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When to take your dog to a Physiotherapist: Reactive vs Proactive treatment

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

In our last blog post, Charlotte Davies, from Joint Dynamics Pedigree, discussed what canine physiotherapy is and who might benefit from it, but when is the ideal time to see a physiotherapist?

The answer to this very much depends on what the issue is and what the veterinary plan is going forward. In this blog post, Charlotte first explains the difference between acute vs. chronic injuries, and then proactive vs. reactive treatment options.

Acute vs Chronic:

No matter how much injury prevention advice you follow, there will always be a chance of an acute injury occurring. Whether this is a mild muscle strain when playing in the park or a more serious issue such as an acute disc protrusion. The first port of call should always be to your veterinarian (not Facebook!) I would always suggest going sooner rather than later. If it's something mild, they can provide pain relief to make your pup feel more comfortable, remember they can’t pop a Panadol like we can!

If it's something more serious then they can get the investigation process started right away. Early pain management is very important to stop compensatory movement patterns causing secondary issues. Physiotherapy should only be considered once the vet has assessed, diagnosed, and made a treatment plan for an acute injury. If the injury is orthopedic, neurological or musculoskeletal in nature, then a physio referral may be appropriate.

Chronic issues are slightly different, and as long as they are musculoskeletal in nature (think osteoarthritis, hip or elbow dysplasia, amputees) and your vet is happy to refer, then physiotherapy can start right away. Long-standing issues often require long-standing treatment to keep your dog comfortable as they age. This may initially start once a week until pain symptoms settle and then reduced to as little as once every 4-6 weeks as a maintenance session.

Reactive vs. Proactive Treatment:

Reactive treatment refers to seeking help when a dog is already experiencing symptoms or has sustained an injury. This approach focuses on addressing existing issues and managing pain after it has occurred. While reactive treatment is necessary and cannot be avoided in many cases, it can involve the need for surgical intervention, expensive medication, and long periods of rehabilitation. Reactive treatment usually comes hand in hand with an acute injury, but can also occur when owners don’t notice or fail to act on mild changes in behaviour that can indicate their dog is in pain.

On the other hand, proactive treatment involves seeking a physiotherapy assessment or a screening before any noticeable symptoms or injuries occur. This approach aims to minimise potential issues developing and promote the overall wellness of your dog. A proactive physio screening may potentially find small areas of asymmetry early on and your physio can then provide you with targeted exercises to hopefully reduce the risk of future issues or worsening of chronic disease. This is especially important for two types of patients:

  • Young, very active dogs who are running, jumping, and twisting their way through life

  • Senior dogs starting to slow down, stiffen up, and move less.

Physiotherapists are experts in movement and musculoskeletal health. They have a deep understanding of biomechanics, strength and conditioning, and how the body moves. This knowledge equips them to identify potential risks for injuries and illnesses related to movement. By providing education, guidance, and personalised exercise programs, physiotherapists can empower dog owners to adapt their environment, minimise the risk of injury/pain and help dogs live happier and healthier lives!

Stay tuned for our final guest blog post where we discuss what you can do to minimise injury risk at home.

Remember, please always consult with your veterinarian to determine if canine physiotherapy is appropriate for your dog's specific needs, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions regarding your own pet!


Joint Dynamics is Hong Kong's leading physiotherapy and healthcare clinic, now offering canine and equine physiotherapy. Charlotte is an experienced, UK qualified human physiotherapist with a MSc in veterinary physiotherapy, and sees patients from the SPCA Wan Chai centre for 45-minute physiotherapy appointments or 30-minutes treadmill-only appointments. To book a consultation or appointment, email or follow on Instagram for more.

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