PT – Dogs during Conservative Treatment—only Light ROM and Massage


Passive therapy during conservative treatment

IVDD Dogs during conservative treatment with paralyzed legs, wait until off of all meds and no pain is surfacing to start a program of very light range of motion and massage.

Surgery Dogs

Conservative Dogs (Meds + rest + time treatment)

The surgical procedure removed the offending disc material away from the spinal cord area. One of the benefits of surgery is that active PT can be started as soon as the surgeon directs. Protection of the healing disc and preventing additional aggravation to the nerves depends on STRICT rest and limited movement of the neck and back.
The surgeon’s directed PT for wobbly dogs might be the walk to and from the potty place. Dogs with paralyzed legs, wait til off of all meds and no pain is surfacing before starting very light at home physical therapy.
At home full range of motion (ROM) and massage for the surgery dog. Limited to the very, very lightest of range of motion (ROM) and massage to maintain principals of limited movement.
At home water therapy, underwater treadmill For the  walking dog, the very fewest of footsteps at potty time are sufficient  to keep joints flexing and maintaining circulation in muscles.

After graduation, it is safe for the healed disc
to begin active rehab and PT for wobbly legs and those with paralyzed legs same as surgery dogs can do.

Light range of motion and massage

During conservative treatment, for dogs with paralyzed legs when off all meds and no evidence of pain

By Giuliana G. Lerch, BS, LVT, CCRP, Member AARV, LIVMA, Four Leg Rehab, Inc., Academy of Physical Rehabilitation Veterinary Technician (proposed) – organizing committee, Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island

Check with your veterinarian or surgeon to see when and which of these exercises are appropriate for your dog under conservative treatment. Any sign of pain, discontinue.


Dogs on conservative treatment crate rest who are not paralyzed are able to move around a bit in the crate and at potty time to keep their joints and muscles toned. No additional therapy is necessary.


When off of all meds and no pain surfaces, then the very light least aggressive range of motion (ROM) can be given to paralyzed legs. This light ROM is in keeping with the principles of limited movement to the back/neck during conservative treatment. Check with your vet before starting.

As the dog moves, the boney vertebrae will push on the discs. While a disc is healing without benefit of surgery, pressure can easily cause the disc to be further damaged and cause more pressure on the delicate spinal cord. Therapy must be performed with utmost care.

Illustration reprinted with permission by the copyright owner, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, from the Atlas of Veterinary Clinical Anatomy.

  • ▼ ROM for paralyzed legs during conservative treatment when no pain, no meds. Video below
▼ ROM for paralyzed legs during conservative treatment when no pain, no meds. Video below

Have your dog lie on its side on the floor with a blanket, towel or on his bed to provide a safe, firm, stable and supportive surface.
Step 1 Warm up stroke technique:
Starting at the hip, cup your hand and “pet” your dog from the hip to the foot, repeat 10 times. You  may use a soft bristled brush if your dog has a lot of fur.
Step 2 Massage- hamstrings, quads, etc:

  • Use a kneading motion to the hamstrings (back of the leg) and quadriceps (front of the leg) for 3-5 minutes.
  • Rub feet (area between the ankle and paw) up to 1 minute- it is okay if your dog kicks a little. If it is excessive kicking movement, discontinue.
  • Toe touch, lightly between toe pads up to 1 minute to stimulate the nerves- it is okay of your dog kicks a little, if it is excessive discontinue.



Step 3 Leg pump: This will help maintain flexibility in the joints and stimulate muscle tone

  • Hold the hock (ankle which bends opposite of human’s) and support the stifle (knee) with your other hand. In a slow and controlled motion, flex and extend the limb at the hock while supporting the stifle with your other hand. Repeat 10-15 times.
  • Hold at the carpus (paw) and with your other hand support at the hock (ankle). In a slow and controlled motion, flex and extend the hock joint in an even plane. Repeat 10-15 times

.Step 4 Cool down: Repeat Step 1 “Warm up stroke”  then repeat Steps 1- 4 for other leg
Step 5 Hip Exercise.
Place one hand on the hip and use your other hand to support the leg. Move the leg gently it back and forth up to 15 times. You may also try to move the hip joint in semi circles up to 15 times
Step 6 Toe Exercise: Move each toe up and down 10 times.


This information is presented for educational purposes and as a resource for the dog IVDD community. The coordinators are not veterinarians or health care professionals. Nothing herein should be interpreted as medical advice all should contact their pet care professionals for advice. The coordinators are not responsible for the substance and content contained herein and do not advocate any particular product, item or position contained herein.

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