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Hydrotherapy for Dogs: A Growing Trend in Canine Physical Therapy

Humans have known for millennia that water has healing properties for their injuries and joints. Hydrotherapy has only recently been made available to dogs. Hydrotherapy is a pet health craze or a real benefit.

Hydrotherapy can also be described as water therapy. This refers to any therapeutic water use to enhance or heal health. Hydrotherapy is a combination of exercises like swimming, water aerobics, and more sedentary ones such as whirlpools, saunas, and mineral bathtubs. A canine underwater treadmill provides both buoyancy (and resistance) which allows you to exercise in water. It also helps build strength and endurance, without putting strain on your joints. Warm water can dilate blood vessels and relax muscles, which can help ease aches and pains.

Although humans have used water therapy for their health and exercise since before the Roman Empire was founded, hydrotherapy has been developed for dogs by the horse-racing business. It was quickly adapted to greyhounds working in the racing industry, revealing the healing and conditioning effects of having racehorses run in water. Shortly after, underwater treadmills for dogs were developed and the practice soon expanded to include dogs.

Hydrotherapy for dogs usually involves walking or swimming in water. “Exercising with your dog in water is a fun activity, much like the things that many people would do with their pet at the beach or pool,” Dr. Tari Kn, DVM, a Pawsitive Steps Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine veterinarian, states. Hydrotherapy can also be used to relieve arthritis in pets and improve function following injury or surgery. It can even be used to condition animal athletes.
Hydrotherapy to Dogs

Hydrotherapy can be used by dogs to treat a variety of injuries and other health conditions. Dr. Kern said that hydrotherapy exercise has low impact and can be used on patients of all ages.

Water therapy can also prove beneficial in the treatment of:

Neurological issues
ACL injuries
Other orthopedic injuries and conditions
Recovery after surgery
Weight loss
Metabolic diseases like diabetes and Cushing’s that can cause muscle atrophy

Hydrotherapy type will depend on the condition being treated and on the health of the dog.

Swimming provides cardiovascular exercise and core muscle strengthening, which can increase your overall calories burned. Swimming as an exercise is not something that can be modified easily. Dr. Kern says that it is difficult to use swimming as a rehabilitation tool on a large scale.

The underwater treadmill provides a more flexible and ‘on-demand” way to control an exercise program. It also allows for modifications to be made easier. To provide different experiences for pets, the treadmill’s speed and depth can be adjusted quickly. This allows you to tailor the hydrotherapy experience to your pet’s specific needs and limitations.

Dr. Kern warns, however, that hydrotherapy has many benefits and is not a panacea. Although hydrotherapy can be a powerful tool, it is only one treatment method. Water-based exercise can be used to increase muscle mass, improve cardiovascular output, and enhance stamina. It can’t target specific muscles to strengthen them or reduce pain. The best rehabilitation program should be customized for each pet, and include all the modalities that will best address the issues.

Hydrotherapy for Preventing Injuries and Physical Conditioning

Hydrotherapy is an excellent way to increase the stamina and endurance of sporting dogs or other highly active breeds. Dr. Kern states that athletes can see positive results in a short time if hydrotherapy is integrated into their conditioning programs. Hydrotherapy can also be more effective than similar exercises on land. Trotting 2 miles on an underwater treadmill while the water is at elbow height would be roughly the same exercise as running 4 to 6 miles on land, but with less strain on the joints.