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Hydrotherapy for dogs - What you need to know

Hydrotherapy for dogs - What you need to know
Learn About Dogs

Lots of dogs love to plunge into the water, whether it be the sea, a lake, or a muddy puddle. How strange that they are happy to swim in filthy water, but many don’t seem to like getting a bath afterwards…

Despite this, it’s a given that letting your pooch have a doggy paddle is a great form of exercise, but is hydrotherapy the way forward for our dogs?

What is hydrotherapy for dogs?

Hydrotherapy, also labelled as water cure or water therapy, refers to using water as a form of physiotherapy.

It is an enjoyable way to increase fitness, reduce any swelling and alleviate pain caused by operations or health conditions such as arthritis.

Essentially, hydrotherapy makes use of buoyancy and resistance to remove the impact gravity has on the joints. Open to dogs of all shapes and sizes, hydrotherapy can be for enjoyment, or it can be part of a controlled regime to improve mobility and slow the process of degenerative health conditions.

A brief history of canine hydrotherapy

Using water for therapeutic purposes dates way back to ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilisations with its pup-ularity increasing over the years.

In more recent times, hydrotherapy has become a more normalised practice for humans to relieve pain, aid mobility conditions and overall be an entertaining and pleasurable experience. Human water therapy can include swimming, mineral baths, saunas, water aerobics, jacuzzi, cold plunges and so on.

Regarding animal hydrotherapy, it predominantly began with racehorses. Upon noticing the benefits of seawater to support the prevention and healing of leg injuries, it became common practice for building strength and stamina. Eventually, the horseracing industry extended to greyhound racing.

After the advantages that it had for sporting animals were recognised, hydrotherapy became more prevalent in the general canine world.

What types of hydrotherapy exist for our dogs?

Hydrotherapy can be as simple as having a splash and a paddle in a body of water. However, if the therapy session is mainly for rehabilitation purposes, the water will be warmed to boost blood flow and relieve stiffened muscles.

Primarily, there are three main types of hydrotherapy which are used for different functions:

Underwater treadmill: This is a basic exercise in which your dog walks on a treadmill that is encased in a chamber filled with water. Dogs that suffer with joint issues will benefit greatly from this activity as the impact of gravity is removed. Don’t worry if your dog isn’t as athletic as others, the water level and speed of treadmill can be altered to ensure your pooch has all their requirements met.

Whirlpool: Basically, this is just a jacuzzi for our dogs to enjoy instead of us. The whirlpool will soothe pain and discomfort by creating a gentle massage for your dog to relax into. Typically, whirlpools are used for dogs who have just undergone an operation to ease their injuries.

Hydrotherapy pools: A swimming pool is great for your pooch to simply experience some general fun and exercise. To make it even more fun, bring a toy that will float and play a few games. More specifically, swimming is helpful for weight loss and degenerative joint issues as it gives resistance and buoyancy. Although you can’t control the depth of the water like you can with the treadmill, your dog will still be provided with a buoyancy jacket and a therapist to guide them.

If you are unsure which form of therapy your dog needs, it is advised to seek guidance from your vet.

How can my dog benefit from hydrotherapy sessions?

Remember, this isn’t an exhaustive list!

Conditions that hydrotherapy benefits:

  • Arthritis
  • Hip/elbow dysplasia
  • Spondylosis
  • Patella Luxation
  • Pre/post operation muscle injuries
  • Spinal injuries
  • Ligament injuries
  • Obesity

Overall benefits:

  • Alleviating pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • Eases tense muscles or muscle spasms
  • Helps to prevent degenerative conditions from occurring and progressing
  • Strengthens muscles and core
  • Supports weight management and fitness levels
  • Your dog will just find it fun!

Can I do it at home?

Yes! Whilst some forms of hydrotherapy need specialised equipment (such as the underwater treadmill), you can still take your dog for a swim.

Swimming or doggie paddling can be done in a substantial body of water, or if your dog is of a smaller size a paddling pool in the garden will be sufficient. Be aware though that swimming may not be second nature to all dogs so keep your pooch under supervision.

Whether your dog needs pain relief, to lose weight, or you just want to try a new form of exercise for your dog, hydrotherapy might be the way to go.

  1. Rehabilitation Treatment Approaches Veterinary Medicine of Illinois
  2. Hydrotherapy Wikipedia
  3. Effect of swimming on clinical functional parameters and serum biomarkers in healthy and osteoarthritic dogs IRSN Veterinary Science. Jan 2014, doi:10.1155/2014/459809
  4. Canine Hydrotherapy Canine Hydrotherapy Association

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