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What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy means “the treatment of conditions using the therapeutic qualities of water.” The benefit of water for medical treatment in humans is probably as old as mankind. The benefit of hydrotherapy for many medical and surgical disorders is well documented.

Hydrotherapy is a carefully controlled, closely monitored course of swimming sessions for pets in a heated (27-30 degrees) clean, purpose built pool. Underwater jet systems can be used to increase or reduce the resistance against which the pet swims, and depending on the particular technique being employed hoists can be utilised. All pets are equipped with a buoyancy aid or a special safety harness.

Studies have demonstrated that hydrotherapy can provide significant and lasting benefits to patients with a wide range of conditions such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, cruciate and spinal injuries, fractures, neurological damage and general mobility and co ordination.

Hydrotherapy increases the chance of a more rapid and complete post surgical recovery by reducing and relieving pain, swelling and stiffness. Owners report that their pets have increased mobility, limb function and their overall demeanour improves rapidly following treatment.

As well as being used for rehabilitation, hydrotherapy can also be of real benefit to dogs therapeutically. It is an excellent form of exercise to improve general fitness and wellbeing for all dogs and is also used for agility, working and racing dogs.

As hydrotherapy also burns a lot of calories in a short space of time it is an excellent way of ensuring your dog doesn’t get overweight or as part of a weight loss plan in conjunction with a veterinary recommended diet.

Finally, hydrotherapy is immense fun and there are many examples of dogs that have regular sessions purely as another form of activity, play and stimulation.

How Hydrotherapy Works

Improves the Function of Joints and Muscles

The buoyancy of water reduces the load on weight bearing joints. Therefore swimming allows patients to use joints and muscles more easily, and with minimal pain if tissue damage is present. This encourages the patient to start using the affected joints and muscles in a greater range of movement.

Hydrotherapy will improve muscle tone and promote tissue repair without imposing too much stress on damaged tissues. During exercise on land, every time a paw hits the ground a shock wave is created, which travels up through the limb and gets absorbed by bones, tendons and joints. In normal healthy animals these stresses help stimulate the maintenance of normal bone density and structure. However, if the animal has osteoarthritis, or is recovering from trauma or surgery in a limb, these stresses can be damaging. Swimming allows muscles to be worked and strengthened whilst avoiding these stresses.

Promotion of Healing and Repair

Exercising in warm water promotes blood flow to the muscles thereby improving oxygen supply, reducing any swelling and enhancing healing; warm water helps relax muscles and reduce stiffness.

Muscle Strengthening

Water provides an increase in resistance to limb movement so the muscles actually have to work harder than they do on land, so it’s a very efficient way to exercise. Swimming utilises most major muscle groups and will effectively reverse muscle wasting and helps restore muscle bulk and strength as well as reducing stiffness and pain.

Cardiovascular Fitness

Hydrotherapy is physically challenging, the heart has to work harder to meet the increased demands for oxygen and nutrients by the muscles. As the muscles are exercised they strengthen and improve their function.

We will require a confirmation of ‘good health’ from your vet prior to booking your vet in for a swim (see client registration for further details). We also have the unique benefit of a vet on site should additional advice or treatment be required.

Specific Indications for Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy can help with the following conditions (please discuss with your Veterinary Surgeon, as the needs of individual cases can vary):

  • Pre and post-op conditioning - to improve muscle mass, reverse muscle wasting, improve mobility and promote a rapid return to full function. After surgery patients can swim as soon as stitches are removed and the wound has healed.
  • Osteoarthritis – beneficial in helping to reduce joint stiffness, improve muscle mass and tone (which will then help support the joints), increase range of joint movement, improve mobility, and help relieve joint pain. Improves general well being.
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia – hydrotherapy provides a safe and controlled form of regular exercise, particularly useful in young dogs restricted to lead exercise
  • Spinal injuries and neurological damage
  • Rehabilitation - after ligament injuries (e.g. cruciate ligament rupture), joint problems, fractures and soft tissue injuries, patellar luxation
  • Relief of pain, swelling, stiffness, and relaxation of muscle spasms
  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Overall fitness and co-ordination - Of benefit to all dogs as well as useful for owners who have difficulty exercising their dogs in the usual ways. Also used to enhance fitness of working and racing dogs
  • Weight loss - in conjunction with dietary management
  • General recreation and greater mental well-being
  • Exercising puppies - particularly for young giant breed dogs. Hydrotherapy offers an excellent way to thoroughly exercise rapidly growing dogs, whilst minimising stresses on the joints and bones

Please visit www.canine-hydrotherapy.org for further details