Laurie's Blogs.


Aug 2023

Physiotherapists in Primary Care: Enhancing Wellness and Mobility

Laurie Edge-Hughes, BScPT, MAnimSt, CAFCI, CCRT, Cert. Sm. Anim. Acup / Dry Needling


When we think about primary care for our animals, the first professionals that often come to mind are veterinarians and veterinary technicians/nurses.  Rightfully so, when it comes to any sort of a medical issue.  However, there could be another essential player in the primary care arena – the physiotherapist. With their unique skills, expertise, and holistic approach to health, physiotherapists are increasingly being recognized as indispensable members of the primary care team in human medicine.  


The Rise of Physiotherapists in Primary Care

Traditionally, primary care has revolved around addressing acute medical issues and prescribing medications. However, the paradigm is shifting towards a more patient-centered and holistic approach. This evolution recognizes that optimal health extends beyond just treating symptoms; it encompasses physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This is where physiotherapists step in.


Physiotherapists (also known as physical therapists), are highly trained professionals who specialize in assessing, diagnosing, and treating a variety of musculoskeletal, neurological, and cardiopulmonary conditions. Their expertise extends to biomechanics, movement analysis, pain management, and rehabilitation techniques. By focusing on functional movement and physical well-being, physiotherapists contribute significantly to a patient's overall quality of life.


The Case for Physiotherapists as Primary Care Practitioners

Preventing Injuries and Illnesses

Physiotherapists are experts in movement and musculoskeletal health. With additional training in canine anatomy and conditions, they possess a deep understanding of how a dog’s body moves, functions, and interacts with its environment. This knowledge equips them to identify potential risks for injuries and illnesses related to movement. By providing education, guidance, and personalized exercise programs, physiotherapists empower pet owners to adapt their environment and minimize the risk of injury.


Holistic Approach to Health

Physiotherapy is not solely focused on treating physical ailments; it takes into account the patient as a whole. Physiotherapists consider psychological, social, and environmental factors that may impact well-being. This holistic approach enables them to create customized treatment plans that address not only the physical symptoms but also the emotional or social aspects of health.  The latter are not well developed concepts in veterinary medicine.


Enhancing Mobility and Functionality

For dogs with chronic conditions, injuries, or post-surgery recovery needs, physiotherapists can play a pivotal role in restoring and improving mobility. They can design exercises and therapeutic interventions that target specific muscles, joints, and movement patterns. 


Managing Pain Without Heavy Reliance on Medications

Concerns about overmedication have highlighted the need for alternative pain management strategies. Physiotherapists excel in using non-pharmacological approaches to manage pain, such as manual therapy, exercise, and techniques like acupuncture. By providing patients with drug-free pain relief options, physiotherapists contribute to reducing the reliance on potentially harmful long-term medications.


Patient Education and Empowerment

Physiotherapists are excellent educators, teaching owners about their dogs’ conditions and how to prevent further injuries. By empowering owners with knowledge about their dogs’ bodies, physiotherapists enable owners to take control of their pets’ health and make informed decisions about their activities and lifestyles.


Improved Access to Care

Integrating physiotherapists as primary care providers enhances accessibility to specialized care. Patients can receive timely interventions without the need for separate referrals or visits to multiple clinics.


Professional Collaboration

Physiotherapists are trained and skilled in interprofessional communication and collaboration. They are adept at providing feedback or referrals onward to others in the healthcare team when needs arise.    



The inclusion of physiotherapists in primary care teams would mark a significant step towards a more patient-centered and holistic approach to animal healthcare. Their expertise in promoting functional movement, preventing injuries, managing chronic conditions, and supporting overall well-being is invaluable. As animal care evolves to encompass a broader perspective of health, physiotherapists are positioned as essential allies in delivering comprehensive and effective care in a multi-profession framework. By recognizing and embracing their vital role, we pave the way for the evolution of animal health care.