How to Perform Physical Therapy on a Senior Dog

Senior dogs can suffer from arthritis and need therapy to keep mobile.
Collie Dog on Dog Bed image by Janet Wall from

As your dog ages, you may notice that he has trouble walking, running or playing as much as in his younger days. Conditions such as arthritis, hip dysplasia and osteochondritis occur over time, leading to decreased mobility of your dog's joints. With canine physical therapy, nonsteroidal pain medications and supplementation with products that contain glucosamine and chondroitin, your dog's quality of life can be sustained. This will help to keep him mobile, improve his range of motion and allow him to be able to participate in most of the activities that make him happy.

Step 1

Consult a veterinarian and certified pet physical therapist to determine which exercises best suit your dog's condition. The therapist can recommend certain range-of-motion exercises to perform at home daily to keep your dog mobile, specific to his case.

Step 2

Massage your dog to loosen his muscles and joints; this also prepares him for physical therapy exercises. Coat your hands with a small amount of vegetable oil. Run your hand over his coat from his head to his tail to stimulate his blood circulation; lightly knead his muscles and stroke his coat to relax him. Hold your hand over his joints for 30 to 90 seconds at a time to warm them, loosening them and reducing inflammation, recommends

For massage techniques specific to your dog's particular condition, consult a canine massage therapist to determine on what areas to concentrate the massage.

Play soothing music to calm your dog during the sessions.

Step 3

Allow your dog to swim while under close supervision for no more than 15 minutes at a time to prevent exhaustion. Small dogs can swim in a small child's pool, while larger dogs may require a full-size one. For safety purposes, fasten a life jacket to your dog's body.

Start for a few minutes at a time, in shallow, warm water to get your dog used to the process; support his body while allowing him to move his legs if he has trouble staying upright. Swimming takes the pressure off of your dog's joints, making movement easier for him. Reward him with treats after each exercise session.

For a dog with more serious conditions, take him to a physical therapist for aquatic therapy, which involves the use of a treadmill underwater.

Step 4

Exercise your dog using a special exercise ball, called a physioball, which you can find in pet supply stores. These large plastic, air-filled, kidney-shaped balls are also used in agility training. Choose a ball appropriate for your dog's size, so it isn't too large for him to use, according to the manufacturer's recommendations.

Place the ball on a carpeted surface so it doesn't slip and place your dog's front paws over it, supporting his body with your hands so he keeps his balance. Move the ball back and forth and side to side in repetitions of 10. Tempt him onto the ball and through the exercise process with a series of tasty treats. Reward him after each session with verbal praise.


  • Stop the physical therapy exercises if your dog shows signs of fatigue, including lethargy, heavy breathing or panting.


  • Before starting physical therapy, bring your dog to a veterinarian for a checkup. Some conditions, such as cancer or cognitive dysfunction, can affect your dog's range of motion, mimicking arthritis, especially in older dogs.

  • Regular acupuncture treatments can decrease the pain your dog experiences from arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions, which helps with his physical therapy.

  • In addition to glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, green-lipped muscle supplements, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and vitamin C can reduce inflammation of the joints.

  • Physical activity not only improves your dog's mobility, it can also lessen cognitive dysfunction.

Items You Will Need

  • Vegetable oil
  • Music CDs
  • Dog life jacket
  • Child's pool
  • Dog treats
  • Dog physioball


About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

Photo Credits

  • Collie Dog on Dog Bed image by Janet Wall from