Dogs of all ages with various mobility issues can benefit from veterinary physical rehabilitation. Through different exercises, treatments, and massage, rehabilitation improves dogs’ flexibility, range of motion, muscle strength, balance, and endurance.
Many dogs, like a dog with IVDD or disc disease, benefit from a specific type of treatment known as hydrotherapy, which is more effective than a massage in many cases. They may regain some function after surgery by using an underwater treadmill.
The use of canine hydrotherapy isn’t new, but until recently wasn’t a treatment many vets recommended, since the facilities weren’t widespread and easily accessible. Now that more centers are open and hydrotherapists available, this type of rehabilitation is being used in vet science across the U.S.
What Is Hydrotherapy?
Canine patients with mobility issues may greatly benefit from walking in water or on an underwater treadmill. The buoyancy of the water, combined with ambulation, results in support while walking. It also minimizes weight-bearing joint stress and helps prevent tissue injuries and inflammation.
This treatment is typically done in warm water, and sometimes, with the help of an assistant. Some dogs need support with vests, slings, and harnesses.
Two Types of Hydrotherapy or Aquatic Swimming
Many dogs with mobility issues need this therapy. There are two different types, and your therapist will determine what’s appropriate during the initial consult. It may be a combination of the pool and underwater treadmill.
So many dogs love to swim… but many dogs don’t enjoy it at all. Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t love the water. The rehabilitation technician will start slow with your pup, and their therapist will create exercises fit for their level of tolerance.
The buoyancy of the water and the constant motion on a treadmill allow exercise with less stress on the joints, which is why so many dogs with arthritis benefit from the treatment. The warmth of the water helps increase circulation, relax muscles, and allows for greater flexibility and range of motion.
How Does Hydrotherapy for Dogs Work?
- The dog’s height is measured, and the therapist determines the water level based on the injury or health condition.
- Dogs react to the treadmill’s movement just like humans do, so the therapist starts slowly and at whatever pace is needed in the beginning.
- Sometimes, your dog must go once a week or even twice a week. For example, a dog recovering from IVDD or disc disease will likely need to go twice a week, and this modality may be in addition to acupuncture appointments.
Why Is This a Treatment Option?
Hydrotherapy is part of a vet-recommended treatment plan for a long list of health issues and medical conditions. If your vet recommends this modality, it’s likely your dog suffers from a neurological issue or is recovering from surgery.
Here’s a list of common reasons dogs need hydrotherapy:
- Recovery from orthopedic procedures
- Neurological issues like IVDD
- Cushing’s disease, which results in muscle atrophy
- Fitness (these exercises are common for working and overweight dogs)
- Seniors need to keep moving to stay flexible
Top Benefits of Underwater Therapy
When you watch your dog, you’ll see almost immediately how much easier it is for your dog to walk in the water, even if your dog hates water when you visit the lake!
- Dogs are more comfortable moving their limbs underwater
- Strengthens the body without overstressing the joints
- Helps prevent injuries
- Allows old dogs to live longer and have better coordination like walking upstairs or on ramps
- Assists with post-op rehabilitation
What About Overweight Dogs?
If your vet tells you that your best friend needs to lose weight, consider these three points when you start swimming with your dog:
- Excess fat creates more inflammation in the joints, which is why swimming is great for their health.
- Your vet may recommend diet, other forms of exercise, and nutritional supplements in addition to swimming.
- Treats may be necessary at first when you train your dog to get in the pool, but make sure to feed less at mealtime if you’re using food as a motivator!
If you don’t have access to a pool, look for hydrotherapy facilities with times where swimming without a therapist is allowed. Some pools even have a few hours towards the end of the day that allows dogs to swim with life jackets and experienced pet owners.
Can You Do This at Home?
Swimming and walking in water can also be done in a swimming pool at home. When you start with your dog in the pool, always have a life vest or float coat available. If your dog has a heart condition or hasn’t seen the vet in six months, don’t start swim therapy until your vet gives you a thumbs up.
What Does Hydrotherapy for Dogs Cost?
The approximate cost for hydrotherapy sessions ranges from $35 to $45 for an initial consultation and between $20 to $30 for a swim therapy session. For underwater treadmill therapy, you may be paying a little more for some sessions with a therapist or as high as $50 a session. Fortunately, many pet insurance plans cover rehabilitation or integrative medicine options.
The American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians is a wonderful resource when looking for hydrotherapy therapists.
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