Hydrotherapy for dogs – just add water!
Looking for ways to help your stiff pet move more? Just add water!
You’re outside playing an exciting game of catch with your dog when the unthinkable happens.
Joint injuries are no laughing matter and can mean a long recovery journey for both you and your pet. Between surgery, pain medication and trying to figure out how to keep your naturally exuberant dog quiet enough to heal, it can be overwhelming and really, really scary!
When my lab injured her knee I was terrified and I had no idea what to expect. Would my best friend be able to walk again? How would I be able to help a 90lb dog out to pee and how long would it take for her to walk normally again?
It was while I was dealing with my lab’s injury that I first learn about Canine Hydrotherapy and I was a lifesaver for us!
What is Canine Hydrotherapy?
Canine Hydrotherapy refers to a type of physical therapy for dogs that takes place in a temperature-controlled pool for the purpose of building muscle and improving flexibility.
The warm water of the pool naturally dilates blood vessels and allows for increased flow of oxygen, blood and nutrients to the muscles and joints. And the under water environment assures that there is zero impact or weight on joints which is perfect for pets recovering from an acute or long-term injury.
The bonus? Water is naturally calming and most dogs take to the pool environment quite readily!
The first step is gently introducing your dog to the life jacket and then slowly acclimatizing them to the pool and equipment. Our lab was all too happy to splash about and I was surprised to find that she actually liked the hydrotherapy and got excited as soon as she knew where we were going.
Canine hydrotherapy is a perfect option for pets with congenital or acquired disabilities that limit their mobility or range of motion. The underwater treadmill provides the perfect environment to increase muscle strength without the worry of straining or stressing the joints or heart.
Though Hydrotherapy is just now gaining popularity in North America, it has been used in England for years. And while humans have been taking advantage of this therapeutic technique for decades, our canine companions have only had access to this modality in recent years.
What makes canine Hydrotherapy so darn special? The secret is water….
The Magic of Water
What makes Hydrotherapy so amazing is the fluid environment. Water creates a weightless environment that allows the muscles to work and move without putting any stress on the associated joints. So for dogs who are healing from an acute injury or dealing with a longer recovery journey, canine hydrotherapy can be miraculous.
In humans, Hydrotherapy has been used to help everything from arthritis to spinal cord injuries to strokes and recovery from skeletal and muscular injuries.
Has your dog recently sustained a fracture? While immobilizing the joint can help the bones heal, it can lead to muscle wasting and long recovery times. With canine Hydrotherapy, however, your dog can rebuild muscle even before they are able to tolerate full weight-bearing exercises. This helps to reduce recovery time and speed up the healing process. Even dogs with severe pain and limited range of motion can do Hydrotherapy and gradually build back their strength.
The water provides buoyancy – that feeling of weightlessness that makes floating in a pool so fun and relaxing. This added buoyancy means that your pet can use all their muscles without putting any stress on injured, damaged or weak muscles.
Resistance is Futile
Can you remember the last time you went swimming? Gliding under the water is deliciously freeing and fun even as your muscles are working hard to propel you forward. Pushing against the water creates a natural resistance and it has been estimated that a five-minute swim is equivalent to running file miles. Five miles!
This means that just a short canine hydrotherapy session offers a plethora of health benefits in a quick burst of time.
The resistance of the water also means breathing requires more effort making Hydrotherapy a great cardiovascular workout for your dog’s heart and lungs.
Big or small – it’s great for all!
Another major plus for canine hydrotherapy is the fact that it is great for dogs of all ages and physical abilities.
- Is your young pup over-exuberant and in need of burning off some extra energy?
- Does your senior pet struggle with mobility and you’re looking for a way to keep him active without stressing his joints?
- Does your healthy adult dog need some extra TLC and physical therapy after an acute joint injury?
If so….. Hydrotherapy is the answer you’ve been looking for!
Hydrotherapy has been show to be so effective, that some veterinary hospitals are making it a mandatory part of their surgery protocol for joint and ligament injuries.
Seven reasons to choose Canine Hydrotherapy?
- It is super safe and effective
- It helps increase range of motion in a weight free environment
- It improves range of motion, flexibility, general fitness and cardiovascular health
- It allows your pet to gain muscle mass which in turn supports joints and is especially important for dogs recovering from hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia or cruciate repair surgery
- It increases joint mobility and assists with stiffness and swelling
- It’s fun! Most dogs find the water very calming and enjoyable
- It is great for dogs of all ages
You’ve decided to take the plunge and are ready to try Hydrotherapy for your dog. Now what?
The first step is to find a Hydrotherapy clinic near you. The International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork (IAAMB) and the Association of Canine Water Therapy (ACWT) website offers a comprehensive list of facilities across North America and should be your first stop on your dog’s Hydrotherapy journey.
The next step is to call and book an orientation session so you can get to know the facilities and the people who will be working closely with your pet.
When visiting the clinic take a peek and make sure the facility is clean. Ask to meet the individual therapists who will be handling your pet and ensure they are licensed and trained. You’ll also want to ask general questions such as (1) are vaccinations required to use the facilities (2) how often is the pool cleaned (3) what types of chemicals are used in the process and, (4) are you able to be present or observe your dog’s sessions.
Wait a minute…. If water is the key, why not just take your dog down to the lake for a good swim?
The reality is that a controlled environment offers you a much better chance of success than just throwing your dog in some water and hoping for the best. When done properly, Hydroptherapy can be incredibly healing. While open water (such as lakes) offers the same water resistace, it can contain a variety of hazards such as sharp sticks, broken glass and bacterial infections such as Leptospirosis.
As well, the temperature of the water is one of the key elements of good Hydrotherapy – something you cannot control in nature.
The Bottom line….
So, can your dog benefit from Canine Hydrotherapy? If he or she is recovering from an acute or long-term joint injury then chances are Hydrotherapy is the key to a quick and comfortable recovery.
Is your pet a good candidate? This therapeutic modality is great for pets with:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Lack of mobility
- Stiff joints
- Poor range of motion
- Acute and long-term injury recovery
- Circulation problems
- TPLO surgery
- Tendon/ligament injuries
- Pre- and Post surgery
- Impact injuries
- Acute pain
- Stroke and neurological recovery
Whether you’re looking to support joint health or build your pet’s strength after surgery, canine Hydroptherapy for joint issues is a great choice!