What is Canine Hydrotherapy?

B. Koch

Canine hydrotherapy is a type of physical therapy for dogs that involves swimming or aquatic exercises, such as running on an underwater treadmill. It is particularly useful for situations when a dog needs to regain strength but when pain or further injury might result from traditional exercises. Although beneficial for many dogs, this therapy is not recommended for dogs with certain conditions.

Canine hydrotherapy can be used before or after surgery to help strengthen muscles.
Canine hydrotherapy can be used before or after surgery to help strengthen muscles.

Hydrotherapy has existed for hundreds of years. First recognized for its usefulness with humans, it became an organized, recognized therapy in the 1800s. Hydrotherapy was soon recognized to be a useful therapy for horses, especially when using cool salt water. The therapy was next extended to greyhounds involved in racing, and today, it is a recognized therapy for all dogs.

Hydrotherapy can help a dog recover following surgery.
Hydrotherapy can help a dog recover following surgery.

This therapy may be useful for dogs suffering from a number of conditions. It is excellent for dogs with arthritis or hip dysplasia, conditions where other exercises may cause pain or inflammation. Canine hydrotherapy may also be used before surgery to prepare and strengthen muscles or after surgery, to help repair muscles. Many believe that canine hydrotherapy can help dogs suffering from degenerative conditions as well because it can help maintain muscle tone.

Many veterinarians recommend hydrotherapy because it exercises all the muscles a dog typically uses but in a physically stress free environment. While exercise on land may cause strain on the joints due to the natural weight of the dog, hydrotherapy exercises are very low impact and can be performed without aggravating existing pain and injuries, allowing for muscles to gain strength more quickly and efficiently.

Canine hydrotherapy usually takes place in an indoor pool that is especially made for dogs undergoing this type of treatment. The pools contain jets that increase the resistance of the water, helping the dog to build muscle strength, and are often heated because the warm temperature helps the dog’s muscles work optimally. It is not uncommon for a hydrotherapist to enter the pool with the dog to make sure he or she is relaxed and comfortable. Dogs that have trouble swimming may wear a life jacket or a harness.

Although canine hydrotherapy can benefit many dogs, it is not the best activity for all dogs. Canines with heart or respiratory problems should not be given hydrotherapy, since it involves strenuous exercise that can put stress on the heart. Any dog with an open wound should also abstain from hydrotherapy, as the pool water may aggravate the wound further.

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