When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part II)

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!   

2. Using Heat

Heat applications elevate the temperature of tissues and dilate blood vessels, which increases blood flow to the treatment areas.

Gracie's HipHug

Heat is beneficial for use when swelling is no longer present or is only minimal and when pain is no longer intense. 

Heat can also help to relax tight muscles and relieve sore arthritic joints. 

Heat is applied through various commercial hot packs filled with sand or silicone, gel, beads, ground cornhusks and buckwheat. These are heated by hot water immersion or microwave ovens, and are considered to be “moist heat”.

Moist heat penetrates deeper and is more effective for orthopedic conditions than dry heat. 

Examples of dry heat are electric heating pads, heat lamps or blowers, and wraps with metal discs.

I don’t recommend using electrical heating pads for pets unless you have no other option and only using the very lowest setting with constant on-site supervision. Some heating pads have iron fillings or small discs that produce heat by contact with the body, and an oxidation reaction occurs, producing heat for several hours. These can be used but only with your dog in a confined setting where you can continually monitor and supervise.

Most heating packs are applied for 15-20 minutes, twice per day.  

Padding may be required to prevent burns, depending on the amount and length of your dog’s coat.  The heat should feel warm but never hot.

Here are contraindications for heat, where heat should never be used:  

  • during the first 48 hours of an acute traumatic injury
  • during states of hemorrhage
  • in the presence of blood clots
  • over tumors or malignant tissue
  • over open wounds
  • over areas of numbness
  • over areas that feel warm or hot to your touch

If you are still in doubt and faced with a situation where your dog needs immediate care, cold is usually the safest choice. 

If applied according to the above methods and guidelines, heat will either help or not cause harm.

Products I use:
Medibeads Microwave heat packs (bead filled)
Earth Therapeutic Anti-Stress Neck Pillow (heat) (made for humans but works well for canines)
Hip Hug (heat, rice filled)
Simple Solution Therapy Glove for Pets (gel filled) (Hot or Cold)
SherBertStuff Cool Products

Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website www.joycareonsite.com , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ideas to Chew on - Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Problems? 
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part I) 


  1. This is exactly what I need to know for Sydney and Rodrigo. We've managed their joint pain with supplements, but on days when they over do it, I'm happy to have an alternative. Thank you.


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