Water’s healing qualities for wounds and sore joints have been well-known to humans for millennia. However, hydrotherapy has only recently become popular with dogs. Is this just another pet health fad, or is it actually effective?
Hydrotherapy is a type of treatment that uses water.
Water treatment or hydrotherapy is a term that refers to the use of water as a means of aiding or improving health. Water exercises like swimming and water aerobics are included in hydrotherapy for humans, as are relaxation methods like saunas, whirlpools, and mineral baths. Strength and endurance may be built without putting stress on joints when working out in water, thanks to the buoyancy and resistance provided by the water. Hot water baths can also relax muscles and joints, reducing pain and speeding up the healing process.
Therapy for Dogs in the Water
Unlike humans, who have been using water treatment in their health and fitness regimens since the time of the Roman Empire, dogs have just recently begun using it, thanks to the horse racing industry. Racing greyhounds soon adopted the practice of having racehorses walk in water as a means of mending and conditioning. Dog owners immediately began using underwater treadmills for their pets, which swiftly spread to all dogs.
Whether in shallow beach water or on an underwater treadmill, dogs typically swim or stroll as part of their hydrotherapy regimen. It’s not uncommon for pet owners to take their dogs swimming or to the beach as a form of exercise, according to Pawsitive Steps Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine’s certified canine rehabilitation practitioner, Dr. Tari Kern, DVM. It can also be utilized as part of a specialized, structured program to ease arthritis symptoms in dogs, improve function following injury or surgical treatments, and even to optimize conditioning of animal athletes.”
Hydrotherapy for Canine Therapy
Canine hydrotherapy has been shown to be effective in treating a wide variety of injuries and illnesses. Water therapy can be used to treat patients of any age, including those with arthritis or muscle loss due to the low-impact nature of the activity, according to Dr. Kern.
Other conditions that can benefit from water therapy include:
- Problems with the brain
- Injuries to the ACL
- Other musculoskeletal disorders or injuries
- Recovery and healing after surgery
- Loss of weight
Muscle atrophy can be caused by metabolic disorders such as Cushing’s disease and diabetes.
A dog’s health and the problem being treated determine the recommended type of hydrotherapy.
When it comes to burning calories, swimming is a great option because it engages the heart, lungs, and core. Swimming, as a kind of exercise, is, on the other hand, incredibly difficult to adapt. As a result, Dr. Kern says that using swimming for rehabilitation on a large scale is difficult.
“The underwater treadmill provides improved ‘on-demand’ control of a fitness program and enables for more precise changes. You can rapidly alter the water’s depth and the treadmill’s speed to provide your pet a variety of activities to choose from. Allows hydrotherapy’s general purpose and each pet’s individual needs to be more precisely adjusted to the effects of exercise.”
Dr. Kern, however, cautions that hydrotherapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many ways to cure a condition, and hydrotherapy is just one of them. Strength training in the water can help you grow muscle, increase your heart rate and endurance, and reduce your risk of injury. However, it is unable to strengthen or alleviate local inflammation or pain in specific individual muscles. Any effective therapy should be customized for each pet and use a variety of approaches in order to address all of the issues that need to be addressed.
Swimming as a Means of Physical Conditioning and Injury Prevention
Sporting dogs and other highly active breeds can benefit greatly from recreational hydrotherapy, which can help develop muscles and stamina, as well as prevent muscle strain and injury, through physical training exercises. According to Dr. Kern, including hydrotherapy into athletic conditioning regimens can lead to “positive benefits” in a shorter period of time than similar land-based workouts. With the water level at elbow height, a 2-mile trot in an underwater treadmill would provide the same amount of exercise as a 4- to 5-mile terrestrial run, but with less impact on the joints.
Only a small portion of an overall training plan should include hydrotherapy. Dr. Kern cautions that athletes should not rely solely on hydrotherapy as a form of exercise when preparing for competition. To help variety and test the muscles, it should be added to the athlete’s regular workout regimen, like cross-training. The level of the program can be considerably increased by working with a rehabilitation and sports medicine veterinarian and their team, rather than trying to go it alone.”
Hydrotherapy for your dog can be done at home.
In some cases, hydrotherapy does not necessitate a clinical setting. The use of water for exercise and conditioning can be done in a swimming pool at home or in a bigger body of water. In a pinch, a kiddie pool in the backyard will suffice for tiny breeds. Even if your dog has a natural affinity for the water, it’s crucial to keep an eye on him at all times. When taking pets swimming, Dr. Kern advises that they wear a properly fitted float or buoyancy jacket in case they feel tired or need assistance.
“Toys that float and regulated fetch activities can be utilized to liven things up a bit if the pet is otherwise healthy and swimming for basic exercise and fun.”
It’s also crucial not to compel dogs that don’t appreciate swimming or water sports to participate in these activities. “It could cause harm to either the animal or the human.” According to Dr. Kern, if your veterinarian thinks swimming might be beneficial for your pet but they are afraid of the water, it is better to seek professional advice to help them learn,” he says. “It is not recommended that pets with medical issues undergo hydrotherapy at home. The veterinary rehabilitation team should use an underwater treadmill in a professional setting for these pets so that the workouts and the water’s height can be adjusted to the pet’s ability.”
To ensure that your dog’s physical conditioning and training plan includes water activities, you should first consult your veterinarian, since not all dogs are suited for this type of activity. According to Dr. Kern’s advice, “if indicators of stress are seen, the activity should be immediately halted.” Blood pressure and heart rate can rise in pets who are anxious or stressed out. Others may panic and writhe around in the water, resulting in back pain. Hydrotherapy is intended to be a gentle kind of exercise, and anything found to be in conflict with that purpose must be immediately halted.
Taking Your Dog to a Hydrotherapy Center
Hydrotherapy clinics are springing up all over the country, and more veterinarians are outfitting their practices with aquatic therapy equipment as a result of the science behind it. Consult your veterinarian about the choices available in your area—look for experienced and qualified rehabilitation specialists if you think your pooch could benefit from hydrotherapy therapy. Before reserving a time for your dog, stop by the facilities and meet the staff and inspect the amenities.
The price of an initial consultation can range from $35 to $45; a swim therapy session can cost between $20 and $30; and an underwater treadmill session can cost between $35 and $50.