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The Benefits of Hydrotherapy for Dogs

As dog owners, we want the best possible quality of life for our aging or injured canine companions. Stiff joints, sore muscles, mobility issues, and recovery from surgery often slow dogs down, limiting their activity and playfulness. However, an innovative rehabilitation technique called hydrotherapy offers a solution.

Hydrotherapy utilizes the natural properties of water to promote gentle, supported exercise with myriad benefits. Used alongside veterinary treatment plans, it can significantly improve dogs’ strength, range of motion, and long-term function. Read on to learn all about hydrotherapy and how it helps canine patients.

What is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy refers to physical therapy and rehabilitation performed in warm water. Special pools allow dogs to walk, trot, or swim against varied water resistance, improving cardiovascular health and muscle tone without placing excess stress on the body. The water’s warmth and buoyancy ease soreness and include more range of motion than land-based activity does. Hydrotherapy also utilizes underwater treadmills with adjustable speeds to precisely control each dog’s workout intensity.

Throughout scheduled sessions, certified canine hydrotherapists monitor patients closely, gauging stamina and endurance while checking for signs of fatigue or discomfort. They progressively increase each exercise’s duration and difficulty as strength and function improve. Most facilities also offer land-based physiotherapy, massage, laser treatments, and other modalities alongside the aquatic therapy.

The Benefits

The benefits of hydrotherapy stem from both the physiological effects of an aquatic environment and the rehabilitation techniques used within it. Here are some of the top ways it helps dogs:

Supports Healing and Recovery
Hydrotherapy accelerates post-operative and post-injury healing, including for cases involving ligament tears, fractures, and neurological damage. The water’s warmth relaxes muscles, increases blood flow, and decreases swelling and inflammation. Meanwhile, the gentle resistance exercises help rebuild the strength and ROM lost from disuse or immobilization during recovery. Together, those effects speed up rehabilitation progress.

Relieves Pain and Soreness
The aquatic environment serves as a natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory for sore joints and muscles. Hydrotherapy pools are heated to 88-92°F to relax tissues, increase blood flow, and decrease nerve activity associated with orthopedic pain. And because water supports around 50 percent of a patient’s body weight, it puts less pressure on painful joints, ligaments, bones and muscles than land-based activity does.

Improves Physical Function
All hydrotherapy exercises aim to maintain (or optimize) joint flexibility and muscle strength by moving the legs against water resistance. This alleviates stiffness from arthritis or immobilization while retraining essential activities like sitting, standing, and stair use. With improved flexibility and strength, dogs can better stabilize joints, prevent falls and further injury, and participate in normal daily movement patterns pain-free.

Aids Weight Loss and Fitness
For overweight or obese dogs, hydrotherapy provides an extremely low-impact form of exercise to avoid excess joint strain while still burning calories and building endurance. The aquatic environment allows longer exercise durations than land-based walks/workouts might, boosting heart health and overall fitness. Losing excess pounds under a veterinarian’s weight loss protocol further alleviates arthritis pain also.

Slows Disease Progression
For degenerative joint diseases like arthritis, hydrotherapy can significantly slow worsening mobility and function over time. Maintaining muscle mass and joint ROM are key to minimizing arthritis-related declines. The constant yet gentle activity works out stiff, sore joints to postpone losing mobility from disuse. Although incurable, arthritis progression into advanced disability can take years longer with supplementary hydrotherapy.

Improves Mental Health
Beyond the physical perks, hydrotherapy offers dogs much-needed mental stimulation and enjoyment. The pools serve as a safe space to play fetch, learn tricks and commands, or simply splash around freely. This fun, engaging activity relieves stress, anxiety, and boredom––all of which commonly plague injured or post-operative pets. The social aspect of working alongside a therapist and other recovering dogs is additionally beneficial.

Considerations

Hydrotherapy requires veterinary referral and oversight to ensure safety and suitability given a dog’s health status, especially when dealing with acute injuries, illness or cardiopulmonary issues.Typically, only dogs six months and older can participate once cleared by the referring veterinarian. Each facility establishes patient prerequisites and health screening processes to follow.

While generally extremely low-risk, hydrotherapy does necessitate some basic health precautions like avoiding strenuous exercise immediately before/after mealtimes to prevent bloat. Owners also need to keep water out of dogs’ ear canals to avoid infection. Close monitoring ensures every dog remains within their safe limits.

For dogs needing pain relief, rehabilitation, enhanced mobility and improved wellbeing, hydrotherapy offers a highly-effective, veterinarian-supported treatment option proven to get results safely. Consult your local canine rehab facility to learn more about the benefits of water therapy tailored to your dog’s needs.

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