What is hydrotherapy for dogs?
Using water for the treatment of pain and rehabilitation, known as Hydrotherapy, also called Aqua therapy, was popular in ancient times. It was used by the Greeks and the Romans. Today Hydrotherapy is used in the rehabilitation of injuries, treatment of chronic conditions, and in general fitness for dogs.
Hydrotherapy for dogs is generally done in two ways – in a heated pool or on an underwater treadmill. The underwater treadmill is a treadmill that is enclosed in a tank of water that fills up to the required level and drains when the exercise is complete.
Hydrotherapy for dogs can help rehabilitate injuries and build muscle and flexibility without stressing their joints. While swimming the dog moves through a full range of motion without weight bearing. Often this is with the aid of a lifejacket to provide further buoyancy.
This not only helps to rehabilitate the affected area but also keeps the other muscles from becoming weak. Dogs that are on reduced activity due to injury can lose muscle in a short period. The sensation of weightlessness and the calming resistance of water offers dogs a painless and safe physical exercise. It does this without making the injury or issue worse.
What conditions can be treated with Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy for dogs can aid dogs suffering from conditions such as
hip dysplasia, (common n breeds like German Shepherds)
elbow dysplasia, (common in breeds like Labradors)
being overweight or obese,
lack of mobility,
acute and chronic pain,
tendon or ligament injuries,
before surgery and rehabilitation after surgery,
degenerative diseases and orthopedic problems.
How does Hydrotherapy help dogs?
For older dogs who have become sedentary and reluctant to move, a swim in the pool can be a great way to get some exercise. It provides exercise without stressing joints and provides mental stimulation as well.It is a great way to exercise an older dog that you are unable to walk any more. Swimming in the warm water may also have a calming effect on the dog. The water is generally heated to 29 degrees Celsius (around 85 degrees Fahrenheit) which is the ideal temperature for therapeutic purposes.
Hydrotherapy for dogs is also good for prevention aiding overall fitness, body condition, core and muscle strength. It is a great source of aerobic exercise that is low impact on the bones and joints. It is a great tool to help your dog stay in optimal shape.
Is the pool or underwater treadmill a better option?
Whether swimming in the pool or using the underwater treadmill is better for your dog depends on the nature of the injury or disease or the overall goal of the session. They are quite different exercises that work different muscles. Both provide resistance from pulling the limbs through the water which helps strengthen the muscles. they also provide buoyancy making it a low impact exercise. The warm water and water pressure soothe joints and muscles and benefits circulation and reduce swelling.
Advantages and disadvantages of the underwater treadmill.
Advantages the treadmill gives are a complete extension of the limbs and joints and gives control of the speed of movement It can adjust the weight load on the dog by changing the height of the water and is overall a more controlled exercise.
Disadvantages of the treadmill are some dogs may be anxious about being enclosed in a box with the belt moving beneath them. It can also be challenging for dogs that may lack coordination or the required motor function due to neurological issues or being an old dog.
Advantages and disadvantages of swimming in the pool
Advantages of swimming in the pool are that it is completely non-weight bearing for the dog making it truly low impact It is great for core strength and cardiovascular fitness and uses the front legs more.
Disadvantages of swimming in the pool are that it isn’t as effective for extension of the joint. It is also harder for dogs that are unfit. In addition, the rear limbs aren’t used as much in the pool and there is less control of the dog’s movement.
Consult with the Hydrotherapist who will have the knowledge and experience to know best which option is best suited to a particular dog’s needs. Many Hydrotherapist also offer a number of other services for pain management and to aid in rehabilitation such as massage, laser therapy, and acupuncture.
Are there any risks with Hydrotherapy for dogs?
It is important that the dog is monitored and supervised the whole time to ensure that they are not ingesting or inhaling too much water. This can result in water intoxication or even pneumonia. They should be removed if they are having trouble breathing or start to cough.
There is also a risk of recurring ear infections if they get water in the ears. Dogs with urinary tract infections, ear infections, skin infections, or open wounds should really wait until these have been treated before starting Hydrotherapy.
Another concern some dog owners have is the chlorine or other chemicals used in the pool, but as long as the chlorine levels are managed properly it is safe for both dogs and people.
Hydrotherapy for dogs can benefit older dogs, overweight or obese dogs, dogs who are injured, preparing for or recovering from surgery, have a chronic issue such hip dysplasia or arthritis, the canine athlete to condition for a dog sport such as agility, or to keep your pet in optimal condition to help with the prevention of injuries. From my own experience with dogs doing Hydrotherapy, the results are excellent.