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Hydrotherapy for dogs - what you need to know

Hydrotherapy for dogs
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're 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?

Keep reading to find out all about hydrotherapy, what it is, how to get your dog started with it and what the benefits are.

WHAT IS HYDROTHERAPY FOR DOGS?

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

It's 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 popularity 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.

Canine hydrotherapy

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!

What health conditions can benefit from hydrotherapy?

What are the overall benefits of hydrotherapy for my dog?

  • 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!

Will my dog like hydrotherapy?

There's no telling for sure what your canine companion will think to a play session in the pool, the only way to find out is to just take the plunge, if you pardon the pun...

Dog hydrotherapy

Certain dog breeds such as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers will thrive as soon as they hit the water, as the were bred to be strong swimmers and retrieve things from the water. Poodles, Newfoundlands and Portuguese Water Dogs were also initially bred for their swimming skills, so we can almost be certain that these types of breeds will love it too. Some dogs (most likely the more pampered pooches) might stick their snoot up at the idea of even dipping their toe in the water, it really all just depends on your pooch's personality as to whether or not they'll like hydrotherapy. Every dog is different!

Can all dogs do hydrotherapy?

Before you and your dog dive right into hydrotherapy, it's always a good idea to check with your vet that they think it's suitable. For example, dogs with health issues or extremely senior dogs might need to be a little bit more cautious when it comes to swimming.

Also, certain breeds actually find it nearing on impossible to swim, such as Bulldogs and French Bulldogs, due to their anatomical structure, therefore you'll need to be super careful at all times when they're near the water. Check out our 'Can all dogs swim?' blog to find out if your pup will be able to do the doggy paddle!

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.

Recap

All in all, hydrotherapy is a great form of exercise and can do your pooch a world of good, alongside being super enjoyable for them too.

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.

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

Sources
  1. Rehabilitation Treatment Approaches Veterinary Medicine of Illinois
  2. 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
  3. Canine Hydrotherapy Canine Hydrotherapy Association
  4. Evaluation of the status of canine hydrotherapy in the UK The Veterinary Record, 168, (15), April 2011, doi:10.1136/vr.c6842

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