Here at Windsor Animal Hospital, we are focused on client communication and education. We want you to have the information you need to make an educated decision and be involved and  understand your pet’s treatment. This is a list of just few terms that are commonly used in canine physical rehabilitation. This list is not exhaustive and exercises should only be performed after receiving the approval of a licensed veterinarian to ensure that the exercises are safe for your pet’s particular condition. Windsor Animal Hospital boasts the only certified canine physical rehabilitation practitioner in the California North Bay Area. Please contact us with any questions or to schedule an appointment at 707-838-3031 or email us

Animal physical rehabilitation – Animal physical rehabilitation therapy helps animals with dysfunction, injury, pain or physical abnormalities through the application of physics, biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, and psychology.

Almost everything used in traditional human physical therapy clinic can be applied to animals. Much of Animal Physical Rehabilitation involves creatively training an animal to perform an exercise that will improve strength and coordination for essential daily life activity like eating drinking, and eliminating. Various modalities and treatments are used to help your pet and can include simple tasks such as learning how to eat standing up, practicing sitting and lying down properly, or turning in a circle.  More complex tasks are incorporated as your pet becomes stronger.

Cranial cruciate ligament  – The cranial cruciate ligament (CCL), known as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in human medicine, is one of several ligaments in the stifle (knee) that connect the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone).  The CCL has 3 main functions:

  • Prevent cranial displacement of the tibia in relation to the femur (cranial drawer sign)
  • Prevent hyperextension of the knee
  • Prevent internal rotation of the tibia

Animals tend to experience CCL rupture “disease,” meaning that the ligament degenerates or weakens over time due to genetic, conformational and/or immune mediated processes within the joint.  The weakened ligament may partially or completely rupture following activities such as running or jumping, and in some cases even after light exercise activity.  Unfortunately, the condition leading to CCL rupture is often present in both knees where about 30- 50% of dogs will rupture both CCL’s within 1-2 years of each other.  CCL rupture is one of the most common orthopedic diseases seen dogs, and CCL repair is the most common orthopedic surgery performed by veterinary surgeons.

Degenerative joint disease (DJD) – This disease can be present for many reasons, including trauma, infection, immune-mediated diseases, or developmental malformations. If your pet has DJD, you may see pain, lameness or limping, joint swelling, and muscle atrophy. Your veterinarian can diagnose DJD with radiographs and may suggest any number of treatments, including physical rehabilitation. DJD is more common in dogs, but can also be seen in cats.

Degenerative myelopathy (DM) – This disease is slow and progressive, causing degeneration of the axons (nerves that transmit information to different parts of the body) and myelin (part of the protective covering) of the spinal cord.

Dysplasia – Dysplasia is an abnormal development, usually in reference to joints. Elbow dysplasia and hip dysplasia are often accompanied by osteoarthritis in that joint.

Hydrotherapy – The underwater treadmill is a controlled exercise environment where walking speed, water temperature and water depth can all be controlled. The patient may also be given adequate rest periods if they are tired, facilitating optimal conditioning or appropriate rehabilitation from an injury. The therapist also helps to adjust therapy sessions based on how the patient is doing.

Most patients participating in aquatic therapy are already out of shape and swimming in a pool or lake requires more cardiovascular strength and endurance than is available.

Swimming in a hydrotherapy pool may be effective for some conditions, but several factors are unable to be controlled during a free swim.  In lakes, the terrain under the water can pose dangers and water temperatures may be too cold for some patients. Canine Buoyancy Chart, copyright Kristin Cooley 2014

Low level laser therapy (LLLT) – The low level laser uses light energy to stimulate cells to decrease inflammation, help with pain and encourage healing. It can be used for skin issues, arthritis, sore muscles, and more! LLLT is a fantastic modality and, in the hands of a knowledgable medical professional, can bring wonderful results for your pet!

Osteoarthritis (OA) –

Patella luxation – This is a hereditary disorder affecting dogs and cats. It is essentially when the patella, or kneecap, slides from one side or the other from the groove of the femur (thigh bone). It can be associated with multiple irregularities of the rear legs that may involve the hip joint, femur, and tibia (shin bone). Animals of all ages are affected, and depending on the severity of the luxation, pets will exhibit different signs of this condition. Dogs with patella luxation may limp or even skip.

Proprioception – Proprioception is basically the body knowing where it is in space. When proprioception is diminished, your pet may be slower to react or not react at all to certain stimulus. For example, a dog may do what we call knuckling, which is walking with the top of the foot on the floor (instead of the pads of the feet on the floor). This means the proprioception on that foot is decreased or incapacitated somehow. Physical rehabilitation can help improve this, and we can also recommend shoes or boots to protect your pet’s feet from scrapes and bruises.

Shockwave therapy – This modality is a non-invasive treatment that uses sound waves to reduce healing time, improve mobility, and relieve pain. Shockwave therapy can reduce the need for oral pain medications. It can be used for osteoarthritis, joint injuries, chronic back pain/LS disease, non-union or delayed-healing bone fractures, tendon/ligament injuries and even chronic wounds like lick granulomas.

Stem cell therapy –

Therapeutic exercise – Each therapeutic exercise targets specific muscle groups and helps with different functions. Creating these exercises and knowing which exercises will best benefit your pet based on his or her condition requires a deep understanding of canine and feline anatomy and physiology. Visit our YouTube Channel for examples of therapeutic exercises. Performing exercises can worsen your pet’s condition, so consult a rehabilitation practitioner before trying any exercises at home.

Tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) –

Femoral head osteotomy (FHO) –