Heat Therapy

How many of you reach for a hot water bottle or take a nice long soak in a hot bath when our muscles are sore? I imagine we have all felt the benefits of using heat to ease our aches and pains, yet I am always surprised how few of the clients whose dogs I treat have thought about using this simple trick to help ease their pet’s aches and pains. With winter approaching using heat, therapy is a simple, effective, and affordable way to help relieve your pet’s sore muscles through the colder months.

Which animals can benefit from heat therapy?

Heat is excellent for helping to ease any muscle and joint pain making it the perfect home remedy for pets suffering from: 

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Chronic or degenerative conditions
  • Chronic (long term) muscle sprains
  • Trigger points in muscles
  • Muscle pain due to compensation from other injuries

You often find that animals will seek out a heat source to aid their comfort. If you notice your pet looking for warmer places such as next to the fire or the Aga then perhaps consider using heat therapy to help ease sore areas. 

How Does Heat Work?

When the body tissues are heated this stimulates the blood vessels to dilate allowing more blood to flow through the area. Increasing blood flow means more oxygen is delivered to the body tissues in this area. This allows the tissue fluid to be replenished with fresh nutrients and remove old waste by-products which, would have been causing some pain and discomfort. Heat also helps to relax muscle spasms and improve muscle extensibility (how far the muscle can stretch). All of these effects combined means that using heat is an excellent way of providing pain relief.

When to Use Heat Therapy

Before using heat therapy always get advice from your veterinary surgeon or your veterinary physiotherapist first. They can give you advice on when and how to use heat therapy for your pet. My general advice would be to use heat when you know your pet is going to be stiff or sore. Often this could be in the morning after a long night’s sleep or the evening when your dog may be achy after resting from a long walk. With the colder winter months approaching you may find your pet needs some extra warmth to ease muscles or joints particularly when we have cold, wet days. If your dog is a bit slower and/or stiffer than normal then they will probably benefit from some extra warmth.

When Not to Use Heat Therapy

It is vital not to use heat when your pet has a new injury or after an operation. This normally applies for around three days when you need to ice the area instead. If you’re not sure then ask your veterinary surgeon or veterinary physiotherapist for advice.

You also should not use heat therapy on animals with cancer, infections, skin injury, or if they are unable to regulate their body temperature (e.g. young puppies). Some animals (such as those who have suffered from nerve damage) may have difficulty sensing heat making them more susceptible to burns. You, therefore, want to be cautious with applying heat therapy if your pet falls into this category.

How to Use Heat Therapy

 As I mentioned heat therapy is a very affordable way to provide your pets with comfort at home. Hot water bottles and wheat bags are perfect for using on your pets. Most people have these around their home and if not, they can be quickly purchased from most supermarkets and pharmacies.

The first step is to warm the device according to the manufactures instructions. If you are using a hot water bottle don’t use boiling water (wait 5 mins or longer for the water to cool) and ensure that the stopper is correctly fitted to prevent any leaks.

Once warmed ensure that you wrap the heated item in a towel or thick blanket, enough for the heat to come through but not so much that it is uncomfortable or could burn your pet. 

Then all you have to do is apply the heat. Depending on where the heat is needed you may need to hold the item in place or you could prop it against your dog when they are sleeping in their bed (like I have with Lottie above). To make their bed extra cosy you could place the heat pack under their bedding and wrap a blanket over them. You should normally apply the heat for 20-40 mins and just check every 5 mins to ensure that your pet’s skin is not burning! Don’t be offended if they choose to move away, it might be that it is a bit too hot for them and they will decide to come back once they have cooled off.

When using keep a close watch on your pet to ensure they are not chewing at the item, you don’t want to end up with burns, scalding, or items being eaten resulting in large vet bills! 

If you want a more long term solution for your dog then you can get heated dog beds from Hot Dog. Their beds work like an electric blanket gently heating the bed from within with different settings so you can provide more or less heat depending on your dog’s needs that day. They offer peace of mind by ensuring that the electrical components are all up to the highest standards and are armored for additional protection against chewers. This would make an excellent choice of bed for dogs with arthritis. 

Personally, I think my girls would love this bed not for any health reasons but because they just love anything warm. 

Faux fur hot water bottle from Laura Ashley. Similar from The White Company

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This information and exercise program is general veterinary medical advice only. The text and exercises described, including all graphics, text and images, (collectively ‘the content’) are intended for information purposes only. The content is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your Veterinary Surgeon or Veterinary Physiotherapist with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or its treatment. Never disregard professional veterinary advice or delay or in seeking it because of something you have read or seen on this post. Always read the instructions accompanying each exercise prior to performing the exercise. Cease performing exercise if your dog shows signs of heavy panting, lethargy, muscle tremors or difficulty performing the exercises. In such event, promptly contact your veterinary professional prior to continuing with any aspect of this exercise sheet. It is a condition that you consult your veterinary surgeon before beginning any exercises on this post.

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