4 Reasons Your Dog Might Need Hydrotherapy

Most people think that hydrotherapy is for dogs that are injured, or have had some sort of surgery. However, that's not always the case, so I am going to share with you the four main categories that the dogs I see fit into.

Post-surgical rehabilitation

This is still one of the most common reasons. Hydrotherapy is excellent for helping to rehabilitate dogs that have been through surgery. There is an element of pain relief, but also gait re-education and building muscle more effectively than with land-based physio alone. Examples of surgery that dogs may have been through include hip replacements, cruciate ligament repair and spinal surgery.

Black and white collie cross spaniel wearing a blue harness.  He is standing in an underwater treadmill, with the water half way up his legs.
Benjie waiting for his session to start

Case study - Benjie

Benjie underwent surgery following a rupture to the cruciate ligament in his right leg. He had been through a rest period following the surgery, as well as some initial land-based physiotherapy. He started hydrotherapy about fourteen weeks after the surgery, at which point he was having lead walks only and still occasionally lame. His back leg muscles were imbalanced. By the time he had completed ten sessions of hydrotherapy, his back leg muscles had evened out and he was tolerating off lead exercise with no issues. By using hydrotherapy to enhance his rehabilitation, the risk of his other cruciate ligament rupturing is also reduced.

Injury Rehabilitation/Conservative Management

Where a dog has an injury, surgery isn't always an option. However, the dog may need some additional rehabilitation to support their recovery. Soft tissue injuries are just one example. Conservative management is where physiotherapy and hydrotherapy are used to try and avoid surgery. This can be suitable for a variety of conditions including hip dysplasia, luxating patellas and cruciate injuries.

Case study - Betty

Small, fluffy, white dog standing just to the side of a grey mat.  She is looking up at the camera.
Betty is a westie x poodle

When Betty was about nine months old, she had x-rays that showed that she had a poorly formed right hip. Given her age, and that she is a small dog, her vet felt that an initial approach of conservative management should be tried in the first instance. The aim of the conservative management is to strengthen the muscles around the hip joint, so that they are supporting the limb. Betty has been coming for hydrotherapy for two years now, and is rarely lame - in fact, the only period of lameness that she had is when we had to stop hydrotherapy due to lockdown restrictions. This just went to prove the benefit that she was getting from the hydrotherapy.

Fitness, Conditioning and Weight Loss

This is probably one of the most under-utilised benefits of hydrotherapy. It's an excellent way of improving a dog's fitness, stamina and general condition. The warmth of the water opens up the blood vessels, allowing the blood to flow more effectively to the muscles. This lasts for around 72 hours after the session, meaning that any exercise that the dog is doing in the three days after a hydrotherapy session is also more effective. A dog that attends hydrotherapy at least once a week is likely to be stronger than one that doesn't, all other factors being equal in terms of their level of exercise, etc.

Hydrotherapy is also a great option for dogs that need to lose weight - their exercise tolerance can be increased without putting strain on their joints. Also within this category would be dogs that need to learn some water confidence - especially important living in an area surrounded by water!

Case study - Bert

Bertie is a young Golden Retriever. He is a show dog, and his owner felt that his movement wasn't as good as it could be. She decided to try hydrotherapy to strengthen him, and improve his gait. As he was under a year old, she felt that this was a safe way to give him more exercise without impacting his still-growing joints. After just a few sessions she could see a difference in the way he moved, and he has gone on to do very well in the show ring.

Old Dogs

Probably my favourite category, but sometimes also the hardest. In broad terms, the major issue that older dogs have is arthritis - around 80% of our canine companions will suffer from this debilitating disease. Hydrotherapy can help these dogs in so many ways - it gives them a chance to move their bodies without bearing as much weight, as well as the warm water providing a pain relieving effect. As we all know, if we stop exercising and moving our bodies, it can be very hard to get going again so it's important to keep our older dogs doing little and often.

Case study - Herman

A large German shepherd cross collie wearing a red life vest.  He is in an underwater treadmill with the water very high, so he is almost floating.
Herman is VERY relaxed during his session!

Herman is nearly sixteen years old. He has a variety of issues, and is generally quite sore. He still enjoys going for short walks, and is a big fan of his food! He comes for hydrotherapy twice a week. Initially, he was walking in the treadmill for a few short repetitions. However, as his condition deteriorated he was finding that harder so now he just comes for a float. He is VERY relaxed in the water, nearly dozing off at times! Being in water is only the way that all the weight is removed from his painful joints.

So as you can see - there are a number of reasons why hydrotherapy may be beneficial for your dog. If you're still not sure, then please do get in touch to discuss. There are a few conditions that aren't suitable, but I will always let you know if that's the case. I do need vet consent for all dogs.

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