Physiotherapy for Animals

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Physiotherapy has often been described under the heading of ‘complimentary medicine' or ‘alternative medicine'. It is, in fact, neither ‘alternative' nor a system of medicine but it is indeed complimentary to other therapies. It is an ancillary or supportive therapy, which can be of excellent value in helping restoration of function, mobility and rehabilitation, after injury, prolonged veterinary treatment etc. It can be used alongside or after any form of medicine, whether conventional or alternative (e.g. homeopathy, acupuncture or herbal medicine). Broadly speaking, it works on the soft tissues structures, such as muscles, tendons and ligaments, restoring a normal range of movement, releasing spasm and breaking down scarring and restrictions of movement.


In the opinion of the AVMC, it is not advised as a ‘stand-alone', first-line therapy, especially as it does not address skeletal alignment. The AVMC strongly recommends specialist chiropractic manipulation to restore normal skeletal alignment, prior to application of complimentary physiotherapy techniques. N.B.: if the skeleton is misaligned at the time of using physiotherapy, then further pain or injury are foreseeable possible consequences.

Physiotherapy may involve use of instruments, such as ultra-sound, LASER and magnets. However, it is commonly a manual, hands-on therapy, using deep massage, exercises and range of movement activity. It may also include a program of controlled swimming or hydrotherapy (Canine Hydrotherapy Association) – we can find no equine hydrotherapy association, to date, despite the proliferation of facilities around the UK). The AVMCdoes not currently recommend hydrotherapy for CDRM, as we have found (circumstantially) that it seems to exhaust the nerves involved, leading to further degeneration.


If calling in someone to perform physiotherapy on your horse, dog or other animal, it is imperative to check qualifications. The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy is the organisation which oversees practitioners.

N.B. If using the services of a physiotherapist who is not a fully-qualified vet, ensure that the practitioner observes the provisions of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and use a properly-qualified animal physiotherapist. That Act requires physiotherapists to work at the specific request of and under the guidance or supervision of a veterinary surgeon.

Step 1 – Obtain a proper veterinary assessment and diagnosis. If this includes a full holistic assessment, so much the better.

Step 2 – Your vet is supposed to discuss the full range of treatment options with you. This may include Alternative Therapy and may include physiotherapy. If neither is mentioned, yet you feel that you wish to explore the options, it is recommended that you should discuss the possibilities with your vet at the time of the visit. No vet should obstruct a referral of this nature.

N.B. You will find that your veterinary insurance may be invalidated if you use an unqualified practitioner or one who operates outside the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. That Act provides that it is only manipulative therapies that may be performed on your animal by a non-vet. Even then, they must be applied on the specific recommendation of a vet and under his or her supervision. Physiotherapists are not permitted to prescribe and supply medicines (e.g. homeopathic) for an animal. Physiotherapists who might see your animal without having personally been recommended by your vet and without having received a direct and explicit referral and who function without veterinary supervision are operating outside the law.

It should be noted that animal therapists (chiropractors, osteopaths and physiotherapists), who are properly trained and qualified, are likely to be members of their respective professional bodies and should be covered by indemnity insurance, as are vets. This protects you, should anything go amiss. However, this is also likely to be negated if the therapist operates outside the terms of the Veterinary Surgeons Act (above).

Christopher as a holistic vet generally supports the use of these therapies and refers appropriate cases for Physiotherapy. He is unable, however, to act as a convenience ‘cover' for those who do not observe the provisions of the Veterinary Surgeons Act. Similar conditions apply for: Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Bowen Therapy, Tellington Touch (TTouch), Massage, Cranial Osteopathy, Craniosacral Therapy and Lymphatic Drainage.

Holistic, Alternative, Natural or complimentary?

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