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Hydrotherapy in Cats

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Does a warm soak and relaxing massage sound good to you? How about a cooling spray and vigorous rub? These same techniques of combining water and massage are the basis for hydrotherapy. It is a common and effective practice for reducing pain, inflammation, and increasing range of motion. Hydrotherapy is simple and easy to perform, and best of all requires no fancy equipment or drugs. It's a good hands-on quality therapy that you can do at home under your veterinarian's instructions. The only problem may be getting your cat used to water. For those cats that seem to be terrified of running water, hydrotherapy should not be used.

Why Use Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy can be prescribed for a variety of conditions, both acute and chronic. Most often, it is used on a leg, paw or joint to reduce pain and swelling and to increase circulation. This therapy is often used when your cat sustains an injury that causes swelling, such as from a bee sting, spider bite or snakebite. Swelling can also result from a constrictive injury, such as getting wrapped in a leash or chain, when blood flow is cut off to a limb or paw.

Your veterinarian will start by treating the injury with medication to reduce the inflammation, and antibiotics if there are signs of infection. Pain relief may also be necessary. Once the injury has been evaluated, your vet may ask you to do hydrotherapy several times a day to speed healing. This is accomplished by running a gentle stream of water over the affected area. Your veterinarian will tell you whether to use cool or warm water based on the nature of the injury. Soaking the area in a bucket will also work if your pet objects to the spray of water. Then you rub the limb or paw applying gentle pressure toward the trunk of the body. The goal is to move the accumulated fluid up and out of the affected area. Your cat may initially object if he is in a lot of pain. Move slowly and take it a step at a time. Sometimes the soak is all your cat may tolerate, or he may be okay with the massage and not the water. If your pet objects to the entire procedure, talk to your vet about modifications or alternatives.

If running water is too frightening, try a warm or cool compress instead. Take a small dishtowel and run it under comfortably warm or cool water. Slip it inside a plastic bag and apply it as a compress. This works well for those pets that object to being wet. Then proceed with the massage.

Chronic Conditions

For pets with degenerative joint disease, arthritis, or have persistent pain after an injury like a dislocation or fracture, hydrotherapy can be used as a part of your pet's overall health plan. You may find that regular use can make your pet more comfortable and increase range of motion. Try putting your cat in the sink and use the spray attachment to direct a stream of water to the affected area. Massage as directed.

Even though hydrotherapy is a simple technique, it can be amazingly effective for speeding healing and returning your cat to feeling great. And once your cat feels better, treat yourself to a relaxing spa and enjoy the benefits.

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