Recommended Readings | Emergency FAQ's  Join Dodger's Support Group | Home

 PT Rehab During Conservative or Post-Op for Paralyzed Legs

 updated 2015
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. Any sign of pain, discontinue. Usually PT can be started immediately after surgery with the OK from your surgeon.

Physical therapy during conservative treatment for the paralyzed legs

As the dog moves, the boney vertebrae will push on the discs. A healthy disc provides a cushion to the bones of the vertebrae. 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.

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.

However, a downed paralyzed dog can't move his back legs and the owner will need to help. Very light passive PT and massage must be limited to the least aggressive methods during crate rest for the downed dog. Delay passive PT activity until off medications and all swelling has gone down and the dog is no longer in pain. Check with your vet before starting.

A warm towel from the dryer will help to warm up the legs prior to beginning passive PT. The key is to avoid making your dog move the spine which will put pressure on the healing disc. The aim is to provide a bit of gentle movement to maintain circulation in the muscles and keep joints flexible.  Start slowly. If he resists you, try again later or another day. Do not force him causing a struggling situation.

Perform only the steps 1-6 numbered in red below which are for the paralyzed dog on conservative treatment when off all medications and no pain. 

Physical Rehabilitation: Massage & Therapeutic Exercise

The goal of the exercises below is to stimulate blood flow to the muscles, to stimulate the nerves, to stimulate body awareness and to keep the ligaments and tendons loose. Your pet may resist some of the exercises at times so it is okay to take a break and try again at a different time. Always remember to take your time and go slow through each exercise.

These sessions should be done 2-3 times a day for up to 15-30 minutes at a time as your schedule allows. Be sure to perform the exercises in a quiet and comfortable environment- some dogs find jazz or classical music soothing. 

The best advice is to be patient and keep a positive attitude during the recovery process. Should you have any concerns, please contact your veterinarian or your canine rehabilitation professional.

During Conservative Treatment for Paralyzed legs:

For the paralyzed dog during conservative treatment when off all meds and there is no pain. See video below for a demonstration of each exercise described below. Your dog will need to be crate rested at all times and may come out for potty, vet visits and to do the following:
Pottytime for paralyzed legs: To be expressed if no bladder control.

Or if bladder control, carried outside to and from the potty place. Provide support with a sling (ace bandage, towel). Use a leash and harness to control speed and and limit back movement by limited footsteps to the very fewest. 
PT limited footsteps for conservative treatment
Massage: 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. PT gentle toe touch conservative treatment
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 of your dog kicks a little, if it is excessive 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.

Post-operative Physical Rehabilitation for Paralyzed Legs:

You may follow the exercises in the Conservative treatment section above as well the following four exercises.
Use a stable surface with good traction such as carpet or yoga mat for exercises like range of motion or leg pumps.
  1. Range of Motion (ROM) aka "Bicycles": Place your pet in a standing position and support with one hand between the hind legs. With your other hand, hold the hock (ankle) to initiate ROM. In a slow, controlled motion; bring the leg back, bend at the knee, come forward, and brush the foot against the ground (this will stimulate the nerves). Repeat 15 times. Perform on the opposite limb. Do 3 alternating sets for each limb. 
  2. Stand with support: Put your pet in a standing position and support as needed between the hind legs. Have the dog "hold" this position up to 1 minute. This will re-enforce the muscle tone in the hind legs.
  3. Stretchy Puppy: Position your dog in either a proper sit position (hind legs tucked in to mimic a normal sit position) or in a sphinx position (ideal for post operative cervical conditions). Use a treat to coax your pet to lean forward. This will engage and lengthen spinal muscles and stabilizing muscles. Start with no more than 5 repetitions.
  4. Bounce: Put your pet in a standing position and support at the hips (one hand around each hip). Apply a gentle downward pressure so that you see the toes spread-the foot should never come off the ground. Repeat up to 25 times at 1 bounce per second. This exercise is for hind end awareness.

NOT for a dog during 8 weeks of conservative treatment!

These videos are for dogs in post-op care or dogs AFTER they have completed conservative treatment of crate rest (always check with your vet regarding which exercises would be appropriate for your dog's situation):

Clark’s Post Surgical PT
Water Therapy
How Underwater Treadmill works

Other References:
Steiss, J.E., Canine Rehabilitation. In: Braund's Clinical Neurology in Small Animals: Localization, Diagnosis and Treatment, Vite C.H. (Ed.)International Veterinary Information Service, Ithaca NY (, 2004 Last accessed 9/12/08

McCauley, L.L., Neurological Canine Rehabilitation. In:  NAVC Proceedings 2006, North American Veterinary Conference (Eds). Publisher: NAVC ( Internet Publisher: International Veterinary Information Service, Ithaca NY http:// last accessed 9/12/08

    This information is presented for educational purposes and as a resource for the Dachshund community. The coordinators are not veterinarians or health care professionals. Nothing herein should be interpreted as medical advice and 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.
c2019 Linda Stowe, founder of and - web design by Paula Milner