Background: Various physiotherapeutic evaluation methods are used to assess the functionality of dogs with stifle problems. Neither validity nor sensitivity of these methods has been investigated. This study aimed to determine the most valid and sensitive physiotherapeutic evaluation methods for assessing functional capacity in hind limbs of dogs with stifle problems and to serve as a basis for developing an indexed test for these dogs. A group of 43 dogs with unilateral surgically treated cranial cruciate ligament deficiency and osteoarthritic findings was used to test different physiotherapeutic evaluation methods. Twenty-one healthy dogs served as the control group and were used to determine normal variation in static weight bearing and range of motion.The protocol consisted of 14 different evaluation methods: visual evaluation of lameness, visual evaluation of diagonal movement, visual evaluation of functional active range of motion and difference in thrust of hind limbs via functional tests (sit-to-move and lie-to-move), movement in stairs, evaluation of hind limb muscle atrophy, manual evaluation of hind limb static weight bearing, quantitative measurement of static weight bearing of hind limbs with bathroom scales, and passive range of motion of hind limb stifle (flexion and extension) and tarsal (flexion and extension) joints using a universal goniometer. The results were compared with those from an orthopaedic examination, force plate analysis, radiographic evaluation, and a conclusive assessment. Congruity of the methods was assessed with a combination of three statistical approaches (Fisher's exact test and two differently calculated proportions of agreeing observations), and the components were ranked from best to worst. Sensitivities of all of the physiotherapeutic evaluation methods against each standard were calculated.
Results: Evaluation of asymmetry in a sitting and lying position, assessment of muscle atrophy, manual and measured static weight bearing, and measurement of stifle passive range of motion were the most valid and sensitive physiotherapeutic evaluation methods.
Conclusions: Ranking of the various physiotherapeutic evaluation methods was accomplished. Several of these methods can be considered valid and sensitive when examining the functionality of dogs with stifle problems.