The benefits of swimming are far reaching and this is becoming an increasingly popular form of exercise for dogs. Not only for the specific treatment of disease but also for general recreational fitness. This article gives you all the information you need about this fantastic activity.
As well as being incredibly fun, swimming has positive effects on:
- Range of motion and flexibility
- Cardiovascular fitness
- Core stability and strength
- Recovery from injury or operation
Swimming as a recreational activity is an excellent way of developing and maintaining fitness. It has positive effects on strength, stamina and the cardiovascular system. Swimming in dogs and horses uses all the major muscle groups which would be used in normal locomotion on land. However, the impact on the skeletal system (bones and joints) is greatly reduced compared to land based exercise.
The joints are not subjected to high impact stresses which can be particularly harmful in disease states such as arthritis. Swimming is a great way of building strength as muscles also have to work harder since the water provides more resistance to movement.
Swimming can be incorporated into a progressive fitness plan since the intensity of the exercise can be raised as proficiency increases. Exercising at a higher intensity uses more energy. This makes swimming an excellent component of a weight management programme.
The low impact nature of the exercise may also be more suitable than traditional land based activities for some overweight animals. There may also be a reduced risk of injury since natural buoyancy in the water acts as a support for the body. This also allows a greater range of motion for the joints since the water acts as support for the limbs.
Despite the positive effects on muscular strength, swimming has little effect on bone strength. This requires weight bearing exercise which causes impact on the bones and subsequent remodelling. This remodelling process results in bone strengthening. More traditional land based exercise such as walking and running will increase bone strength.
If swimming is to be used as a way of increasing fitness then other weight bearing exercise should also be used to increase bone strength.
Recovery from Injury or Disease
When a limb is immobilised through injury, disease or surgery, muscle wastage starts to occur after only a few days. Some conditions result in the limb being immobile for a considerable time. Recovery depends on how soon proper function returns to the affected limb. This can take a considerable amount of time if muscles have severely deteriorated.
Swimming offers a gentle way to rebuild muscles around affected limbs. As the muscle rebuilds, it provides strength and support to the injured or weakened area and provides a way to regain proper limb function in a much shorter time.
The buoyancy and support of water reduces the risk of falls, twists and high impact damage. See our article on hydrotherapy for more information.
Always seek your vet’s advice
Despite the relative safety of swimming you should always consult your veterinary surgeon. This is especially important if your animal is old, unfit or if they are recovering from injury or disease. Swimming is usually suitable for post-operative recovery of most conditions. However you must speak to your vet to establish when you can start this therapy.
Care with outdoor swimming!
Supervised swimming in hydrotherapy pools is usually very safe. Extreme care must be taken when swimming your animal outside. Among some of the dangers are;
- Danger from boats and other vessels
- Tides when sea swimming
- Weeds and other vegetation
- Danger from wild animals
- Algae poisoning
Always assess the safety of an area before you allow your animal to swim. As your animals confidence in the water increases they will be more eager to explore an area of water. However they may be unaware of the dangers of the surrounding area…… don’t rely on their instinct!