Canine Hydrotherapy


Canine Hydrotherapy is ideal for cases and patients where chronic, post-operative, pre-operative, developmental or neurological conditions make weight bearing exercise difficult. It is also excellent for developing stamina and endurance, toning and building muscle and, increasing overall fitness and agility in obese canines, or canine athletes.

It is the inherent properties of water that make hydrotherapy such a positive treatment modality.

  1. The upward thrust of water against a body lessens the effect of gravity and allows the canine patient greater range of motion without experiencing pain or pressure in injured joints.

  2. Thermal Effects. Water is able to heat or cool the body rapidly due to its high level of thermal conductivity. Dogs are treated in heated water, which increases blood circulation and improves the supply of oxygen and nutrients to, and the removal of cellular waste products from, muscles. Not only does this lead to a reduction of any swelling and muscle relaxation, but the patient will also experience less pain and stiffness. Heat penetrates to the body core and amplifies the effects of the hydrotherapy, taking it to a deeper level in the body.

  3. Hydrostatic Pressure. Water also exerts pressure on the body as its depth increases. Often this is experienced by the canine patient as an increased sense of stability and is especially useful in cases of neurological damage. It also assists in improving circulation by encouraging accumulated swelling to be returned naturally back into the body.

  4. Water molecules tend to adhere, and at its surface, water exerts cohesive force (so-called surface tension) which can be used to increase workload in a specific area, muscle group or joint. This is particularly useful in underwater treadmill regimes where the level of the water relative to the joint can encourage either flexion or extension. Muscle wastage can be reversed and muscle bulk increased.

  5. Turbulence and Resistance. The frictional resistance, which is a result of water cohesion, combined with turbulence created as a body moves through water, can play an important part in developing the canine patient’s proprioception. Heart rate and oxygen consumption increase and contribute to improved fitness and stamina, especially in working and sporting dogs.

Equipment at rehabilitation centres in South Africa usually consists of a heated pool and/or and underwater treadmill. The choice of equipment depends on the goal of therapy as the movements and exercises differ in each of these pieces of equipment. Swimming is most suitable for, but not limited to, conditions where core strengthening and stabilising is required. In swimming, most of the movement, but not all, occurs with limbs in flexion. The underwater treadmill, on the other hand, favours extension of the limbs, with varying degrees of weight-bearing depending on the level of the water. Spa baths have a role to play in the management of severely debilitated dogs. In my practice, this relates particularly to geriatrics with osteoarthritis in multiple joints.

There are many other applications for hydrotherapy in the canine and feline patient. Please contact a rehabilitation practitioner near you should you have any questions in this regard.

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