CAM blogs

CAM Meets Donna Wills

Donna Wills PGC A Phys, RVN, MIAAT
Donna Wills is an animal physiotherapist and registered veterinary nurse, who passed her post-graduate qualification in animal physiotherapy with distinction in 2005.  Donna is  RAMP registered, a member of the International Association of Animal Therapists  (IAAT) and is the founder of Animal Physiotherapy LTD
Donna is qualified to treat all animals, but dogs and cats are her main patients. She has a special interest in arthritic patients. Donna’s passion for rehabilitation and mobility maintenance stemmed from her work as a veterinary nurse. She is also an accredited practical trainer for other training physios.

Donna kindly agreed to answer the following questions:

What are your feelings on how we currently manage this common debilitating condition in dogs?

I feel strongly that it is under managed. I think this is a highly common problem that far too many people brush to one side and label “old age”. We all know from humans that two 60-year-olds, or even 90-year olds, do not have the same ability and lifestyle, due to many factors. I believe strongly that lifestyle management is essential to how we perceive our bodies ability and support it to reaching its full potential throughout life. So, adaptions do need to be made as the disease progresses, and this will enhance the life of the patient and help to slow down the disease progression. It must not be ignored and labelled “old age”. The age label doesn’t tell us anything.


As a therapist what do you feel is essential for managing canine arthritis effectively?

I am a vet physio. I feel that a multimodal approach is essential. We can not say any 1 thing is the answer and we have to accept that whatever works for both animal and Owner is probably key. For example, hydrotherapy may well be amazing, but if the owner can’t commit to the weekly schedule, then it doesn’t work. That is not the failing of hydrotherapy, it’s the failing of the situation. I equally would like to not blame the owner either. Time is a struggle for us all and is one we need to be sympathetic to. So, we have to work as a team to build the best program with the highest owner compliance so make it effective. As a result, there is no simple answer for all patients. We have to work to treat every single one as an individual. No blanket treatments. One size does not fit all.


How do you see treatment options for arthritis progressing over the next ten years?

I see vast change on the horizon. I think there will be a strong change over to the use of musculoskeletal (MSK) therapies. In the human world there is strong evidence against the long term use of opioids for chronic pain management and so something else needs to be in place. I am keen to work with vets to set up chronic pain clinics that highlight and uses what actually works. I believe we will be moving away from giving drugs just because they are on the shelf and are the “easy” option. Yes, giving a tablet once or twice a day is easier than a home regime of physio 4 times a day, but is it right to do that? In my view we have to work together and embrace the non-drug options early and for longer and keep the pain relief drugs to a minimum for longer. I have seen so many patients who have come for physio and then been able to trial stopping the Tramadol (with vet permission), and this has been a huge success to the surprise of the vet. It does require good owner compliance. But we need to also educate owners so they know, pain is a journey and the medication that is right for today, may not be right in a week, a month or a year. I do believe sitting dogs on the same medications for years is wrong. I would also say, the same exercise and physio regime for years is also likely to be wrong. As progression occurs, adaptions must be made, and all in line with the patient.


If you could have the opportunity to give one tip/ piece of advice to an owner with a dog suffering from arthritis what would it be?

See a physio or MSK practitioner so we can really assess your dogs joints. We can look at every single one and give individual exercise plans based on your dogs needs. Keep moving safely… The old saying “use it or lose it” is entirely true! Rest is not the key strategy long term.

Donna Wills PGC A Phys, RVN, MIAAT.
Member of RAMP
Member of the British Veterinary Nursing Association