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Pet Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Using Soft Supports For Your Dog

Here’s the next Pet Physical Therapy Tip of the Month from animal physical rehabilitator Susan Davis, PT of JoyCareOnsite.com. See: Using Soft Supports For Your Dog. These articles originally appeared on DawgBusiness.com.
by Susan E. Davis, PT 
It’s all about guiding and empowering you to help your pet avoid injury, provide practical solutions and achieve rapid restoration of health and function!   
External devices such as braces, splints or wraps, may be recommended by a therapist or veterinarian to support your dog’s injured limb or body part after trauma, fracture or surgery.  

Splints or braces (also called “orthotics”) are made by therapists and professional orthotists, based on a number of factors. These devices can be costly and require casting, adjustments, modification, time, etc. They may be your best option, but in many cases you might be able to use a soft wrap support instead.

Wraps do not require cast molds and can be ordered by taking measurements with a ruler or tape measure and submitting a photo &/or video of the dog.

Wraps offer great solutions for support of weakened areas and shock absorption of joints, especially with lighter, smaller-framed dogs. Large dogs can benefit from wraps if only mild support is needed or for use during light activities. Wraps can also be used during sports to add extra protection and provide heat to exercising muscles. 

Prefabricated wraps are typically manufactured and sold by commercial pet retailers. 

Pet owners can take simple measurements with a ruler or tape measure and order these products directly.

There are specialized vendors that can fabricate custom wraps for your dog. 

Custom wraps typically require a veterinarian or therapist to measure and order the product. Wraps are made from specialized fabric and neoprene. They come in light, moderate and heavy weights depending on the amount of support needed. Straps and padding can be added to give additional support or limit movement. 

Here are some examples of wraps I have ordered for patients, with good success:

This is a simple home wrap used for a traumatic brachial plexus injury, to support the weakened shoulder and elbow while the nerve regenerated. I used a rolled elastic “Ace” type of bandage.

The wrapping was done in a spiral pattern starting at the wrist and moving upward toward the shoulder, then completed with a full turn around the Boston Terrier’s back as an anchor, and a final turn back down on the limb, and secured with clips.
The next case involved the use of Custom Carpal Wraps (wrist and forearm) for a Pit Bull puppy to support weak and unstable joints from congenital Carpus Hyperextension.

The wraps were ordered with mild support, and protected joints while the puppy developed and received PT for strengthening, and functional electrical stimulation. After about 6 months, the pup gained full strength and no longer walked “flat” on his front paws. The wraps preserved health of the joints, to prevent future arthritis.
Here is prefabricated Foot drop bootie to help a dog that was hit by a car and sustained a sciatic nerve injury, resulting in a weakened rear limb with dragging of the paw.

The bootie not only helped to support the hock and paw but also prevented drag abrasions.  This dog attained partial nerve recovery and continued to use the bootie only for leash walks.  He was able to walk indoors without it.  This particular bootie was fairly inexpensive but needed to be replaced after about 5 months.
Next is a prefabricated neoprene sling with elbow supports, used for a stocky, slightly overweight Lab with elbow dysplasia on both sides.  It was used outdoor walks during the cold winter months. The neoprene offered warmth, in addition to mechanical shock absorption. This helped the Lab tolerate longer distances comfortably, without limping.

This photo shows a simple Velcro strap, wrapped around a hock of a Golden Retriever, to support a ligament that was involved in a stretch injury.

The relevant feature of this wrap is the slanted, diagonal direction of the final turn of the wrap (also called spiral). This spiral pattern of wrapping offers greater support and prevents impeding blood circulation. Below are side and front-views of custom Dorsi-Flex Assist Wraps for the rear limbs of a geriatric Weimaraner with early stage Degenerative Myelopathy.  Though the dog walked with excessive flexion in the limbs, the wraps allowed him to walk outdoors for brief periods and to relieve himself, without dragging and falling.  Note that the wraps have 2 sections: a bootie for the paw, and a cuff for the lower leg, joined together with a crisscross Velcro strap to assist in pulling the paw upward.


This final example is of a custom wrap used for a torn Achilles tendon with dropped hock.  The wrap has crisscross Velcro straps on the underside to assist in pointing the “toes” down and lifting the heel up. This dog could not have surgery to repair the torn tendon due to financial hardship, so the wrap offered a low-cost, effective solution for this small Shi-Tzu.


There are so many possibilities for dogs and other pets to benefit from soft supportive wraps, whether prefabricated or custom-made.  When choosing what is right for your dog it is best to enlist the help of your veterinarian or physical therapist for optimal accuracy and results!
Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).
Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.
Copyright of this article (2014) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format
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