Hydrotherapy for Pets

Brrr, it’s a chilly one again today, isn’t it! As I gaze out on another cold, blustery February day I’m dreaming of a nice hot beach somewhere … a nap on the sand, a refreshing dip in the sea. Ah, bliss! I’m not the only one who enjoys a splash in the ocean though, my dogs love a bit of water – and they’re certainly less discerning than I am! While I prefer a crystal clear ocean and an air temperature over 30⁰C, they’re happy to splash in anything from a muddy puddle to the bracing waters of the British coastline.

Not all dogs love the water, but many do enjoy a paddle or a swim and, whether they’re chasing waves or just wandering down a shallow stream, their watery playtime is probably doing them good.

The benefits of water for humans are well known and have been utilised for a long, long time – in fact, it was the ancients Greeks who first used spas and bathing for therapeutic purposes and not just cleanliness. Hydrotherapy has been helping people for centuries but it’s a relatively new thing in the world of animal care. Initially, hydrotherapy was used for race horses when it was noticed that it helped a great deal with healing and conditioning. This was then extended to racing greyhounds, for a similar purpose, before the vast benefits became apparent and it began to be used for a variety of animals – most commonly, dogs.

Here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we regularly provide in-house physiotherapy to help with joint problems, muscular, tendon or ligament injuries, post-surgical rehabilitation, or on-going conditions. It’s a really important part of care and rehabilitation after an operation, illness or injury and can be really successful in helping your pet get back to their happy, bouncy, carefree selves. Sometimes, however, hydrotherapy can be more beneficial to the pet (or it can be used to complement the physiotherapy) and in these cases we refer to a local hydrotherapy clinic who provide the specialist care and treatment to get your furry friend back on their feet again.


So, what does hydrotherapy for pets involve and how does it differ from physiotherapy?

Well, obviously the main difference is that hydrotherapy takes place in water. It’s not just swimming – it’s structured, targeted and controlled exercise in water. So, the exercises may be similar to physiotherapy in some ways but doing them under water adds a range of benefits.

– The water offers buoyancy to take pressure off the muscles and skeleton, and provide stability

– The warm temperature of the water can relieve pain and reduce swelling and muscle spasm

– The resistance of the water helps to strengthen and condition muscles and help to build endurance without placing stress on the joints

These elements all work together to allow the poorly or injured animal to move more easily and more naturally than they would be able do without the water there to support them. They can then start to increase strength, gain stability, correct gait issues, and build fitness to with the aim of ultimately moving more easily and without pain on land, too.

Just like physiotherapy, hydrotherapy can be used in a variety of ways to treat different problems, taking place in a pool or on an underwater treadmill depending on what’s required. Specialists will determine the correct exercises for your pet and watch their every movement during treatment.

Hydrotherapy can be hugely successful and has helped countless animals to regain freedom of movement, increase range of motion, build strength, maintain condition, slow the progression and impact of degenerative disease and also improve fitness and lose weight.

As an Advanced Practitioner in Veterinary Orthopaedics I will always be a huge advocate of both physiotherapy and hydrotherapy for pets. I’ve witnessed first-hand the positive impact that these therapies can have in a range of cases and I’m pleased that these things that we humans have benefitted from for many years have been adopted into animal care – because our furry friends deserve the very best!

Speaking of which, I’m going to go back to daydreaming of my sunny beach…. Bye for now!

(PS. This picture isn’t exactly representative of dog hydrotherapy but I certainly know a few dogs who’d quite enjoy the idea of floating around on a pool!