People have enjoyed the benefits of water for centuries. Healing springs and mineral baths have been used for many purposes including treatment of skin, respiratory, and joint complaints. It’s not surprising, then, that hydrotherapy is now being used in dogs to help with arthritis, weight-loss, and rehabilitation after surgery.
There are a number of ways that hydrotherapy can be applied to dogs. The most common is the swimming pool. These pools don’t need to be large; they just need to be able to accommodate the dog and perhaps their human handler. The dogs wear a life vest to help keep them afloat. Often the dogs are attached to a pulley system to help them in and out of the pool. Hydrotherapy pools are often heated and some have jets to provide extra resistance.
Another option is the underwater treadmill. This is similar to a regular treadmill with a moving belt except it’s enclosed in a glass or plastic case that can be filled with warm water up to the level of a dog’s chest. It allows dogs to walk and even run while their body weight is supported by the water.
The amount of support offered by a hydrotherapy pool or treadmill varies with the depth of water. If the water level is up to your dog’s stifle, then their legs will only be carrying 85% of their body weight. If the water is up to their hip, then they’re relying on their limbs to support less than 40% of that weight. You can see that even if you don’t have a hydrotherapy facility nearby, walking your dog slowly in a deep enough pond or even at a calm ocean beach will be helpful.
Here are several reasons why dogs may be prescribed hydrotherapy.
- Rehabilitation of injuries or after orthopedic surgery. Often dogs that need to recover have to do so without bearing weight on their injured leg or stressing their body. Hydrotherapy is used regularly in rehabilitation of dogs after cruciate ligament or spinal surgery. It’s important that this type of therapy isn’t started until the surgical wounds are healed and the sutures are removed.
- Management of arthritis. Dogs with sore joints benefit greatly from hydrotherapy. Swimming or walking in warm water increases circulation to the affected area because of the pressure of the water on the limbs. It also maintains mobility because it’s much gentler on their sore joints than taking them for a walk.
- Weight reduction. It’s not easy for obese dogs to exercise because their excess weight is taxing on their legs. Hydrotherapy is an excellent way for these pooches to work out. They can walk, trot, and swim while the water supports their weight and makes it easier on their legs.
- Strengthening of the muscles. People with dogs that compete in sports such as agility or flyball can use hydrotherapy as a form of cross training. The resistance of the water is great for strengthening muscles and improving overall cardiovascular fitness. That resistance can be increased by using water jets in the pool. Even dogs that compete in conformation shows can benefit from hydrotherapy. A few sessions in the hydrotherapy pool will improve their muscle tone and appearance.
- Cleans the skin. Hydrotherapy has been shown to be useful in the treatment of skin complaints in dogs. The agitation of a whirlpool can thoroughly clean the skin and allow topical treatments to work more effectively. However, in some dogs (particularly those with atopic dermatitis) it may dry out their skin and worsen the symptoms.
How do you find a hydrotherapy facility for your pet? Your first step is to ask your vet for a recommendation. Perhaps your friends at your dog training club or groomer can refer you to someone they have been happy with. You may find that giving your dog a hydrotherapy session each week will speed up their recovery from injury and tone up their muscles and waistline.