Hydrotherapy for Dogs

Hydrotherapy means using water to treat disease.  In terms of animal treatment the most common form of hydrotherapy is swimming.

Swimming has long being recognised as a form of therapy in human medicine as part of rehabilitation from injury or surgery.  The use of swimming or hydrotherapy is now becoming increasingly used as a complementary treatment in animal medicine.

Once used exclusively for performance horses, this therapy is becoming more widely available to pet owners who are seeing very positive effects for a whole range of conditions.

Indications for Hydrotherapy

  • Pre-operative strengthening
  • Post-operative rehabilitation
  • Arthritis
  • Other joint diseases
  • Skeletal and muscular disorders
  • Spinal injuries and diseases
  • Nervous system disorders
  • General health and fitness
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Obesity

As well as being used as part of a recovery programme, hydrotherapy is often adopted by some owners to maintain the long term health and fitness of their dog.  Resistance created by the water is a great way of building up muscle strength and stamina.  The increased musculature helps to support joints and other structures.

The non weight bearing nature of hydrotherapy makes it ideal in the treatment of joint and limb problems.  Taking weight off the joints allows a greater range of movement which improves joint function and flexibility.  Reducing weight on the limbs avoids stress on damaged structures and so reduces potential pain and allows faster healing. Water also reduces the risk of injury since sudden movements such as falls and twists aren’t possible.  These factors are extremely important to obese pets which are prone to arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems due to their excess weight.

Hydrotherapy can be of particular benefit when used both before and after surgery.  Swimming before surgery can help strengthen tissues in preparation.  After the surgery, and once the sutures are removed, hydrotherapy can help speed recovery.  The muscles can be strengthened in the water even before the limb is able to weight bear on land.  Animals after surgery are often reluctant to use affected limbs.  This is mainly due to a combination of pain, muscle atrophy (wasting) and the fact that there are three other legs there to support the weight.  Hydrotherapy allows gentle reintroduction of use for this affected limb, and so speeds the healing process.

Conditions which may benefit from Hydrotherapy

  • Degenerative Joint disease (arthritis)
  • CDRM
  • Spondylosis
  • Ligament damage and rupture
  • Orthopaedic injuries
  • Soft tissue and cartilage injuries
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Hip Dysplasia

Referral to Hydrotherapy

If you wish to explore the possibility of using Hydrotherapy to improve your dog’s health then you need to obtain a referral from your veterinary surgeon.  This will provide a written assessment of your dog’s condition and the aims of treatment.

A good hydrotherapy centre will be able to tailor the session individually to meet your dog’s needs.  Some dogs are more reluctant than others to participate especially if they are not used to swimming but gentle introduction can often ease them into the sessions.

Before starting the sessions it may be wise to take your dog to the pool to inspect and familiarise with the surroundings.  There are no set dimensions for hydrotherapy pools so you must ensure that the size of the pool and access is adequate for your dog.  The pool should be heated with a temperature between 24°C and 30°C and it should be indoor to allow year round sessions regardless of outdoor weather.

During your first inspection of the pool it is advisable to enquire about qualifications and training.  Ask to see any relevant certificates and evidence of water quality and insurance.

Cost of Hydrotherapy sessions

There is no fixed cost for hydrotherapy sessions since prices are set by individual centres.  Often prices are determined by the facilities at a particular centre and of course its location.  Typical sessions are 30 minutes with time allocated to dry the dog afterwards.

Session fees can vary from £10 – £30 with discounts often given for block bookings.

The Canine Hydrotherapy Association (CHA)

There is no statutory requirement for canine hydrotherapists to undergo training in the UK.  Unfortunately this means that some untrained operators are working without regulation.

Operators who wish to become members of the CHA and display their logo must provide adequate evidence of reaching certain standards in the following:

  • Veterinary referral and liaison
  • Treatment records
  • Water quality and management
  • Equipment specification and safety
  • Operating procedures
  • Training and education
  • Continued professional development
  • Inspection audit and certification

These benchmark standards provide pet owners, veterinarians and insurance companies with confidence in dealing with CHA pools.  The CHA has also introduced training programmes to include first aid, water management and practical hydrotherapy.

CHA members must adhere to strict safety standards which is important when you consider the potential hazards associated with mixing water with electricity and dogs!!!  Safety certificates ensure that these standards are met.  CHA members should also have insurance certificates in place which cover for dogs undergoing treatment and for third party liability to cover visitors to their premises.

Water quality and cleanliness is of paramount importance in a hydrotherapy pool, especially during busy periods.  The aim is to prevent spread of infectious disease and this is achieved by strict monitoring and recording at regular intervals.  This recording is essential to achieve CHA member status.

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