Hydrotherapy comes from Greek words meaning “water healing,” and can be a great option for post-operative dogs, as well as for dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, the amputation of a limb, a spinal injury, paralysis, obesity, fractures, or arthritis. Hydrotherapy uses the properties of water — buoyancy, viscosity, resistance, and hydrostatic pressure — to enable a dog to move without stressing the joints. Due to increased resistance of the water, a 5-minute swim is roughly equivalent to a 5-mile walk. The benefits of hydrotherapy are many, including:
- increases circulation, flexibility, endurance, range of motion, and muscle strength
- helps improve immune function
- improves coordination and balance
- helps digestion
- decreases swelling and pain
- promotes weight loss and general fitness
- increases relaxation and confidence
There are several different types of pools used for canine hydrotherapy, including underwater treadmills, whirlpools, and dog pools. The type of pool your dog will use is dependent on factors like your dog’s comfort level and reason for therapy. Dog pools are most often used for beginners and underwater treadmills are used for dogs who are accustomed to swimming or who have joint problems. Most pools have a ramp for entry and exit and some also have harnesses and hoists to help get the dog in and out of the water. Your dog may also be required to wear a life jacket as a general safety precaution. If this is the case, your dog will be first gently introduced to the jacket and then to the pool. Depending on their size, they may be either carried or lead into the water, which is usually between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit and treated with chlorine or an alternate chemical. Some hydrotherapy clinics allow you to get into the water with your dog or they will have trained hydrotherapists who do the water work.
If at any point you feel uncomfortable, don’t be shy about asking that your dog be removed from the pool. Remember that your dog’s emotional and physical well-being is the priority. You know your dog better than anyone, and if you sense that your dog is in pain or is unsafe, speak up!
Hydrotherapy is a great non weight-bearing option for post-operative dogs, but only if the surgical wounds have completely healed. It is not recommended if your dog has any infections or infectious skin diseases, open wounds, heart disease, pulmonary disease, or any compromises to the ears.
It is also important to note that there is a big difference between going to a hydrotherapy clinic with trained professionals and simply letting your dog jump in your backyard pool. Without proper supervision or stabilization in the water, your dog may be putting pressure on the wrong areas of the body and may actually cause more harm than good. Before choosing a pool or therapist, think about what benefits you hope your dog will gain from swimming. Always consult with your veterinarian first to determine if your dog is a candidate, and ask what type of pool is best for your dog’s specific needs.