Just like humans who hurt their back, physical therapy for dogs with spine problems can be a huge benefit. It can increase mobility, improve strength, and maintain overall health. There’s physical therapy for a dog’s hind legs, core, and balance. Canine rehab can be done in a clinic setting and there are dog physical therapy exercises you can do at home. Both can be a big advantage to your dog’s well-being.
My city didn’t have a canine physical therapist when my dog, Sophie, started to have weakness in her hind legs. I think this is true for many pet families.
To help, I spent hours researching exercises Sophie and I could do together and I’ve included instructions for each of them in this article. They’re all routine rehab and massage techniques prescribed by veterinarians and canine PTs to improve conditions that range from arthritis to disc disease and neurological disorders.
They’re easy to learn and most dogs will like the time they spend doing them with you. That said, be sure to check with your vet before starting the exercises.
Note: Every case of spine disease or injury is unique. Your dog’s vet will know whether or not your pup can tolerate the exercises below. Please get the okay before starting. And remember to stop any exercise that’s painful for your dog. (This post contains some affiliate links.)
Spinal conditions that respond well to physical therapy
The list of spine conditions that benefit from rehab exercise is long. These are the most common:
When your dog first comes home from the hospital
Laurie Edge-Hughes, BScPT, MAnimSt, CAFCI, CCRT is a world-renowned canine physical therapist. She wrote the course that teaches health professionals how to become a PT for dogs.
Her recommendation for when your dog comes home from the hospital after spine surgery, an IVDD episode, or FCE stroke is to take it slow.
Any physical therapy should be limited to lightly stimulating their limbs.
Dog physical therapy exercises to do during the early stages of recovery
Many dogs are confined to crate rest during the first 3 to 4 weeks after coming home. Below are gentle exercises for that period.
Rehab exercises after 3 to 4 weeks of crate rest
*Be sure to get your vet’s approval before starting these exercises.
Laurie’s recommendation to pet parents is to NOT have a strict physical therapy schedule.
Passive Range of Motion (PROM)
Physical therapy exercises for dogs who can stand or almost stand
Stand and Count
Stand and Shift Weight
Sit and Stand
Here’s a video of dog physical therapy exercises you can do at home.
Don’t forget about playtime
When your dog is released from crate rest, be sure to take them outdoors. It doesn’t matter if they walk with a dog wheelchair, a harness, use a stroller, or scoot around – dogs love spending time outside. The fresh air, playtime, and spending an hour cruising their neighborhood can be the best medicine for a disabled pooch.
If your dog’s in a wheelchair or harness, practice walking on different terrains. Change from a flat surface to one with a slight slope or walk on the grass and then the sidewalk. Each surface helps your dog with balance.
Being outdoors is mentally stimulating and fun for your pup, so make the walk casual and stress free. Walking also increases a dog’s appetite and improves digestion. So, grab your shoes, put your pup in their cart, and go for a walk.
One final reminder
The exercises in this story are general recommendations. Many dogs won’t be able to accomplish all of them, but that’s okay. Spine disease and paralysis in dogs is unique to every patient. Some dogs regain mobility and many do not.
If possible, have your veterinarian or a licensed canine physical therapist approve a list of rehab exercises appropriate for your individual pet.
And please keep in mind that your dog can have a happy life whether or not they will walk again.
Cover photo – Thank you to pet Mom Jen Z. for sharing this picture of Josie, her paralyzed dog, doing physical therapy on a balance ball.