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Physical Therapy for Dogs – Four Alternative Treatments

By Colleen Williams
published: March 25, 2016 - updated: June 1, 2021 • 4 min. read
dog chiropractor massage

The marvel that is modern medicine saves more humans and pets than ever before, but at what cost? The Washington Post cited pet parents as spending $14 billion on veterinary care in 2013. Life-saving technology has advanced, along with the cost of routine and surgical visits, which rose 47 percent for dogs from 2001 to 2011 alone.

Only 1 million of the United States’ 160 million dogs and cats have pet insurance, posing a problem for pet parents (and their pocketbooks). Post-operation complications or physical therapy for dogs can easily derail a budget and force humans to make hard choices. Alternative medicine for pets is noninvasive and cheaper than traditional methods, yet unconsidered by most. Healthy Paws even covers all of the advanced therapies here, giving you peace of mind during difficult times. These revolutionary medical treatments are improving the quality of life for millions of pets – could your pup be next?

Massage and Dog Chiropractors

Like many alternative pet therapies, massage and dog chiropractor treatments are rooted in ancient Chinese and Greek medicine. There are many different kinds of massage for dogs, although all involve relieving pain and increasing range of motion. Acupressure massage utilizes the body’s pressure points, specific areas that can target particular ailments or symptoms like indigestion and joint pain. A dog chiropractor, as seen in the video above, focuses on manually adjusting joints. This can be helpful for animals with arthritis, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), and hip dysplasia as well as post-op pets.

A canine chiropractor or masseuse’s initial session is typically $75 to $150 and up to an hour long; follow-up visits are cheaper and faster, but vary according to clinic. Improvement in your dog’s condition may be seen within the first 72 hours after an appointment, but results vary individually. Specific aftercare instructions will be provided, which may include restricting exercise, ensuring water intake, and providing at-home massage or ice therapy.

While dog chiropractor adjustments are covered by Healthy Paws, not all pet insurance companies are as inclusive. There are some exclusions to alternative care coverage, such as treatments for behavioral or mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Ask your veterinarian about massage for your pet, especially for senior dogs and those with chronic joint pain. A referral is typically required to an AVCA-certified chiropractor, as most clinics don’t have a specialist on staff.


Laser Therapy for Dogs

Another treatment transplanted for use in pets, cold laser therapy for dogs sounds like something from a science-fiction novel. The procedure speeds healing and cellular rejuvenation and is often used on surgical incisions and wounds. In fact, almost any traumatic injury can benefit from this space-age treatment, including fractures, ligament or muscle tears, and damaged nerves. Arthritis and hip dysplasia in dogs cause painful joint swelling and inflammation, symptoms which may be reduced by cold laser therapy.

Multiple sessions are almost always required, the amount determined by your pet’s specific condition. Two treatments with the laser cost around $80; most veterinarians offer packages to cut costs for pet parents. Laser therapy for dogs has no adverse side effects, provided proper eye protection (Doggles) are used and the machine is operated correctly. Results may be seen within 24 hours, but again, every dog is unique and responds differently to treatment.

Veterinary Acupuncture

Veterinary Acupuncture
Caption: Photo courtesy of @nova_the_gr8 on Instagram

Acupuncture for dogs operates on the same principles as in humans: minuscule needles are inserted into specific points, stimulating the release of beneficial neurotransmitters. Pressure points are areas where nerves and blood vessels interact, prompting the release of naturally occurring chemicals, such as endorphins, which block pain receptors and reduce inflammation. A licensed TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine) acupuncturist will target areas of concern on your pet, like the hips or spleen. If muscle spasms or nerve damage are the issues, sometimes a weak electrical current is applied to the needles in a treatment called electrostimulation acupuncture therapy.

As with most alternative pet medicine, there are no side effects from acupuncture in dogs. Sometimes pets exhibit a brief pain response when an acupuncture needle is inserted into a particularly tight muscle, but most animals enjoy and even fall asleep during this relaxing procedure. The cost of acupuncture varies widely, depending on the method used and your dog’s condition(s). More needles means more time and money, although pet insurance companies with alternative coverage – like Healthy Paws – will typically foot the bill.


It’s no secret that swimming is great exercise for dogs, but hydrotherapy takes the hobby to new heights. Obese pets or those suffering from muscle atrophy will find this form of exercise much easier, thanks to water’s weight-bearing properties. For this same reason, dogs with arthritis, hip dysplasia, or intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) may also build muscle and regain range of motion with hydrotherapy treatment. A veterinarian or physical therapist can recommend this alternative therapy after surgery to reduce the likelihood of muscle wasting, which begins to occur just three days after loss of movement.

Hydrotherapy for dogs typically takes place in a heated, indoor pool specially crafted for pets with joint problems – pups enter through a ramp, hoist or harness and doggy paddle away against soothing jets. Warm water provides an additional benefit, soothing swollen joints and enhancing circulation. Hydrotherapy is relatively stress-free as well, perfect for flat-faced brachycephalic dog breeds who have difficulty with traditional cardio.

Each session is $50 to $75, depending on its length and the size of the pool. Many dog hydrotherapy centers offer packages for multiple sessions; consult your vet for the proper amount of treatment your pet will need. For pricey procedures and therapies, Healthy Paws can pay your veterinarian directly! It never hurts to call our Customer Care Team if you’re considering an alternative medical therapy but are concerned about cost.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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