Hydrotherapy Rehabilitation for Dogs

Hydrotherapy is the use of movement and exercise in water, and this is very different to exercise on land and allows for much earlier intervention with patients being able to begin moving within days of injury or surgery when exercise on land is restricted. It is the special properties of water that make this possible.

Hydrotherapy Rehabilitation for Dogs

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy reduces loading or weight bearing on painful and healing structures which means exercise can begin earlier than it can on land, and this can not only speed up but improve the outcomes following injury or surgery. The water provides additional support to limbs reducing the risk of injury to muscles, ligaments, and tendons; and because of the support the water provides it allows exercise to continue while land-based exercise is restricted, when an animal is on cage rest for example. It makes the performance of movement easier through the force of buoyancy. Water provides more resistance than air so is good for strengthening muscles, ligaments, and tendons, we have all felt that resistance when we have paddled in the sea.

Hydrotherapy Rehabilitation for Dogs

The benefits of hydrotherapy include:

  • Prevents muscle atrophy (muscle loss)
  • Increases muscle mass and strength.
  • Increases cardiovascular fitness and endurance.
  • Increases joint range of motion, and reduces stiffness.
  • Increases soft tissue extensibility.
  • Reduces muscle spasms and hypertonicity.
  • Increases tone in hypotonic body areas.
  • Allows gradual progression and return to more normal function.
  • Assists in the management of oedema through hydrostatic pressure.
  • Provides relaxation and mental stimulation to dogs on enforced rest/reduction to normal exercise.
  • Reduces pain in joints with degenerative joint disease.
  • Increases circulation which assists in the promotion of healing.

Hydrotherapy Rehabilitation for Dogs

Buoyancy will change with the type of dog but also if you have a dog that is an amputee or with a spinal injury which changes the muscle tone on one side of the body. We might need to use increased buoyancy aids on one side to enable the dog to remain symmetrical in the water.

Hydrostatic pressure will help reduce the pooling of blood in the extremities and reduce swelling. It can also reduce lung volumes so care has to be taken with a dog with any respiratory problems.

Viscosity affects dogs with a poor swimming technique and limbs thrashing around causes more resistance which increases the difficulty and effort needed to move through the water.

It also means that dogs with poor balance may be able to stand in water before they can stand on land as they have more time to correct their balance before falling.

Surface tension means that weaker dogs may be able to move a limb under the water but have difficulty lifting it out of the water and we can use this with platform work in the pool asking a dog to lift one leg at a time.