Toronto Veterinary Rehabilitation Centre in the Beach helps dogs with treatments such as aquatic therapy and acupuncture

Dr. Sarah Thornton, of the Toronto Veterinary Rehabilitation Centre in the Beach, gives Great Dane Moby an acupuncture treatment with assistance from Jenna at left. Photo by Alan Shackleton.


While a relatively new concept for some dog owners, many others are turning to veterinary rehabilitation services for their older or injured pets suffering from mobility or pain issues.

At the corner of Queen Street East and Northern Dancer Boulevard in the Beach, dog owners and pedestrians walking by are getting a first-hand view of what these services consist of by looking through the windows of the Toronto Veterinary Rehabilitation Centre.

The centre, run by veterinarian Dr. Sarah Thornton, opened in November of last year and quickly attracted the attention of neighbourhood dog owners.

“I love the Beach so much. Most of the clients are local, some came from word of mouth and some people see us in the window,” said Thornton in an interview with Beach Metro Community News.

Rehab services for dogs offered at the centre include aquatic therapy (in which the dogs walk on a treadmill is a small pool), acupuncture, physiotherapy, and T.E.N.S. – which is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Other services are weight management, laser therapy, assistive device and chronic pain consultations.

Toronto Veterinary Rehabilitation Centre is Toronto’s first accredited veterinary rehabilitation practice. It is accredited by the College of Veterinarians of Ontario.

A graduate of the University of Guelph’s veterinary program in 2008, Thornton said she had always been interested in how rehabilitation therapy could help dogs with mobility issues and sore joints.

Her experiences with her own chronic pain led her to look into ways that some of those treatments might be applied to pets, she said.

“I had a great chiropractor that helped fix my issues, and I thought there was a way this could work for pets as well.”

Nine years ago Thornton become involved in providing rehab treatments for dogs. She learned about dog acupuncture and became certified in the practice. Thornton is also certified as a dog rehabilitation therapist.

She started a service in January of 2020 in which she would visit the dogs at their homes for treatments.

That service began shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Thornton said it was a challenging time during the first months of the pandemic, but being able to bring the service to people’s homes proved to be an advantage.

“It actually worked in our favour. A lot of people didn’t want to go out and bring their dogs to treatments, and the mobile service came to them at that time.”

However, it was her goal to establish a rehabilitation therapy centre, and the Beach was the area in which she wanted to do so.

Thornton said the location on the south side of Queen Street East, just east of Northern Dancer Boulevard, features a number of other pet-related businesses and was the ideal spot to open up in.

“We wanted to be in this part of the city. There’s a lot of pet owners in the Beach and there’s also a lot of pet-related business here as well,” she said.

“We thought this would be a very good location. When it came down to it, we just loved the space and all the light…We’ve had people just walk in with their dogs. People were looking in the windows and saw what was happening.”

For many of those people looking into the centre’s windows, they are seeing pet rehabilitation therapy taking place for the first time.

“It’s still new enough that there’s a lack of general awareness among dog owners and even some vets as to what we offer,” said Thornton.

In the past, many dog owners might have felt their only option to manage the pain and limited mobility faced by their older or injured dogs was with pain killers.

“Some dogs can’t tolerate the medications and some owners prefer a more natural method of treatment,” said Thornton of the reasons owners decide to use the rehabilitation therapy services.

She said for some dogs, they are at the limit of what pain medications can do to help them and rehab is a good option to help them further deal with their issues.

“We have targeted therapies based on the situation,” said Thornton.

For instance, acupuncture can help stimulate nerves and also reduce pain, she said. The aquatic therapy is an excellent way for the dogs to exercise as the warm water helps relax sore muscles and joints.

“The buoyancy of the water takes the weight out of the equation and they can work without stressing the joints,” she said.

The aquatic therapy pool can take dogs of all sizes as the depth of water it is filled to is changed for each treatment.

George, a 15-year-old Boston terrier, walks on the treadmill in the therapy pool at the centre. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

On the day Beach Metro Community News visited the Toronto Veterinary Rehabilitation Centre, a small Boston terrier named George, age 15, was wrapping up his aquatic therapy treatment which he takes for general health.

Right after George, the pool was emptied and refilled with a much greater volume of water for an enormous Great Dane by the name of Moby. At the age of 10, Moby has back pain and some neurological issues that can affect his back legs.

Moby walks on the treadmill in the pool, while some other smaller dogs will sometimes swim in it depending on their treatment. When dogs are swimming, there is an attendant in with them for safety purposes.

The dogs are motivated to walk on the treadmill by treats.

“There’s lots of snuggles and treats for the dogs and it’s physically fun environment,” she said.

Moby, a very large dog, calmly and quietly underwent his acupuncture treatment and then was happy to get into the aqua pool as it was slowly filled with warm water.

“The older ones know the routines and are usually pretty chill,” said Thornton.

However, Thornton said they have strategies to deal with dogs that are not as laid back as Moby.

Moby stands in the aquatic therapy pool as it starts to fill with warm water in advance of his treatment. Photo by Alan Shackleton.

“There’s not very many dogs that we can’t get to sit still. We can give them a licking (tray) of peanut butter…If food motivates them, we can get them distracted with the food and they will stay there.”

The clinic buys tubs of the extra large peanut butter containers so there’s never a shortage of available treats (and motivation) for the dogs undergoing therapy.

Along with the physical benefits, Thornton said coming to the centre is also good for the mental health of the dogs.

The centre is a place of socialization and fun activities, especially for older dogs who may not be able to run around in the park like they once used to.

“Senior dogs are seeing mobility declining. They are no longer able to do things they used to do. They come in here for the socialization, the mental enrichment and a lot of physical activity they can do that won’t hurt them,” said Thornton.

For more information on the Toronto Veterinary Rehabilitation Centre, located at 1735 Queen St. E., please visit online at

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