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Massage, physio, hydro…which is best for my dog?

With so many disciplines available to promote the health and recovery of your dog’s musculoskeletal system, it can be tricky to know what is best for your pet. 

The three highly regarded and beneficial approaches in my opinion are physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and, of course, remedial massage.  The approach you choose can depend on the recommendation from your veterinarian, your budget and certainly your personal preference.


Let’s look at the differences and similarities between each of these techniques:


The goal of physiotherapy is to restore movement, normal function for all animals.  There are a range of treatments within physiotherapy including massage.   It is often recommended for the treatment of a specific injury or condition.

Physiotherapy also focusses on the mobilisation of joints, stretching of muscles and trigger point therapy. A physiotherapist often prescribes exercises for maintenance between appointments.


Remedial Massage:

Remedial massage is used to treat a number of conditions.  It promotes relaxation, improves circulation and releases tension.  It also helps repair soft tissue injuries.

Remedial massage breaks down adhesions, knots and tightness all of which can restrict muscle movement.  These adhesions, knots and tightness often also cause tenderness and discomfort, causing your pet to be reluctant to engage in activities that he or she normally enjoys.  By alleviating these issues, we can improve your dog’s mobility and comfort.

Massage is applied using varying techniques and pressures, depending on what is needed and of course, what your pet will allow!

From time to time, a canine massage therapist may also suggest strengthening exercises and/or stretches to help extend and maintain the benefits of massage.



Hydrotherapy is more than just swimming!  Although swimming can be used in hydrotherapy, there is also the underwater treadmill which is equally beneficial.

Hydrotherapy uses the properties of water to encourage muscle strengthening.  The benefits of hydrotherapy is that through the benefit of buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure and yes, even turbulence, we can ensure your pet build strength by:

  • Decreasing weight bearing (buoyancy) while walking the underwater treadmill (strength).
  • Improving cardiovascular health – it’s harder to walk through water than on land!
  • Increase mobility of the joints (buoyancy) – the warmth of the water helps here too.
  • Increase circulation and blood return (hydrostatic pressure).


Why would my massage therapist recommend physio/hydrotherapy instead??

I occasionally surprise my clients when I recommend that they explore the idea of physiotherapy or hydrotherapy – both services that I am unable to offer. 

The main reason I, as a remedial massage therapist will recommend a service other than my own, is that physiotherapy is particularly useful for specific or sudden injuries that require rehabilitation.  Massage still has a place in this scenario, however I feel it is important to ensure that my patients receive the most appropriate care at any time.

Occasionally I will recommend that you speak with your vet regarding hydrotherapy once we have your dog to a point where muscle strengthening is a primary focus. 

It is important to note that often remedial or rehabilitative care requires a range of treatments, sometimes a combination of all three disciplines – physiotherapy, massage and hydrotherapy.


How do I know which is best for my dog?

Again, it does depend on several factors, including on the reason these treatments are needed, the recommendation from your veterinarian, budget and personal preference. 

I strongly believe that any of these approaches can be beneficial as individual treatment approaches. Discussing your options with your veterinarian or animal physio is worthwhile.

If you’d like more information regarding massage, I always welcome the opportunity to discuss your and your dog’s needs and how remedial massage can help.   


The long term goal is to improve your dog’s quality of life – for today, and all of his tomorrows.