Healing hands of physiotherapy

Written by: Tom Jackson
Published on: 14 Jun 2020

Leanne Dobrowolski

Interest in veterinary physiotherapy and hydrotherapy has been growing in the past decade – and one advocate of both treatments is RVN Leanne Dobrowolski.


Having qualified as a VN in 2013 – and worked in practices in Peterborough since 2008 – she opened Healing Hands Animal Physiotherapy, offering physiotherapy and hydrotherapy for rehabilitation and maintenance.

In March she celebrated the first anniversary of opening her centre – a year that brought huge success, including winning the new small business of the year category at the 2019 Peterborough Small Business Awards.


Miss Dobrowolski (pictured) said: “I have always liked seeing gradual improvements in sick animals, and getting to know the animals and clients.

“When I qualified [as a VN], I looked at other qualifications. I also volunteered in Africa and carried out some rehabilitation work, and decided I would like to do courses in rehabilitation. When searching for a course, the option that popped up first was physiotherapy.”

Miss Dobrowolski has completed her advanced certificate in canine and equine physiotherapy, and her Master of Science in Veterinary Physiotherapy at the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science. Additionally, she completed a course in canine hydrotherapy at K9 Hydro Services in Suffolk – and with it, the foundations were laid for her business.

Miss Dobrowolski said: “I like to do hour-long sessions with animals – it allows me to, for example, assess and treat tight muscles. The problem is, in practice, you would need a room for an hour and there are the logistics of fitting it into a daily routine, and I wouldn’t want to rush through a session. Also, as a nurse, it is difficult to do physio at the same time.

“I established my dream was to have my own business and work for myself – and I started to realise, when I was doing physiotherapy sessions, clients were going elsewhere for hydrotherapy. I thought the ability to incorporate hydrotherapy and physiotherapy into one process would work well because – as a physio – I could also assess, for example, pain, range of motion and joint angles.”

Known benefits

Miss Dobrowolski said physiotherapy has developed “massively” as a veterinary treatment in the past decade – drawing parallels with its development and use in humans.

She said: “At one point, physiotherapy in humans was questionable, whereas now the benefits of how it helps with recovery are known. People have also learned to maintain, rather than treat, when something goes wrong.

“Maintenance therapies allow dogs – both with and without arthritis – to be a lot stronger, and maintain their core strength and ability. It particularly has an effect on dogs with arthritis – if they are not maintained, long term they will be worse off with, for example, muscle mass loss and range of motion.

“Also, agility dogs and sports horses are required to carry out abnormal movement, which has an impact on the musculoskeletal system. Physiotherapy can help maintain them and prevent injuries.”

Science base

Last year, the RCVS opened the path for paraprofessionals to be regulated by the college – and Miss Dobrowolski said this will enhance animal welfare among paraprofessionals, and awareness and recognition among veterinary peers.

She said: “There is a science base to [physiotherapy] – there’s a science base to everything – and clients visit a physiotherapist knowing they are paying for his or her expertise, professionalism, knowledge, skills and passion.

“If an animal is being palpated from a welfare aspect, would someone without clinical training assess it in the same way if he or she has not gone through the correct route to qualify, or to the correct level? Would he or she understand? Possibly not – because he or she hasn’t carried out that veterinary training.

“Regulation would also, hopefully, make vets consider or realise the importance of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy because, in my opinion, not all vets think it’s worthwhile. For example, there are still some vets who wouldn’t think postoperative physiotherapy is beneficial. However, physiotherapy promotes healing and the animals recover a lot better; this is improved when combined with hydrotherapy.”