A Physiotherapy Approach to the Elderly Canine Patient

Notes: on a presentation given by Julia Hewitson at the Complimentary Veterinary Health Group (CVMG) of the SAVA on 5th September at Didima Conference Centre, Drakensberg, KZN – A Physiotherapy Approach to the Elderly Canine Patient.

Presentation objectives were to define physiotherapy and explain the scope of physiotherapy specific to the elderly canine patient, to identify some specific conditions commonly seen in these patients that require referral for physiotherapy and to present examples of appropriate types of physiotherapy treatments and their methodologies.


Content included:

  • Defining physiotherapy as a science based profession, goals of physiotherapy, and an overview of conditions treated, treatment modalities and outcomes.
  • I spent some time explaining the importance of history taking, assessment and evaluation of information and how clinical reasoning and planning guides treatment.
  • I wanted to demonstrate how we as physios can be part of a team, showing what physiotherapy can offer and how it is very different from veterinary care but brings a huge benefit to healing and recovery.
  • In the main section of the presentation I took an orthopaedic condition (OA), two neurological conditions (fibro-cartilaginous embolism and degenerative myelopathy) and gave examples of treatment modalities and explained the methodologies behind these treatments. The evidence based treatments I used as examples were manual therapy – mobilisation and manipulation techniques – and neurological rehabilitation techniques. I defined the different techniques that could be used by a physiotherapist as:

Manipulative Therapy – referring to the practice within musculoskeletal treatments of therapist applied passive or active movement techniques for management of pain and impairments in articular, neural and muscular systems.


Neurological rehabilitation – I used Bobath, Rood, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) as examples of treatment methodologies and looked at the sensory integration, proprioception and postural rehabilitation techniques.

This section was supported by slides and videos demonstrating different treatment techniques.
I also included the treatment of respiratory and cardiac conditions for consideration for veterinary practioners to refer animals for physiotherapy. This category of conditions commonly treated in the human field by physiotherapists is not well documented or established as a treatment option in the field of veterinary medicine yet.

In concluding, I discussed general home management and physiotherapy advice for owners with elderly pets – including support before and after euthanasia of a pet – and the various orthotics, ramps and mobility aids that are available and can be assessed for and recommended by a physiotherapist.

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