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When Should I Start Hydrotherapy On My Dog?

Has your vet suggested canine hydrotherapy to help your dog with their mobility issues, arthritis or injury recovery? Aquatic rehabilitation can promote great benefits – but timing matters. Starting sessions too soon or delaying too long can mean missing out on the maximal potential for gains. Read on as we dive into the ideal timeline for initiating your dog’s hydrotherapy program based on their condition.

Post-Operative Recovery Therapy

For surgical procedures like CCL/ACL repairs or joint replacements, hydrotherapy enables gentle, controlled motion needed for appropriate healing while preventing complications of long-term immobilization. Done too soon, incision sites and implants may break down. Waiting too long, scar tissue and adhesions can impede movement. Most orthopedic surgeons recommend beginning short, gentle hydrotherapy sessions as soon as 10-14 days post-op when initial swelling subsides and wounds close. Ramps and lifts are used so dogs don’t strain entry/exit. Slow walking on an underwater treadmill builds early proprioception and endurance. Your rehab vet determines graduated protocols ensuring progressive activity without overstress as your dog’s function improves weekly. The key is initiating some activity soon after surgery while closely managing appropriate restrictions.

Injury Rehab Regime Timeframes

The nature of the injury impacts ideal hydrotherapy start time:

Acute Soft Tissue Injuries: Sprains, strains or bruising need initial rest and cold therapy to control swelling for the first 3 days. Beginning gentle increases in hydrotherapy after 1 week aids appropriate rebuilding of muscle and ligament strength without formation of scar tissue that impedes flexibility.

Fractures & Wounds: Unless severely displaced requiring surgical fixation first, most fractures and open wounds start early controlled hydrotherapy around 2 weeks post-injury once initial bony/skin healing begins showing stabilization. The water’s warmth and buoyancy aids decreasing swelling, pain and bone stimulation.

Chronic Inflammatory Conditions

Ongoing joint instability, arthritic degeneration and neurological weakness all benefit from consistent, long-term hydrotherapy. When considering aquatic rehab for these chronic, progressive issues the question becomes less “when should I start” and shifts instead to “how long should I maintain consistency”. The benefits begin immediately – with decreased pain, improved range of motion and muscular support. But symptoms return rapidly once hydrotherapy stops. Most dogs with chronic hind end weakness, arthritis pain or disc disease maintain comfortable functionality best with lifelong hydrotherapy on a maintenance basis averaging once every 2-4 weeks long term. Some geriatric pets may need weekly upkeep. Optimizing mobility early on, not waiting for total lameness/immobility, provides greatest lasting strong quality of life.

Supportive Cancer Care

Canine hydrotherapy also assists pets dealing with weakness, nausea and pain during oncology treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation can be taxing on bodies – minimizing mobility that then further exacerbates side effects. Introducing supportive gentle hydrotherapy early after cancer diagnosis maintains better conditioning during tumor therapy allowing dogs to continue enjoying activities they love rather than succumb to frailty. Most protocols start chemotherapy patients on aquatic treadmill walking a few days after each treatment when acute nausea subsides, but before cumulative fatigue sets in. The key is counteracting limitations proactively – not playing catch up once overwhelming loss of function happens.

Determining when to initiate your dog on a tailored hydrotherapy program depends greatly on their specific injury, surgical and medical status. Your veterinary team provides optimal guidance based on your dog’s diagnosis. But in most cases beginning controlled aquatic rehabilitation exercise sooner rather than delaying until late stage disease or pronounced disability sets in provides greatest lasting mobility – so your beloved dog benefits maximally long term.

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