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Hydrotherapy – water healing for dogs

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Hydrotherapy – water healing for dogs

Hydrotherapy or “water healing” in Greek, benefits dogs the same way it does humans.

Hydrotherapy for dogs has gained a lot of momentum in the past decade as more and more veterinarians and pet parents are following the ‘prevention is better’ principle. Also known as water cure, hydrotherapy involves the use of water for pain relief and treatment. Beneficial for both dogs and humans, this alternative method of rehabilitation can assist with physical, emotional and mental conditions.

How can hydrotherapy help your dog?

When a dog swims, the properties of water – buoyancy, viscosity and resistance – enable him to exercise his joints without the added pressure of gravity. The buoyancy of water not only reduces the stress on the joints but also creates a much safer environment for rehab. Resistance in water ranges between 4 and 42 times greater than in air – depending on the speed of movement. This makes water a natural and adjustable weight-training mechanism for dogs. Unlike most land-based exercise, water provides resistance to movement in all directions, speeding the strengthening process.

Hydrotherapy is beneficial for dogs who are recovering from an injury or surgery, dogs who suffer from degenerative diseases, and even those who have been paralyzed. Water therapy can also help dogs suffering from fractures, hip dysplasia, limb amputation and neurological disorders. Hydrotherapy may be especially beneficial for dogs who suffer from arthritis because the warm water helps reduce joint swelling and relaxes the muscles. Providing a safe environment for your dogs to lose weight quickly and effectively, water is also an amazing medium to help your dog spend excessive energy and keep his muscles conditioned. Simply put, swimming keeps your dog active, healthier and happier.

What happens during a hydrotherapy session?

Some of the available forms of hydrotherapy for dogs include underwater treadmills and dog pools. Both of these options offer a controlled environment. While some recoveries may require a more impactful therapy offered by underwater treadmills, a warm water pool is the most popular option, offering zero-impact exercise.

Depending on the layout of the pool, a dog is led into the water using either a ramp or steps. A hydrotherapist safely lowers the dog into the water with or without a life-vest and helps him understand that it is a completely safe environment. Some dogs take to water immediately, while others need more time. Dogs who love toys and have a high fetch drive tend to do amazingly well in water. Having said that, dogs all ages, sizes, breeds can benefit from the wonders of swimming in a warm water pool.

The success of hydrotherapy depends highly on how much you believe in the treatment and the skill of your hydrotherapist. Throughout the process, your dog will sense your energy and depend on you for mental, emotional and physical help.

Benefits of hydrotherapy

In addition to stimulating, rejuvenating and relaxing the body, hydrotherapy can assist with:

  • Muscular strength and endurance
  • Circulation
  • Flexibility and range of motion
  • Inflammation and pain
  • Cardio respiratory endurance
  • Balance and coordination
  • Pain and stress
  • Overall energy

Water Therapy dos and don’ts

Hydrotherapy should always be done by a trained professional. A great source of trained and experienced therapists can be found on the Association of Canine Water Therapy website.

It is important to note that there is a huge difference between going to a hydrotherapy facility with a trained professional versus taking your dog to a local lake or a river. Without proper supervision in the open water, a dog recovering from surgery may not have the muscle strength required to swim. The temperature of the water in a lake or pond is unregulated, and cold water may cause muscles to constrict rather than relax. Also, bacteria from the lake can cause an infection in a recent incision.

Hydrotherapy may be the answer to improving your dog’s quality of life. But, as with starting any new medical treatment or fitness regimen, it is best to check with your veterinarian to determine whether it’s an appropriate course of treatment for your dog. Be sure to let your hydrotherapist know about any health issues prior to his first session.

Case Studies

Dragon

Dragon, a dual grand champion Cardigan Welsh Corgi, suffered a spinal injury by slipping and falling on ice. After losing use of his hind legs overnight, his “mom” was advised by her veterinarian and chiropractor to look into hydrotherapy. She anticipated that hydrotherapy would be a complete disappointment – but she was pleasantly surprised. After only a few sessions in the indoor warm water pool for dogs at the K9 Aquafitness facility by Bitu’s Pet Services in Brampton, Dragon not only made rapid recovery but went back to the ring and once again won all his titles.

Buddy

Buddy the Dalmatian loved playing fetch with his water bottle. But at the age of 13, he suffered from terrible arthritis, and could only hold on to it in his bed. Every movement hurt, and slipping and falling had become an everyday event. When Buddy’s guardian came across an ad for an indoor warm water pool for dogs at the K9 Aquafitness facility by Bitu’s Pet Services, he decided to check it out. Buddy enjoyed swimming in his younger days and took well to hydrotherapy. To his “dad’s” pleasant surprise, his senior companion – who wasn’t even able to walk properly – was once again able to enjoy his game of fetch in water. In the pool he became weightless, and there was no impact on his compromised joints. Hydrotherapy helped Buddy lose weight, walk with more ease, and manage his pain until the time Buddy happily crossed over the rainbow bridge.

Chetal Vichare is the founder of K9 Aquafitness by Bitu’s Pet Services in Brampton, Ontario. This is one of the first indoor warm water pool facilities for dogs in the Greater Toronto Area. They offer therapeutic, rehab, conditioning, recreational, weight-loss, geriatric and beginner swims to dogs all breeds, ages and sizes. Chetal and her husband Indy are both Canine Hydrotherapists and Pet Stylists, and run a state of the art spa for dogs. An avid advocate of “prevention is better than cure”, Chetal helps educate pet parents on the importance of exercise, hygiene and diet to ensure the health and well being of the canine community. Her motto…active, healthy pets = happy pets. You can contact her at http://www.bituspetservices.com/.  

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