotherapy techniques such as cold compression – helps to reduce general soreness and swelling of the area that’s been operated on. Interestingly, it also creates a type of stimulus to the sensory skin receptors, which helps decrease hypersensitivity, further helping to keep these patients super comfortable! This is important, because reduction in pain can really allow poorly patients to begin their rehabilitation and mobilisation journey with greater confidence.

Remember, your dog won’t be alone in the pool or treadmill – a therapist will be with them, having a paddle at the same time, making sure they are safe and feeling OK about being in the water. This also allows the physiotherapist to be able to do some manual work on the patients whilst they are in the water, as well as checking how their limbs are functioning and making adjustments to their treatment programme. The rehabilitation of post-operative patients is truly a team effort, although it must be physiotherapist-led, and these hardworking professionals probably account for around 70% of a patient’s rehabilitation, with the other 30% being the responsibility of those amazing hydrotherapists.

As we work through the rehabilitation programme, the physiotherapy exercises and manual therapy will adapt, pushing the body a little harder to become stronger. Different massage and soft tissue techniques can be used, and land-based prescriptive exercise can be modified to the correct level for that patient. Hydrotherapy sessions may become longer and a little harder.


Lots of patients that have had orthopaedic surgery will need some post-operative X-rays or scans at around 6-8 weeks, so this usually gives us a good indication of how well our rehab programme has gone. Not all rehab patients are  though – some have had major soft tissue surgery, but all are likely to require physio intervention for soft tissue trauma involving muscles, tendons or ligaments – and all are treated with the same diligence and individual care.

Once the patient’s rehab programme is complete, it’s important to remember that – whilst you may then see less of that super-physio – they will need to carry on monitoring the patient to ensure they do not run into any problems further down the line, and often hydrotherapy needs to continue too. After putting all that effort into rehabilitating your pet, we’ve probably got to know you pretty well, so we’ll definitely be wanting to keep in touch and keep and eye on how your pet does!

Just to sum-up, here’s an easy to read list of the things that post op physiotherapy and hydrotherapy for dogs can help::

  • Improvement of exercise intolerance, what may possibly have been quite a long term problem.
  • Reducing pain and swelling/inflammation after the surgery
  • Decreasing compensatory muscle pain, which may include things like back pain
  • Improvements in coordination, balance and proprioception.
  • Controlling or reversing muscle loss
  • Strengthening of supporting tissues in the damaged area.
  • Promoting a faster return to normal, in a super-safe and controlled way
  • Helping with weight loss if needed (Hey, we all gain a little weight when we’re off games for a bit don’t we?)
  • And finally, providing mental stimulation – we all know how boring it is to be on bed rest, especially if you are young and bouncy! We’re a cheerful bunch here, so coming to see us will brighten your pet’s day!

Finally, it’s important to mention that finding the right, suitably qualified animal physiotherapist is really important. Look for someone who is on a suitable register of animal musculoskeletal practitioners, such as the ACPAT, RAMP, AHPR or NAVP registers. Ideally, your practitioner should have either:

  • Been a human physio before they were an animal one
  • Been a Vet or Veterinary nurse registered with the RCVS, who have done a post graduate course in animal physiotherapy
  • Be a graduate of a university bachelors or masters degree programme in Veterinary Physiotherapy.

Our physiotherapist here is the best (we’re not even being biased!) and has all the right qualifications to work with our hydro team to provide the very best outcome for your pet after their operation.