Many of us are familiar with the use of physiotherapy for people when they have suffered injuries or undergone surgery, but it may surprise you to learn that physiotherapy is also really useful for cats. Physiotherapy is a form of treatment that aims to help animals with injuries, deformities, or diseases by using physical methods rather than medications to improve the condition and reduce the sensations of pain associated with the problem.

What types of physio are good for cats?

We usually think about massage and exercises when we consider the use of physiotherapy. But it can involve many different treatments including hot and cold treatments, electrotherapy or even hydrotherapy. (Yes, in the right circumstances hydrotherapy can be used to help cats!).

Even the better-known manual forms of physiotherapy can be applied in a variety of ways to help an individual patient. For example, your cat could benefit from stretching, joint manipulations, passive movements, myofascial release or acupressure. 

As you can see, physiotherapy offers such a wide range of treatments that it can be used to help a variety of conditions and can be easily tailored to meet the individual needs of the patient.

So what types of conditions can be treated?

As a rough guide, any condition which is affecting your cat’s ability to move normally and comfortably may benefit from physiotherapy. 

Post-traumatic physiotherapy

For example, if your cat is recovering from an injury or healing after surgery, physiotherapy may be a beneficial treatment to consider. This is particularly relevant if your cat has been involved in a road traffic accident and sustained fractures or other injuries. Your vet will be able to guide you with regard to when your pet is ready to commence physiotherapy. This form of treatment can enable your cat to become more comfortable and mobile following serious injuries to muscles, joints, and bones. It can also help to prevent the loss of muscle mass. Which can arise following a period of immobility, increase your cat’s strength, provide mental stimulation and improve general wellbeing.

Physiotherapy can be used to help cats suffering from arthritis. 

Osteoarthritis is an often overlooked cause of pain and discomfort and we regularly see this condition in older cats. As we do not take our cats for walks people often miss the signs of pain which we would easily pick up in our dogs. Rather than developing a distinct limp or stiffness, cats will sometimes just change their behaviour to deal with the chronic pain of arthritis. A previously active cat will become increasingly sedentary and spend more time sleeping than they did when they were younger. They may stop jumping onto surfaces they spent time on before. Or they may hesitate to make moves that would previously have been effortless for them. These signs are often attributed to general ageing but are more likely to be signs of pain. (Remember age is not a disease!). 

If you notice these changes in behaviour with your pet, take them along to your local vet to be checked. If osteoarthritis is diagnosed your cat may be given medication to help with the pain. Physiotherapy can benefit arthritic cats when used in addition to medication (and may help to decrease the amount of medication your cat needs). But always ensure that their pain is treated before moving onto physiotherapy and ask your vet to refer your cat to a qualified animal physiotherapist. 

Managing health in the “larger” cat

If your cat is overweight or obese, physiotherapy may be a useful way to increase their mobility and help them to lose weight. Prior to referral to a physiotherapist, your vet will be able to give your pet a thorough health check. They will then be able to recommend a diet and plan a weight reduction program for your cat. You may be able to have regular help from one of the vet nurses at your practice to keep you and your pet on track if your veterinary practice runs weight clinics for their patients. 

Physiotherapy can help cats to lose weight when used in conjunction with a good weight-reducing diet. It will increase your cat’s activity levels by introducing gentle exercise or even hydrotherapy! Preventing your pet from being too sedentary will allow them to gradually lose weight. We should remember that it will also give your cat mental stimulation too which can be extremely beneficial for them.

Promoting health in the older cat

Physiotherapy can be used to help senior cats to remain active and comfortable in their later years. We all know that as we age we become more prone to aches and pains in our muscles and joints. Cats are no different in this respect and they also experience these age-related changes. When cats experience pain they often become less active; this can lead to a loss of muscle mass and tone. Which, in turn, can result in your cat becoming quite frail. Gentle physiotherapy can help older cats to maintain more muscle mass, improve the mobility of joints and provide mental stimulation too. Your qualified physiotherapist may be able to recommend activities and other things; which you can do yourself to help your cat remain comfortable at home in addition to their regular physiotherapy sessions. 

So how do we go about it?

If you and your vet agree that physiotherapy could help your cat; speak to your vet about referral to a qualified physiotherapist. It is important that the physiotherapist you choose is confident when treating cats since they usually need a slightly different approach to dogs as they like to be handled on their own terms…. As any cat owner will tell you! 

Prior to starting physiotherapy, your vet will be able to give your pet a thorough health check. Aswell as prescribe the appropriate medication for any pain which your cat could be experiencing. Although the idea of physiotherapy is to treat pain and discomfort by physical means it is often a good idea to use pain medication to control pain levels while the treatment starts to have the desired effect.

Remember that many pet insurance companies will cover physiotherapy treatments, but you should check with your own company before you start physiotherapy if you would like the costs to be covered.

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