• Paul Hodgkinson Vet Physio

Why stretching is so important for your horse or dog.

After many years of working with animals I have come to realise that one of the first things we notice as an owner is a change in the way they move or hold themselves. I often hear people saying "Oh he/she looks a bit stiff today." Or "My horse has gone really pottery in front and he's really stiff through his neck when I try to flex him."

Yesterday I went to see a client for dog physio and they mentioned that the dog was walking short due to her age. Whilst older pets can get reduced range of motion due to things like osteoarthritis it is important to know that physiotherapists can help them to be more comfortable and achieve a reduction in pain through improving flexibility and joint range of motion.

Like me, I'm sure you have woken up many a morning with a crick in the neck or an ache in the back and wondered what on earth have I been doing to get that? Well the same can be said for our delightful four legged friends. They too like us have daily aches and pains and this should't be something we as owners or professionals should ignore.

Stretches are performed by your vet physio in conjunction with range of motion exercises to improve flexibility of joints, tendons and muscles. Certain conditions like; osteoarthritis, Muscle strains, tendon or ligament ruptures result in shortening of tissues, reduced movement, and injury. All of which can respond well to very simple stretching exercises.

Flexibility can be described as the ability of tissues, particularly muscle, to relax and respond to an elongation force. However it is important to ensure overstretching does not occur. This refers to the tissues being stretched beyond normal limits allowing a greater joint range of motion than normal. Overstretching can be detrimental if there is insufficient soft tissue support to sustain joint stability and prevent injury.

Before doing any form of stretching it is important to make sure the muscle area that is being stretched is warmed up. A simple way of doing this is to apply stretching after exercise. Use some form of treat to encourage a stretch like asking your dog to shake a paw or bow (as seen in picture). Can you encourage your horse to stretch through his neck and over his back by feeding from the floor or by performing carrot stretches.

Some stretches require a trained eye and should only be performed by a qualified professional so please seek the advice from your vet physio in advance.