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Hydrotherapy in Dogs

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 in your dog. 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.

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 dog 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 dog 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 dog 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 small dog in the sink (larger dog in the bathtub) and use the spray attachment to direct a stream of water to the affected area. Massage as directed.

Canine Rehabilitation

If you have a canine rehabilitation center in your area, hydrotherapy can include state-of- the-art. whirlpool baths and full size swimming pools to help your dog move through a full range of motion without weight bearing. For those pets that have become reluctant to move as they age, a swim in the pool can be a great way to get some exercise without stressing joints. For dogs recovering from injury, this form of exercise not only helps to rehabilitate the affected area but also keeps the rest of the muscles from becoming weak. A whirlpool bath can direct a vigorous stream of water on a swollen or painful area.

Veterinarians and technicians can instruct owners how to perform these exercises at home if you have access to a pool, but never put your pet in a pool of water until you have seen the technique demonstrated and feel capable of assisting your dog. Owners are often encouraged to bring their suits and get right in the water with their pets so they can learn to support their dog while in the water and help him exercise. It's really fun to see an owner lifting and supporting their 100-pound Rottweiler like they were light as a feather!

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

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