top of page

What is Proprioception? Learn about your pets “sixth sense”.

Do you believe that humans and animals only have five senses? Some neurologists believe that there could be as many as four times that!

Senses are what help us to translate environmental information to the sensory neurons and receptors in the body via the central nervous system to the brain to produce an adaptive response. 


What is proprioception? 

Proprioception in the term given to describe the body’s ability to sense and interpret stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion and balance. It is a complicated multi-component feedback system made up of a range of receptors in the skin, muscle, tendons, ligaments, and joints, sensory and motor nerves, parts of the brain, and components of the visual and vestibular systems. In short it’s the sense that tells the brain where all your body parts are even with your eyes closed and your hanging upside down.  It’s the sense that tells your leg how far to lift your foot when climbing up stairs and helps you balance when walking without having to constantly look at your feet. It is especially important in complicated movements were precise coordination is necessary, such as jumping over an object or balancing on a small surface area. 

If we, or our animals suffer from a loss of proprioception it can have a detrimental impact on how we move and react through our environment. For example, your horse may not be able to adjust their body in time when landing over a jump or your dog may trip over when running after a ball which in turn can lead to injury. 

What does proprioception deficit look like and what causes it to happen? 

Horse toe drag

Indicators of proprioception loss can very subtle such as a slight loss of precision movement in performance to more obvious signs such as knuckling over of paws, toe scuffing of paws/hooves, wounds or calluses on the lower limbs, abnormal nail/ hoof wear. To more severe symptoms include staggering, ataxia (lack of balance), and even loss of function.  

Loss of proprioception in animals can occur as a result of many different reasons and they are usually classed as either acute or chronic. It can appear suddenly as a result of trauma, injury or surgery. However, it can also be subtle to start with and slowly degenerate over time due to a neurological condition.

What are the aims of proprioceptive rehabilitation / training? 

  • Increase sensory awareness

  • Improve neuromuscular responsiveness

  • Improve balance and flexibility

  • Improve function

  • Improvement of movement patterns

  • Improve reflexes in response to changes in body position and movement

How is proprioception rehabilitation achieved?  In my physiotherapy sessions I use a wide range of different techniques and exercises that are specifically designed to improve proprioception. 

These include:

  • Manual therapy - Massage

  • Sensory bombardment

  • Proprioceptive exercises

  • Electrotherapies

  • Sensory integration aids

The exact treatment protocol prescribed will vary depending on the cause of the proprioceptive loss, how much function your pet has and if your pet has any other medical issues. 

dog proprioception training

Can healthy animals benefit from proprioceptive training / conditioning?

dog wobble cushion

Absolutely! Puppies and young horses can benefit greatly from doing proprioceptive exercises as they develop helping them to learn control over their body movements and in turn improve their confidence and reduce the risk of injury. Equally, adult dogs and older horses especially sporting animals such as agility dogs or competition horses can benefit greatly from the ability to react faster, improving precision, improve mental focus and reduce the risk of injury that comes from proprioceptive training. 

For further information regarding proprioception training, or if you would like to book your animal in for a physiotherapy session, please contact The Vet Physio Centre for details.


bottom of page