A brief overview of rehabilitation modalities


Kirsten Oliver, VN, DipAVN (Surgical), CVT, CCRP, CVPP, VTS (Physical Rehabilitation), outlines modalities of basic therapeutic rehabilitation and shares common conditions that can be treated by rehabilitation.

Physical rehabilitation involves returning—or attempting to return—an animal who is postsurgical back to their presurgical state, according to Kirsten Oliver, VN, DipAVN (Surgical), CVT, CCRP, CVPP, VTS (Physical Rehabilitation). At the 2021 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference®, Oliver provided insight on modalities of basic therapeutic rehabilitation and described conditions that can be treated using rehabilitation.

Modalities of basic therapeutic rehabilitation

Oliver explained that whether it’s an athletic dog, working dog, family pet, or simply a “couch potato,” manual therapy is most frequently used in rehabilitation, although a plethora of other modalities exist as well.

“Hands are basically some of the biggest modalities we have. We do a lot of hands-on medicine, [and] we use low-level therapeutic laser, underwater treadmill, or aquatic therapy. We have therapeutic ultrasound, which is a little different from your traditional diagnostic ultrasound, which aids in deep soft tissue heating. It’s very good over muscles and tendons,” she said.

Oliver also detailed some more modalities, including neuromuscular electrical stimulation, which helps to reeducate muscle groups; low PCO electric shock wave, which doesn’t have to be sedated like a traditional shock wave; acupuncture; postmagnetic field therapy; and a wide range of nutraceuticals, pharma logics, and thermal therapies—both hot and cold.

Common conditions

There’s an array of conditions that rehabilitation specialists can treat, Oliver said. They can treat virtually any orthopedic problem or anything involving a soft tissue injury (eg, a muscle strain, tendonitis, osteoarthritis). They can also help companion animals with weight loss.

“We run a very successful weight management program where we can discuss with…our clients the best way to be able to get weight off their dog [and] get them into a conditioning program where we can start to reintroduce the idea of activity through low-level, low-impact exercise,” she said.

Rehabilitation can also help oncologic patients with their mobility as they undergo various types of chemotherapy and radiation or after amputation. Oliver also noted rehabilitation is beneficial for patients with neurologic conditions.

“There’s an awful lot we can treat: postsurgical, presurgical, weight loss, neurologic conditions—we work a lot with our referring neurologists. Whether it be a postoperative neurology case or a long-term degenerative condition. We can formulate a program to work in the clinic or outside the clinic,” she said.

Bringing rehabilitation into clients’ homes

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic has swept through the nation, many clients request that rehabilitation specialists come to their homes to assist their pets. Along with these unprecedented times playing a role in this, sometimes pets are in a condition where it’s difficult for pet parents to transport them to the clinic. “A lot of people don’t want to or can’t bring their animals in, so we’re happy to work with them to get them the kind of rehab their pet needs at home,” Oliver said.


Manual therapy is key in rehabilitation, although a range of modalities are currently available to treat pets. Common conditions that can be treated using rehabilitation include orthopedic issues, weight management, oncologic conditions, and beyond. Like in other areas of veterinary medicine, certain rehabilitation professionals offer at-home services to provide both pets and their owners more comfort and convenience.


Working dog practitioner program. University of Pennsylvania. Accessed October 29, 2021. https://www.vet.upenn.edu/research/centers-laboratories/center/penn-vet-working-dog-center/learn-about-working-dogs/practitioner-certification


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