Is rehabilitation the black spot in veterinary care?

Veterinary services are improving and expanding exponentially and some may argue our furry friends now have better healthcare than most people.

Practices are investing in better, more sophisticated equipment to expand their services, improve diagnostics, and enhance patient welfare and safety.

Veterinary professionals have also been taught to think more holistically. Our knowledge of nutrition and how it can impact disease processes and suitability for different life stages is much improved. We critically evaluate studies looking at specific aspects of nutrition, such as raw feeding or plant-based foods, and debate the pros and cons with our colleagues. Organisations such as the British Veterinary Association even produce statements about these topics and provide educational resources for professionals and owners.


For owners of newly-diagnosed diabetic patients, the amount of information they need to know and take in can be overwhelming. Vets and nurses will spend a lot of time going through the diagnosis, treatment plan (including nutrition), medications and practicalities. It is important to do this to ensure owner compliance with treatment in order to stabilise the patient and ensure it can live a long and happy life.


The Royal Veterinary College recently published the results of a study into vet-owner relationships in the experience of owners of dogs with epilepsy. “The study found that clearer owner expectations for treatment outcomes and the condition’s management alongside more reliable resources outside of the consult room are needed to support positive vet-owner relationships.”

Our research suggests owners really value vets taking the time, once the initial shock has receded, to share information, answer questions and signpost to external resources, including peer-to-peer support forums. Ensuring that owners feel confident and competent about caring for their dog with epilepsy is likely to benefit the dog, its owners and the veterinary team providing their ongoing care.”


Now, if only we took the same approach to rehabilitation and physiotherapy in practice.

Think of Mrs Jones who brings her 10yr old Labrador in to see the vet because he’s a bit stiff in the mornings and can’t walk as far as he used to. Wouldn’t it be nice if after she had seen the vet and had been given an NSAID, she was then booked in for a nurse appointment to discuss the diagnosis and the disease process, medications, nutraceuticals, home adaptations and lifestyle changes? AND wouldn’t it be great if she was told about the benefits of physiotherapy and how it can help manage his symptoms and keep him comfortable and mobile for as long as possible?


Thanks to the great work of Canine Arthritis Management, there has been a fantastic increase in the number of nurse-led arthritis/senior clinics. If your practice doesn’t have the time or resources to offer these clinics, refer them to your local physio.  However, physiotherapy is for more than just osteoarthritis!


That old cat the vet saw yesterday, with hyperthyroidism and renal disease, maybe it would benefit from physio to prevent further muscle loss?

Would the dog that had a large benign mass removed from its shoulder benefit from laser therapy to improve wound healing and prevent seroma formation? Maybe add in physio to address compensatory muscle hypertonicity due to lameness?

Maybe the ex-racing greyhound will benefit from physio after its digit amputation, which is bound to affect its posture and limb loading?


You might think that a lot of owners will dismiss physiotherapy for cost reasons but you may be pleasantly surprised. Once the benefits are properly explained to them, even owners without insured pets are keen to explore additional ways to improve their pet’s wellbeing. Why should rehab and physio be reserved for insured pets?


Most animal rehab professionals will tell you the majority of their referrals are client-led. This means that the owners are the ones who have made the decision to seek out help from a rehab therapist. This suggests that there is a real demand from owners for complementary therapies. If veterinary professionals engage with their local therapists and build relationships, they will  have a pool of trusted and reliable therapists to refer to and can be in control of the process.


Rehabilitation is a black spot in veterinary treatment plans. If we want to consider ourselves a truly holistic profession, we must be looking further than nutrition and nutraceuticals, and thinking about evidence-based complementary services, such as physiotherapy. We need to change the way we think about treatment plans.

Here at Wellpethub, we are passionate about making physio and rehab part of standard veterinary care and integrating it into all first-opinion practices.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Let us know in the comments section or you can email us at [email protected].



Founder, Wellpethub

RVN and veterinary physiotherapist