How can Hydrotherapy as an adjunct to Physiotherapy for my dog?

How can Hydrotherapy as an adjunct to Physiotherapy for my dog?

Canine hydrotherapy is rapidly increasing in popularity as a way of helping dogs to recover from injury, managing degenerative musculoskeletal disorders and improving fitness, as a Physiotherapist I find it a wonderful adjunct to land based exercises and manual therapy.

As part of my canine rehabilitation I have access to an underwater treadmill located on the Wirral, I find that by working the dog on land and in water the results can be quite amazing. What always amazes me is that owners of post-surgery, elderly and neurological dogs will sometimes think that hydrotherapy alone is enough. What they do not realise is that a fully qualified Physiotherapist can give exercises the owner can perform each day with their dog to aid their maintenance to a greater degree or speed up recovery.

Muscle atrophy occurs secondary to osteoarthritis and, to a smaller degree, as a result of normal ageing. Walking on an underwater treadmill once a week or more can help patients with muscle atrophy improve strength and mobility because of the increased resistance to forward motion. However frequent sessions, as often as every other day on land, can help build strength even faster.

As an owner you spend each day with your canine friend so doesn’t it stand to reason that you are best suited to work on your animal’s rehabilitation, it helps you as the owner become involved in your animals rehabilitation journey and gives you the ability to monitor improvement as the exercises are progressed.




Whilst when we think of canine hydrotherapy we may assume it relates to swimming in a pool, underwater treadmills are also being increasingly used to provide a controlled environment for dogs to walk in water. The benefits of the underwater treadmill include the ability to alter water depth and treadmill speed in order to better specific to the rehab needs of the individual animal.  The key properties of water are:

  • Resistance (pulling limbs through and out of the water helps strengthen atrophied/weakened muscles)
  • Buoyancy (support for weak patients and lessens the impact gravity has on arthritic/degenerative joints)
  • Controlled temperature (warmth to help soothe joints and muscles and improve circulation)
  • Hydrostatic pressure (pressure that water places on the body that helps circulatory problems and decrease swelling/edema)

A study by Monk et al (2006) found that underwater treadmill exercise caused an increased range of movement in the dog’s stifle joint (knee) and also increased the muscle circumference compared to normal lead walking on hard ground. The main benefits of the underwater treadmill are:

  • Extension of the limbs/joints is more complete than with swimming as the dog goes through the gait pattern on the treadmill
  • Control of how fast the patient moves depending on ability, fitness, size and strength.
  • Control of how much weight the patient bears as they are moving (height of water which affects buoyancy)
  • More balanced treatment for patients with multiple issues (multiple joints, muscle atrophy, etc.)
  • Support for weak patients, or dogs that are unwilling to use a limb find the buoyancy of the water supports their weight and provides comfort.
  • Less intimidating than swimming for patients who are fearful water (with the water treadmill, water fills slowly from the bottom).
  • Underwater treadmill walking allows a correct but exaggerated gait pattern, which improves joint flexion for injured or stiff arthritic joints.
  • The pain relief provided by warm water facilitates muscle relaxation and tendon stretch in situations in which splinting, protection, or contracture has occurred.
  • Gentle and low impact enough for post-surgical patients (2 weeks post op with sutures removed)
  • Gait abnormalities can be highlighted easily and your physiotherapist can provide facilitation or tailored resistance work to try to improve the gait pattern to restore normal movement.

In conclusion, I find that using the underwater treadmill as part of my multi-faceted ‘tool box’ can speed up the recovery of rehabilitation dogs and aid in maintenance of elderly or arthritic dogs.  BUT please do not discount the effect that you as an owner can have with your dog when armed with the correct knowledge and exercises, it really can make the world of difference!


Do you have a dog that you think would benefit from Physiotherapy or Hydrotherapy?

Post orthopaedic or neurological surgery?  Elderly or degenerative disease, or a working dog that you are looking to keep in their prime?

Get in touch to see if Wirral Vet Physio can help you and your best friend!

How to Manage Your Agility Dog in High Temperatures Safely – Warm Up…….to Ring!

How to Manage Your Agility Dog in High Temperatures Safely – Warm Up…….to Ring!

With temperatures continuing to soar in the UK the focus is on keeping our animals cool, safe and avoiding potential complications of overheating such as heatstroke.

Agility and obedience shows continue to run as long as handlers are sensible with their dogs, prevention of overheating is better than cure!

Given the extremely high temperatures the usual working dog warm ups are not possible, so we as handlers need to think outside the box to make sure that the dogs are sufficiently warmed up without getting too hot!

It’s worth investing in a cool coat, they are so effective in high temperatures! They can be purchased online on amazon or eBay and are relatively inexpensive!  Make sure there is access to cool water at all times and when not working your dog is in a shaded area.

Firstly I am going to just point out the signs of heatstroke in your dog:

  • Panting
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased body temperature – above 103° F (39° C)
  • Reddened gums and moist tissues of the body
  • Production of only small amounts of urine or no urine
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irregular heart beats
  • Stoppage of the heart and breathing (cardiopulmonary arrest)
  • Fluid build-up in the lungs; sudden breathing distress
  • Vomiting blood
  • Passage of blood in the bowel movement or stool
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Changes in mental status
  • Seizures
  • Muscle tremors
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken gaitor movement
  • Unconsciousness in which the dog cannot be stimulated to be awakened

It is imperative that if you notice ANY of these symptoms that you get your dog into the shade and offer cool (Not cold) water and seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

So how do you warm up an agility or working dog in these temperatures?

It is widely accepted that warming up reduces the risk of injury to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. A warm up plan including exercise, massage and stretching is a great way to help your dog. It is also important to cool your dog down after exercise, rather than putting them straight back into the crate.


Some benefits of an effective warm-up are:-

  • Raises heart rate in preparation for exercise
  • Warmed muscles utilise oxygen and nutrients more effectively and can contract and relax more quickly
  • Reduces risk of injury and stiffness
  • Mentally prepares dog and handler for exercise. (Warm up is for you, too!)



Warming up with a 5-10 minute controlled walk can help warm the muscles and connective tissue to help prevent strains and ruptures of muscles and connective tissue


These are easily achievable in a confined space…


Help your dog use both legs evenly and to increase blood flow and hind end strength; both important for running and agility


Also known as Doggie Push Ups, Sit to Down helps strengthen and warm up the front limbs


Stand to Down – Great flexibility exercise to increase circulation


Stretch and loosen lateral shoulder and neck muscles for side to side movements


Left and Right – Improves balance and flexibility

Try to keep the warm up calm but effective, we are aiming to warm up not heat up!


And don’t forget the cool down in this temperature is just as important as the warm up…..

Some benefits of cool-down are:-

  • Helps the body to eliminate toxins such as lactic acid, consequently reducing the risk of stiffness after exercise.
  • Gives an opportunity to identify signs of injury quickly after an event.
  • Allows the heart rate to return to a resting level.

Cool-down after agility can include:-

  • 5-10 minutes loose lead walking or gentle off-lead exercise Remember, you are trying to wind the dog down, so no balls or tuggy games!
  • Massage and gentle passive stretching of major muscle groups – hold stretches for 5-15 seconds.


Just make sure you keep a close eye on your dog, and if you are in doubt about the heat and your dogs ability to cope don’t take the risk!


Thanks to the supermodels Beau and Seanie for their participation in the photographs, both modelling their cool coats!!

Are working dogs the ‘Forgotten Athletes?’

Are working dogs the ‘Forgotten Athletes?’

The biggest dog show in the world has just come to a close and whilst i was watching it on television it got me thinking…. How many of those high level agility/flyball/show dogs work even though they are in some level of discomfort?

Many people would think that they must all be pain free to be able to carry out the work load expected of them,  unfortunately this is not always the case, in my experience dogs are very lucky if their musculoskeletal well-being is considered by their owner…. so is the owner on the wrong? or just not educated?

Often I hear comments like ‘he can’t be in pain look at him run’ or ‘he can’t be in pain he is happy to work’ or even ‘he looks happy in himself he can’t be in pain’ – these are reasonable comments if dogs could actually communicate with us but they can’t!  Dogs will run through their pain and try to hide it, they find ways to compensate way before any issue becomes obvious to owner or handler!

In my equine work horse owners are so clued up and educated (in the most part) to realising if their horse’s performance has decreased or they are showing signs of lameness or pain, I get lots of calls to assess horses that just ‘aren’t quite right’ these problems are usually easily remedied by Physiotherapy treatment and ongoing exercise programmes.

So would it surprise you to hear some of the sorest dogs are I see are the high level working dogs?  Why is this? Well let me try to explain…

  1. It takes time to reach the highest grades, so dogs are often middle aged with years of experience.
  2. Dogs are often started with training at early ages before they reach maturity.
  3. In order to improve you need to train your dog regularly – repeated stress on joints and muscles.
  4. The agility courses are more difficult and this can lead to slips, trips and falls.
  5. Often dogs are not warmed up or cooled down effectively, time spent queuing can cause your dog’s muscles to cool down which can increase injury risk.
  6. The frequency in which these dogs compete – higher frequency = higher injury risk.

So although your dog is not crying, can still fly around a course and jump on the bed does not men that that canine athlete is not in pain.

So how do owners get better at recognising pain?  Get into the habit of having a good feel of your dog all over regularly, but the easiest way is ask a professional!  If we find a problem we can treat accordingly, refer back to your vet or if you are lucky we can tell you that everything is fine (that’s always my favourite comment!).

To try and highlight the importance of pain recognition in canine athletes through April we are offering a full musculoskeletal MOT for all working dogs for £40 (within Wirral), let make sure your whole team is functioning at the best of your ability!!

A bit about me…..

A bit about me…..


I seem to have been getting a lot of messages asking how I went about becoming a Vet Physio!

So to save individual replies I thought I’d tell you all!
In 2003 I qualified as a Chartered Physiotherapist (human) I worked NHS, in private practice and in sport for many years.
During this time I learnt how to ‘be a physiotherapist’ sounds ridiculous but coming out of uni you realise very quickly how much you do NOT know!

 You need to learn to ‘Feel’
 You need to learn to ‘listen’
 You need to learn to ‘Clinically reason’
 You need to learn to ‘set achievable short term and long term goals’
◼️  You need to learn how to ‘treat’

One of the best parts of being human trained is that people can talk! Over the years through In Service Training and treating people the amount of feedback I received changed my practice!
From Maitland Mobilisations to trigger point release having the ability of someone telling you how it feels, whether you are on the right spot, right pressure, correct technique really does improving be your technique!

Post graduate human training has involved Acupuncture, Mulligan, Cyriax, Myofascial Release, Trigger Point Release, Respiratory, Equipilates, Kinesiology Taping and many more sport related courses!

I then went on to study Veterinary Physiotherapy at Hartpury (UWE) for 2 years, this took a lot of time, money and dedication!
The course allowed me to take my Physiotherapy knowledge from my human work and translate it to the animal work!
It may surprise you to know that I use many of the same treatment techniques on animals which I use on humans!

The learning never stops, from reviewing latest research, to external courses (too many to list!), peer review with colleagues, the more I learn the more my practice changes.

But fundamentally Physio is Physio, whether your patient has 2 or 4 legs!

I can only advise on the route that I took to achieve my dream job! There are many other routes out there, but one of the most important things is that you even if you only choose to treat animals you will still by default deal with humans!

One of the things I pride myself in is the ability to treat both horse and rider!

I still work part time in the NHS along side my Vet Physio business!

Unfortunately I am unable to take work experience students due to insurance so please don’t be offended if I decline requests.

#ACPAT #Charteredphysio #equinephysio #caninephysio #riderphysio#wirralvetphysio

Winter Grooming….. The Benefits for You and your Horse

Winter Grooming….. The Benefits for You and your Horse

So it’s the time of year that our horses often come in wet and muddy! Time is precious so how many of us do the quick flick where the tack goes before we ride? I am definitely guilty of it!


So it got me thinking about why grooming is so important, especially in the winter!


Naturally in the wild, horses groom each other. Domesticated horses that don’t have that option specifically need more attention in that sense. Horses are social animals and love the contact.

The ground is slippy, horses become hungry and this can cause inter-herd arguments in the field, as well as horse becoming distressed at bringing in times. Slips and kicks can cause low grade pain or discomfort in the horse that often goes undetected by owners when workload decreases during the winter months


We often find we swap one rug for the other in the dark without fully considering the well being of the whole horse!

Varying weight patterns during the winter months can also be responsible for poor saddle fit, some horses gain with being stabled, whilst others will lose through stress or the colder climate.

So I thought I would have a think about why it is beneficial to groom our horses.

Daily health check

  • Looking for any new lumps, bumps, kicks or swelling
  • Checking for physical signs of discomfort (breathing, abdominal pain, heave line)
  • Looking for any signs of rubbing caused from rugging
  • Increase blood flow to the skin surface and muscles


Improving blood flow to the tissues will help keep muscles functioning effectively.

  • Often horses can lose their topline and muscle bulk during winter when stabled for long periods, or with reduced work.


Brushing the horse can highlight any areas of spasm or soreness

  • You may find a sensitive area or the horse may dip away when brushing their back.
  • This could be the result of a low grade lameness, where the horse is compensating by bracing through their back.
  • There could be pain around the withers or where the back of the saddle fits caused by the saddle.
  • Or could even be the result of a slip or fall in the field, where the horse is sore through their back or hindquarters.


Improves the bond with your horse


Ensures that they are used to ‘hands on’ from yourself, your vet or your therapist.


Alternative to ridden work – It’s a great time to incorporate some ground exercises, dynamic mobilisation exercises or range of movement exercises.

  • Research has proven that simple dynamic mobilisation exercises (carrot stretches) work to stabilise the intervertebral joints by activating specific muscles.
  • Joint stabilisation is important for both improving athletic performance and preventing back injury.
  • Research has shown that performing regular dynamic mobilisation exercises over a period of 3 months stimulated enlargement of the muscles that stimulate the horse’s back.
  • Dynamic mobilisations can be performed on a cold horse, whereas passive range of movement exercises should only be carried out after exercise.


If they are rugged through the winter dead skin and hair can build up which can cause discomfort and skin problems, a bit of time unrugged can allow the skin to breathe.


So next time you go get to your horses stable in the pouring rain,

spend some quality time with them one to one.

Why not try to make a once or twice weekly full groom part of your winter routine?


If you take it away………you must give it Back!                  The Importance of Exercises and Pole Work

If you take it away………you must give it Back! The Importance of Exercises and Pole Work

As a Chartered Physiotherapist I have always worked on the basis that if you take away a muscular compensation then you must be able to give it back by promoting a more normal movement pattern, this is something that I always include as part of my clinical reasoning whether the patient is human or animal.

We as humans will adapt the path of least resistance in our posture, gait and general life. I was watching my 18 month old son play with a ball this weekend, every time he bent down to pick the ball up, (which was a lot!) he performed the most perfect squat!  How many of us know how and do squat correctly? Or do you like most people just use your back to bend when you pick an item up?

As humans we spend a lot of time sitting, slouching, causing our shoulders to round, our head’s become forward on our bodies – if we think of the muscles involved in these movements it’s no wonder we have niggles on a daily basis!

As Chartered Physiotherapist’s we do go on about correct posture, but I can tell you that most day to day work related aches and pains are a direct link to the way in which we work, sit and carry about our day to day activities!

I will often release the muscles and stiff vertebrae responsible for contributing to the postural adaptations, but we must always remember that whatever we release we must be able to counter act with a correction, otherwise we will simply fall back into the same old posture.

Are horses any different?

How many horses do you see with a “dipped back” or a “weak hind end?”

Do we just assume that the horse is old? Has on-going issues? Or is just a hacking horse?

Does it matter???




Horses can demonstrate many different postures, depending on workload, conformation, rider ability and age (this list is by no means exhaustive but we could be here all day writing factors that affect posture!) THE QUESTION IS…… WHAT CAN YOU DO AS OWNERS to promote good health and a long happy life for your horse?

As previously mentioned if I remove muscle spasm or tension from an area we must accept that that compensation was doing “a job” in regards to keeping that animal mobile effectively (I don’t mean keeping it sound – just able to run from predators to stay alive!!)

This horse for instance has a right shoulder is significantly bigger than the left

Scapular stability is very important in both humans and horses! This particular horse has a winging scapular in the right, he has trouble bringing the right fore limb across his midline as the limb is slightly rotated out! We released the myofascia around the shoulder complex, then worked to switch on the shoulder stabilisers with weight transfer exercises through the quadrants of the lower limb, he has a home exercise plan for his owner to work on daily and we can progress the exercises when he is ready.





So if we think about poor spinal posture and/or underdeveloped hind quarters in the equine patient we will have associated muscle spasm, again from the compensations (not to mention the effects that poor spinal posture has on the dorsal spinal processes!). When this posture becomes uncomfortable, or even painful for the horse, he will try to stiffen his back by tensing the muscles of the back so that he is able to carry the weight of the rider. The gait will become short and the horse will feel stiff making it difficult for the rider to sit to the horses trot.  The long muscles of the horses back will become painful as they build up with lactic acid and will be unable to function this way for long. After exercise the horse will again drop his back and revert to the normal posture until ridden when the process will repeat itself again.

These postures are usually developed over time, and like anything that takes a long time to develop we cannot assume there is a quick fix to change it…….it takes time and work to improve! The overall aim of the rehabilitation is to strengthen the bridge, between the forelimb and the hindquarters to allow stability and enable power to flow effectively from the hind limbs.


This is why pole work is so effective! If we think about the basic biomechanics involved in a horse negotiating 3-4 raised poles…..

We will see an increase in joint angles of all lower limbs,

Scapular glide on the rib cage as weight transfer occurs on the fore limb

Abdominal and core activation

Hind limb stabilising as hind limb weight transfer occurs

Improves muscular control and co-ordination

Pole work does not have to be complicated, or even involve a lot of poles, a lot of what I give as exercises is in walk, what we are looking for is the horse to be able to work on a loose rein, step over effectively and weight transfer to negotiate the pole in front of them. Poles can be on the ground or raised depending on what your horse is able to do and ridden or in hand!

Try not to over complicate things…… remember “Always set your horse up to achieve”






If you would like more information on how Physiotherapy can help your horse, or how you as an owner can make changes to your daily routine to improve your horse’s posture and strength please get in touch, or if you are outside the Wirral check out  for a qualified Chartered Physiotherapist near you!





Helen Elizabeth Dutton one of our very talented sponsored riders pulled in a 7th and a 10th in the PSG at Somerford Premier League on the very talented but quirky Valde!!!

Tamara- Jane Davis‘s Arctic Mouse has been flying with Oliver Townend at Saracen Horse Feeds Houghton International Horse Trials!
This horse just gets better and better with age! 7th in a massive 3* section with lots of 4* horses and to top it off part of the silver winning nations cup for team 🇬🇧

Not to mention all the wonderful happy FB updates that I’ve seen this weekend where you guys have been pulling in the reds at Warrington and more locally at Foxes BD and Prospect Farm!

#proudsponsor #proudphysio #superstarhorses
#wirralvetphysio #Britishdressage #Britisheventing

Welcome to newest member of the team………Mysty!

Welcome to newest member of the team………Mysty!

So hopelessly outgrown superstar Buddy went off to his new home a couple of months ago and our Sponsored Rider Lucy Peters has been searching for a bigger version of Buddy for several months………Happy to say she picked up Mysty aka Flaviatella – G last week a 16’1 a 7 year old mare!

So far Lucy is getting to know her! I look forward to meeting her very soon to start work with her Physio treatments!!

A Wonderful Success Story!

A Wonderful Success Story!

This is Misty, she has been one of many successful rehab stories this year at Wirral Vet Physio!
When I first assessed Misty she was significantly lame behind, and generally very sore, she had already had cortisone injections into her hocks with short lived results!
After speaking to the vet involved it was decided that rather inject again Physio was worth a go!
Misty’s 15 year old owner Jess was 100% dedicated to the mare and followed her rehab programme to the letter….not that exciting for Jess, but every physio session Misty had made improvements and was able to be progressed with her exercises!
We released muscular compensatory patterns that she had adapted before building her up again to ensure normal movement patterns were achievable!
With manual therapy, electrotherapy, polework and graded ridden work I am pleased to say Misty is doing Great!
Misty is very lucky that Jess has taken the time to rehab her, and the results are now obvious, she is sound!!
They are now back schooling and hacking and looking forward to an eventful 2017!!!
#teamwork #equinephysio #wirralvetphysio #rehab #acpat

Hello Winter! Relieving boredom for the stabled horse

Hello Winter! Relieving boredom for the stabled horse

Hello Winter! The season we all dread as horse owners, cold, rain, ice and even snow!!  Well lets hope Winter 2016/2017 is a mild one!

Over the last few weeks I have seen more and more horses on restricted Winter turnout, if you are lucky enough to have your horses living out then your main worry will be correct rugging and making sure they have enough forage/hay to eat during the day and night!

Many of my clients are now on restricted grazing of some description, every yard has different rules and it is important to find a yard that suits both you and your horse.  Every horse owner has a different priority list of what they look for in terms of location/facilities/cost/turnout.

As we know horses tend to lose ‘topline’ and ‘condition’ over the winter, I often find that horses stabled for prolonged periods of time are the ones most affected.  This has got me thinking what can you as an owner do to try and help keep your horse in the best shape over winter.


We all know correct feeding is an important factor, I had a lecture from independent Registered Equine Nutritionist Claire McLeod whilst I was studying at Hartpury. One thing that I personally took away from her talk was that a good quality feed balancer is key! This is the only way (bar having your hay tested) that we know the horse is getting all their key vitamins and minerals needed for their diet.  This is something that I always pass on to my clients, if you are not feeding a balancer, or the recommended amount of feed for the horse then why are you feeding at all?


In humans it takes just two weeks of physical inactivity for those who are physically fit to lose a significant amount of their muscle strength new research indicates.  In that relatively short period of time, young people lose about 30% of their muscle strength, leaving them as strong as someone decades older. Meanwhile, active older people who become sedentary for a couple weeks lose about 25% of their strength.

So think about the stabled horse… in the wild horses graze 16-18 hours a day and travel up to 100 miles a day during a 24hr period! Yes I know that our horses have been domesticated and are now far removed from their wild ancestors.  Horses also naturally only stand still to sleep, and move to graze typically every 3-5 seconds.

So what can we do to try and recreate a more natural environment when stabled?  We can make sure the horse has access to forage; being without food for even a few hours can lead to frustration, behavioural problems and even risk gastric ulcers!

  • Try to feed a choice of different forages at ground level
  • I’m not a great fan of haynets, but they can be useful when placed at different heights and locations around the stable to encourage the horse to move and add variety and interest.
  • Place the water bucket away from the hay to encourage movement away from the haynet.

Stretches to maintain suppleness

  • Carrot stretches are not over-rated, they also do not need to involve carrots!
  • A little tip is to fill a small plastic mug with some nuts to keep your horse interested,
    • Bring the horse round to their hip,
    • Round to their hind fetlock and
    • Down between their knees –
    • Be careful not to allow the horse to lift a leg or bend at the knee to compensate, only work to the point that your horse can achieve comfortably.


  • Remember if your horse is on restricted turnout they may benefit from a walk around the yard, or a hand graze for even 15 minutes a couple of times a day to allow them to stretch their legs out of their stable.  If you are able to turn them out in the ménage take the opportunity whilst you muck out!
  • Riding/lungeing regularly will also maintain fitness and maintain muscle bulk

Defeating Boredom

Stable toys are a great idea..

  • Treat balls
  • Hanging a swede in the stable is easy to do
  • Even try a toy box filled with horse safe toys – large dog toys are ideal
  • Stable mirrors can be great for some horses

And lastly, ensure that your stable is big enough for your horse to lie down comfortably, horses generally do not sleep well unless they feel safe in a her environment, in the wild they will have their equine friend stand over them to guard from any potential danger.

Did you know that to achieve REM sleep horses need to be able to lie flat on their side?


Roll on Spring!!



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