Feline physiotherapy and rehabilitation can control postoperative inflammation, promote wound healing and early weight bearing, restore range of motion (ROM) and muscle properties, improve cardiovascular fitness, and prevent hyperalgesia and chronic pain in patients with orthopedic or neurologic conditions or requiring pain management or geriatric care. Manual physiotherapy techniques may also calm cats during sessions.

Massage, the most common technique, can include stroking, effleurage, kneading, squeezing, wringing, skin rolling, frictions, hacking, coupage, shaking, and vibrations. Passive movements can help restore joint ROM and muscle length, as well as stimulate mechanoreceptors and reinforce movement patterns. Gait patterning, a form of passive movement, can be useful for neurologic patients; passive stretches may help improve and/or restore full ROM to a joint or full length to a muscle. Neural mobilization can help reduce spasms or improve mobility. Some physiotherapeutic techniques require specialized equipment: laser therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and heat and/or cold therapy. Therapeutic exercise should not be disregarded for cats; many can be trained to accept land- and water-based exercise to improve aerobic capacity, endurance, agility, coordination, gait, movement, and patterning for neurologic abnormalities, posture, ROM, strength, and power.

Considering a physical rehabilitation program for cats is especially important, as these modalities have exploded in the veterinary community. This may be because of increased interest in palliative and restorative care in human medicine and because pet owners are searching for more complex strategies to improve their pets’ quality of life or ensure recovery from orthopedic surgery.

Many of the exercises and manipulations described can easily be taught and incorporated into daily care. Training cats in physical rehabilitation can be achieved by veterinary team members who are patient and work (preferably) in a quiet, calm environment free from dogs. Cage-side massage and manipulations may not only improve a practice standard of care but also encourage healing by reducing stress, improving circulation, providing analgesia, and encouraging mobility.—Heather Troyer, DVM, DABVP, CVA

Feline physiotherapy and rehabilitation: 1. Principles and potential. Sharp B. J FELINE MED SURG 14:622-632, 2012.