Swimming isn’t just for humans. It’s also beneficial to dogs for added exercise and to aid them in recuperating from various physical conditions. I once looked for hydrotherapy for dogs near me when the vet recommended it for my doggo after a CCL tear. But what is it and how does it work? Here, I will discuss my personal experience and how hydrotherapy benefits dogs.
Take note that unlike swimming, hydrotherapy should be performed by a professional. Doing it at home isn’t advisable, especially if your dog has a special condition. Also, you should ask your dog’s veterinarian before signing your pooch up for this therapy.
What is hydrotherapy for dogs?
As it is called, hydrotherapy or water therapy is the process of using water to help dogs recuperate from a physical injury. Some pet owners enroll their dogs to this therapy for a low impact exercise.
Hydrotherapy is also a popular therapy for humans. It gives the same benefits as when it’s performed to dogs.
A hydrotherapy session will include swimming exercises performed with the supervision of canine hydrotherapy professional. Also, this therapy can be used as a pre and post-conditioning treatment before a canine surgical operation.
It can also be an introductory exercise to dogs after surgery. Since the doggo is on water, the affected part won’t bump into any hard surfaces.
However, hydrotherapy isn’t a process you can do at home. It’s always important to send your dog to the right facility. It’s not just about filling a tub with water and letting your pooch paddle their legs in it.
Why do dogs undergo hydrotherapy?
Basically, pet owners may pay for a dog hydrotherapy session in their own volition. But most of the time, it would be in line with their veterinarian’s recommendation.
Dogs undergo this therapy for fitness and aiding their body condition. You should know that hydrotherapy isn’t fit for all dogs, more so for canines with cardiovascular problems.
The most common reason why dogs are sent to hydrotherapy facilities is for recovery after surgery. Usually, dogs with CCL tear, arthritis, joint issues, poor muscle mass, and so on are subjected to this treatment.
Dogs with mobility issues are also mainstays in hydrotherapy sessions. The lack of movement can drastically impact their muscle mass in just seven weeks. But with continuous hydrotherapy, they can exercise without bearing their body weight.
With the buoyancy and resistance that the water provides, canines will have a perfect environment to exercise without straining their joints and injuries.
The process of hydrotherapy
There are different types of hydrotherapy that dogs can do. This includes whirlpools, an underwater treadmill, and canine hydrotherapy pool. All of these types are performed in a controlled environment and with the supervision of experts.
Here’s how each one works:
Usually, this type of water therapy uses warm water with jets. It’s intended to ease pain in the dog’s body while improving circulation. Moreover, it will reduce spasms and delay muscle atrophy and tissue damage.
This can help canines with circulation problems but not so much for dogs that need to recover after a surgery.
This treatment is literally a treadmill encased in a glass tub and submerged underwater. What happens is that the dog is placed inside the glass encasement. Then, it will be filled with water up to the upper part of the dog’s legs.
The door will be closed and the treadmill will be turned on. The dog will now start pacing on the treadmill and since there’s water, the impact on its joints is reduced.
The underwater treadmill is used for dogs with mobility issues and in need of enough exercise. It’s also beneficial for circulation, joint flexibility, and easing joint pain.
For non-injured dogs, the water resistance on an underwater treadmill is used for improving agility, range of motion, and endurance.
Here’s how the underwater treadmill works (with lots of peanut butter on the side!)
This is usually called a resistance pool and is used primarily for increasing the range of motion of dogs. It mainly targets the elbows, shoulders, chest muscles, and forelimbs.
This is usually done in a large pool where the dog can swim around. The depth also depends on what the therapists deem necessary.
Take note that when performing all these therapy sessions, the dogs are wearing floaters. Underwater treadmills might be an exception unless the dog is at risk of drowning.
Here’s a quick look on a canine hydrotherapy pool:
How does it help dogs?
Hydrotherapy has a long list of benefits to canines. It uses many characteristics of water to boost the range of motion, endurance, strength, flexibility, and more aspects related to the canine’s movement.
Water therapy uses buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, resistance, and viscosity. In some therapy sessions, they will add electrostimulation. This will boost circulation and fight muscle degeneration.
Since the water gives a floating effect, it easily reduces the strain of movement on the dog’s knees. Also, the doggo doesn’t have to fight gravity in order to stand.
Dogs with hip dysplasia, fractures, and even amputation are regulars in hydrotherapy facilities. In fact, even canines with neurological disorders thrive in this treatment.
Benefits of hydrotherapy to dogs
Many dog owners attest to the efficacy of hydrotherapy in helping their dogs recover from injury or ease symptoms of their current physical condition.
The leading benefit of water therapy is it helps improve movement. It also boosts coordination while relaxes the body, thanks to the compressing effect of the water.
Here are more of the benefits of hydrotherapy to dogs:
Better lymph drainage. Since hydrotherapy helps canines move, it directly benefits their lymphatic system. It prevents the occurrence of edema while flushing out toxins and boosting the immune system of the canine.
Weight management. Dogs that have mobility issues and are gaining excess weight are sent to hydrotherapy facilities. The low-impact exercise through an underwater treadmill or swimming in the pool will burn lots of calories along the way.
Better balance and coordination. For doggos with balance issues, continuous hydrotherapy can help ease their condition. It will also help the coordination of canines with neurological conditions.
Long-lasting effects. Canines that underwent hydrotherapy are observed to retain their chiropractic adjustments longer. One reason for this is that the body was adjusted without stressing it too much.
Excellent for post-op recovery. Vets recommend dogs to undergo hydrotherapy after surgery for recovery. Water therapy will let them exercise without aggravating their condition.
Improving agility. Dogs that compete in canine sports will also benefit from undergoing hydrotherapy.
Wondering how hydrotherapy can help a dog? Here’s the story of Merlin the Collie and how he was saved from being put into sleep by undergoing hydrotherapy:
Possible risk to hydrotherapy
Even though hydrotherapy has numerous benefits, there are some risks that pet owners have to know. Here are some of the dangers of hydrotherapy or the haphazard performance of such:
Ear infection. For dogs that have been into hydrotherapy for long stand the chance of developing an ear infection. This becomes more prevalent to breeds with droopy ears like Beagles and Basset Hounds. When too much water enters the ears, the skin may become agitated, thus the forming of infections.
Chlorine toxicity. This is dose-dependent and professional therapists can prevent it if the therapy session is conducted in a professional hydrotherapy facility. Aquatic facilities are equipped with UV filtration systems to ensure that the chlorine is at a safe level.
Infections. Dogs with urinary tract infection, skin infections, and open wounds aren’t supposed to undergo hydrotherapy until they are fully healed. Otherwise, further infections will take place.
Pneumonia. When a dog inhaled or ingests too much water, there’s a risk that they would develop pneumonia over time. This is the reason why the therapist has to keep a close look at all times.
Targeting the wrong muscle group. An underwater treadmill and pool swimming target different muscle groups. It’s important that the therapist knows the actual condition of the dog before starting the session.
You can prevent these conditions if you let professionals handle the therapy session. At all cost, don’t opt for DIY hydrotherapy. Below, you’ll know why.
What…my dog can’t swim!
Contrary to common belief, not all dogs know how to swim right away. Also, short-legged breeds like Corgis, Dachshunds, and Basset Hounds may find it hard to keep their buoyancy.
You should teach your dog to swim first. Still, you don’t have to fret since therapists will use floating vests to keep the canine from drowning.
It’s important to remember not to force a dog to swim if it’s reluctant to do so. It will only lead to injury and stress. At all cost, you wouldn’t want your pooch to associate hydrotherapy to something scary.
If the vet still recommends water therapy, you should tap the help of professionals to help your dog.
Why professional help is important
You should never try to do hydrotherapy without professional help. Hydrotherapy clinics for canines have the right equipment, staff, and skills to conduct the sessions. This is a big difference to swimming with your dog in the pool or in the lake.
Professionals conduct hydrotherapy in a controlled environment. Without proper supervision, your dog’s condition may become worse.
Also, without the right stabilization, you might put pressure to the injured area which will worsen the condition.
As much as your intention is good, it might hurt more than help. Since it involves the health of your pet, it’s just right that you seek the help of professionals.
Moreover, water therapy isn’t just about soaking your dog in the water. It involves a lot of precision, especially for the chlorine level, water temperature, water level, and so on.
Cost of hydrotherapy for dogs
To be honest, the cost is one of the main reasons why pet owners tend to opt for DIY hydrotherapy at the comfort of their homes.
Regional water therapy sessions are cheaper than sessions with a vet or a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CCRP). If the practitioner has an assistant, it will likely cost more.
For pool-based sessions, it would cost around $36 per session. Each water therapy session would only last from 30 minutes to one hour tops. When it comes to the initial consultation for an underwater treadmill, it can be as much as $47 per session.
You can find cheaper rates but make sure that the quality of the therapy wouldn’t be compromised.
How to choose the best hydrotherapy practitioner and facility
If you’re interested to send your dog to water therapy or if the vet recommends that you do so, make sure that you pick the best person. Your dog’s wellness is at stake here.
Of course, look for a practitioner with professional training and certification for such treatment. As much as CCRPs are costly, you will have peace of mind that they will deliver safe practices to your dog.
If you don’t know where to scout for a hydrotherapy practitioner for your dog, you can ask the vet for referrals. Most of the time, veterinarians have a network of aquatic facilities as part of the dog’s continuous recovery.
Once you have a prospect clinic, ask about the dog conditions they are skilled in handling. For example, if your doggo is recovering from hip dysplasia, the clinic should have experience handling such a medical condition.
Although it’s not a requirement, it will be a bonus if there’s a stand-by veterinarian on the facility, especially if your dog has a very gentle condition.
Lastly, ask the staff if they have handled your dog’s breed before. It’s just a small thing but it will add peace of mind on your end.
Personally, before I looked for the hydrotherapy for dogs near me, I’d consider my budget and check with the vet first. Anyway, even if your dog doesn’t have injuries, you can still bring the pooch for a water therapy session. It will keep the doggo in shape.
Still, you should know that hydrotherapy isn’t very cheap. If your dog is recovering from an injury, you can look subsidies or grants that will shoulder the post-op expenses.
No matter how expensive it gets, it’s not ideal to do canine hydrotherapy on your own.