By Vesna Smedberg, RVT
The benefits of mineral springs and spas have been known for centuries. People flocked to resorts where they sought to ease their ailments and aching bodies. In the past few decades, water therapy has seen many modifications, including using it for dogs.
What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is used to manage pain and increase strength and mobility. Water’s buoyant and light resistance properties combined with heat makes hydrotherapy an ideal treatment and/or exercise for dogs who: 1) cannot bear weight on their joints, 2) are recovering from surgery, 3) need exercise that won’t aggravate an existing condition or 4) need the progression of degenerative conditions slowed down.
Types of Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy can be done in a regular pool for swim therapy purposes. A dog can be harnessed to maintain position in the water or have the therapist in the water with him. The water provides resistance while taking stress off the joints. Fifteen minutes of swimming is roughly equivalent to 15 minutes of running and is a great way to build up or recover muscles, especially for senior dogs who would otherwise be unable to achieve that level of activity. Along with increasing stamina and strength, swimming also increases a dog’s mental well-being and can help fight off depression that comes with inactivity.
Underwater treadmill therapy has similar effects, but since it makes a dog focus on his gait, it’s especially useful for neurological or spinal problem recovery. The pool is smaller and usually has a ramp for easier access and jets for increased resistance. The water’s level and the treadmill’s speed and incline are adjusted to match the required treatment. Therapy is less stressful than a regular treadmill and helps a dog recover his confidence in walking. It also helps a dog increase his range of motion and joint flexibility.
Canine Massage Therapy
A great addition to hydrotherapy is canine massage therapy. Along with muscle massage, a therapist can also perform passive range of motion exercises, which helps increase circulation and flexibility. Not only is it a bonding experience, but massage also enables a therapist to access a dog’s overall condition.
Many veterinary hospitals and pet resorts are recognizing hydrotherapy’s value. Most dogs adapt well to water therapy after a couple of sessions. However, if a dog suffers from a severe fear of water, this may not be the best option. In addition, some breeds have short noses and may have a hard time breathing. As always, any treatment plan should be first discussed with your veterinarian.
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