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!!

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!


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!!

“How often should my horse routinely see a Physio?”

“How often should my horse routinely see a Physio?”

I get asked this a lot!

The answer is different for all horses but I thought I would do a quick post to explain my thoughts!

Some horses I see weekly, some I see monthly and some I see yearly!

Lets start with why I see some clients weekly!

I have several horses that require intensive rehabilitation, this can be due to sacroiliac problems, kissing spine, post surgery or injection or other musculoskeletal problems.

These horses are initially seen regularly to try and relieve any muscle spasm so that the horse is able to begin working correctly,  the owners will often have a strict exercise regime that may include ground based exercises, pole work and ridden work which I monitor closely and increase the difficulty when the horse is able to achieve the goals set!  These horses will generally only be seen weekly for the first few sessions to optimise the rehabilitation process, then the treatments will be drawn out slowly as the owner is able to progress the horse at home under guidance.

So who do I see monthly?

I have a number of high level competition horses that I see monthly, from eventers to dressage horses it’s amazing how these horses adapt and compensate to be able to carry out what is asked of them!

Eventers are asked to work exceptionally hard, often in the space of a day (one day eventing) they are asked to collect during dressage, turn on a sixpence during showjumping, then pick up speed over some pretty impressive fences over the cross country.  If they knock a pole then it may hurt, if they knock a cross country jump then they can cause serious damage!        tamara herbie

As for the dressage horses, they are asked to work correctly from their hind quarters and collect themselves in a way which allows them to perform lateral movements with ease as well as being responsive to the riders leg and be flexible through their mid back! Also remember that these high level horses are ridden at sitting trot which transmits more weight through the saddle to the horse than rising trot (this can be uneven weight distribution in some riders!).helen valde                                

These competition horses are seen routinely for maintenance due to their heavy workload and the pressures put on their joints and muscles.  Physio can be very useful to highlight any potential problems or reoccurring issues!

So who do I see 6 monthly?

These are the riding club horses, or horses in medium work.lucy peters som

Again it tends to be routine maintenance work – back pain, hamstring spasm, saddle issues and general stiffness are all problems that I highlight regularly, often these horses are out competing regularly and never actually show signs of discomfort.  It is amazing how stoic horses are and what a great work ethic they have as they just want to please their owners!  A lot of these horses require treatment as a one off session every 6 months to address these minor musculoskeletal problems, these are the kind of small issues that can cause major behavioural problems if left untreated!

And lastly….those seen yearly.

These tend to be the horses that attend the occasional show, happy hackers, retired horses, or those that I see that have no issues! (rare I know……but it does happen!!).  These horses are in light work but we still often find minor issues with them, obviously if the horses is only used for hacking we can’t expect it to be super flexible, but there are lots of exercises you can do both mounted and on the ground to improve flexibility! I often find with these horses that they lack hind quarter musculature and often have quite weak abdominals, once we release any spasm over their back, neck and hindquarters their homework is generally pole work (to increase hind limb activation and to engage the abdominals as well as to improve flexibility through the mid back), lots of transitions during riding and lateral work (such as leg yielding or shoulder in) whilst hacking!

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule…. if I assess a horse, treat and feel he/she needs a follow up then we will book another session to make sure that the spasm is relieved and that both horse and owner are happy.  There are some horses I see that don’t actually fit in these categories, but as every horse is treated with an individual treatment programme specific to their needs they can be easily catered for!

So, how often does your horse see the Physio?






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