Pet Tips: Hydrotherapy for Pets

12-homepageWhy Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy, or water therapy can be an alternative or complement to weight-bearing exercise. Hydrotherapy may be beneficial for:

  • Rehabilitation after surgery.
  • Spinal cord and nerve disease. Non-gravitational exercise helps to maintain strength and mobility.
  • Preoperative fitness. Hydrotherapy helps maintain good body condition, when your pet cannot exercise normally prior to surgery.
  • Weight loss or management program.
  • General fitness program, especially for older patients with arthritis.

Types of Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy encompasses swimming pools, water treadmills and resistance swimming in ‘endless’ pools.

Open swims or free swims are usually large pools to play in. These pools are used for healthy pets in a fitness or maintenance program. They are great for exercise, weight loss and maintaining muscle strength, and just plain fun!

Underwater treadmills are used for rehabilitation and fitness programs. Pets can stand and walk on the treadmill. The level of the water can be adjusted. Higher levels increase buoyancy, reducing the amount of weight bearing needed to exercise. As your pet becomes stronger, the water level can be decreased, making your pet work harder.

Endless pools are used for rehabilitation. Pets that cannot stand or walk for long periods may use the endless pool to build strength. These pools may have jets installed for added resistance swimming. Olympic swimmers use this latter form of hydrotherapy when training.

Is Hydrotherapy really that much
better than a home exercise program?

Yes. Hydrotherapy is one of the best forms of physical therapy. Water buoyancy allows your pet to float unsupported. Without gravity, specific muscle groups can be isolated, maximizing strength training, flexibility and range of motion. This can be helpful during the recovery process from surgery or spinal cord injury. All pets wear a life vest, when hydrotherapy is used for rehabilitation.

The hydrostatic pressure created by the water helps to reduce swelling, by forcing fluid (edema) away from affected areas. Swelling may occur when patients are immobile and lymph fluid is allowed to build up in the extremities.

Increased circulation occurs when warm water is applied on skin and muscles. This dilates blood vessels, allows tissues and muscle to receive more oxygen and nutrients, which allows blood vessels to remove or flush away waste products more efficiently. This process relaxes the muscles, reduces swelling and stiffness, alleviates pain and enhances the healing process. This can increase range of motion of the limbs, resulting in a more relaxed and comfortable pet. Additionally, increased blood flow to the skin improves skin health in recumbent pets.

Hydrotherapy provides movement resistance, thereby increasing the efficiency in your pet’s exercise program. This allows your pet to maintain or build up muscle strength with shorter workouts. Hydrotherapy also provides a great cardiovascular workout, which improves the quality of your pet’s exercise program, overall strength and health.

How do I know when I should start Hydrotherapy
and which form will my pet benefit from?

Your veterinarian and the physical therapist will determine this. Approval from your veterinarian prior to starting any hydrotherapy program is recommended, even if the sole purpose is exercise. A complete physical examination should be performed before your pet’s first session. Ask your veterinarian if your pet is healthy enough and a good candidate for hydrotherapy.

How long should swim sessions be?

Your veterinarian should determine this. A 5-minute swim is equivalent to a 5 mile run. Ability and physical condition will determine your pet’s length of exercise. Initially, swim sessions may only last a few minutes, gradually increasing up to 15-20 minutes in length.

How many sessions per week are needed?

Your veterinarian should determine how many sessions are recommended. Initially, many pets will attend 1-2 times per week. Depending upon the physical condition and ability of your pet, this may be increased to 3-4 times per week.

Can my dog eat before swimming?

Please do not feed your dog 2 to 4 hours prior to swimming. This will allow the stomach to empty before exercise.

My dog has never had the opportunity to swim.
Will my pet know how to swim?

Maybe not, but most rehabilitation facilities require all pets to wear a life vest while in the water, especially the first few times. Once your pet becomes comfortable with swimming, a life vest may not be needed.

What if my dog doesn’t like to swim?

Give your pet a few chances to get used to the water. Your pet’s initial session can be difficult, so keep the session short and offer praise and encouragement at all times.

If you are pursuing hydrotherapy as a part of a rehabilitation program, pain may be a limiting factor during the initial stages of recovery. At first, sessions should be geared for mobility and increased range of motion. Strength and endurance should follow. Patience and support are encouraged. No one said that physical therapy was easy!

Will chemicals in the water harm my pet?

Standards are set for water temperature, chemical levels and cleaning. Please ask your physical therapist about their protocols for maintaining cleanliness and water safety. Your veterinarian is a good source for information and recommendations.

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