Article contribution by the Kinetic Rehab Animal Spa
“Hydrotherapy” means “water healing” in Greek, and your fur kids can benefit in the same way humans do. Hydrotherapy uses the properties of water — buoyancy, viscosity, resistance, and hydrostatic pressure — to enable a dog (or human) to move his or her joints. Water makes the body buoyant, so when submerged, the weight of the body is supported. This means the your fur kid is not fighting gravity. The buoyancy of water reduces stress on the joints and this creates a much safer environment for recovery after surgery.
In simple terms, if your fur kid is in pain, the chance of him or her wanting to get proper exercise is minimal. Paradoxically, the less he or she exercises, the more likely it is that the pain will not be resolved. However, if you allow the animal to exercise under the zero gravity conditions provided by a pool, the work-out can be carried out pain-free. And as the muscles are strengthened, the pain goes away.
Non-weight bearing exercise can loosen tight muscles, reduce swelling, build confidence, and allow your fur kids to relax. In addition, swimming will improve circulation, build endurance, improve flexibility, range of motion, balance, and coordination. Finally, exercising in water forces your dog’s muscles to work against the force of the water which can quickly build muscle mass and strength.
We can therefore conclude that hydrotherapy is also beneficial for fur kids who are recovering from an injury, who suffer from degenerative joint disease, and those who have been paralysed. Water therapy can also help dogs suffering from fractures, hip dysplasia, the amputation of a limb, and neurological disorders. Hydrotherapy may be especially beneficial for fur kids suffering from arthritis due to old age; the warm water helps reduce joint swelling, another benefit.
What types of hydrotherapy can dogs do?
Some of the available forms of hydrotherapy for dogs include whirlpools, underwater treadmills, and dog pools. All three options offer a controlled environment. Underwater treadmills are often used for fur kids with joint problems. Picture a treadmill encased in a glass or plastic enclosed chamber. The dog enters the chamber, the door is shut and the water is filled to the level appropriate for the dog and the condition. The dog begins to walk on the treadmill and the water creates the resistance needed to strengthen the muscles in a low-impact environment. This can create improved circulation, increased joint flexibility, and decreased joint pain. Muscle strength and endurance, cardio respiratory endurance, increased flexibility, range of motion, and agility are additional benefits.
Benefits of hydrotherapy
Simultaneously, water therapy stimulates, strengthens and relaxes the body. Water therapy may also improve balance, coordination, and increase overall energy levels, all while reducing pain and stress.
Other benefits of water therapy include:
- Water increases circulation, ideal for skin and coat.
- Water can increase lymph drainage, rid the body of toxins, and improve the immune system.
- Water can encourage better digestion and can promote balance and coordination.
- Hydrotherapy can also help dogs who need to shed a few pounds. A great form of low-impact exercise, regular walks on the underwater treadmill or swimming in a pool can help promote weight loss and general fitness in dogs.
According to Jonathan Rudinger, founder and president of the Association of Canine Water Therapy in the United States, and founder / lead instructor of PetMassage, there may be some situations when hydrotherapy may cause more harm than good. “If the dog has any compromises to the ears, they are not candidates for water sessions. The water could exacerbate any imbalanced condition within the ear,” he says. There are other conditions and situations where hydrotherapy could be harmful, so it is important to consult a professional to ensure your fur kid is a candidate for hydrotherapy before taking the plunge.
Don’t try hydrotherapy without a professional!
It is important to note that there is a huge difference in going to a hydrotherapy clinic with a trained medical professional versus taking your dog to the local dog park with a lake or a river, letting him jump in alone and calling that water therapy. The South African Animal Physical Rehab Association can be found here (Website).
Without proper supervision in the open water, a dog recovering from surgery may not have the muscle strength needed to swim. The temperature of the water in a lake or pond is unregulated. Also, bacteria from the lake may cause an infection in a recent incision. Finally, if your dog is not properly stabilized in the water he may be putting pressure on the area in recovery and creates the risk of doing more harm than good.
As with starting any new medical treatment or fitness regimen, it is always best to check with your own veterinarian. As with any condition, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health.