Swimming for Dogs

In Uncategorized by Denico Brand

In last month’s newsletter the history and benefits of hydrotherapy were discussed, with special attention being given to using the underwater treadmill. This article looks at how swimming can assist with health and wellness of our canine patients. 

To recap, any form of hydrotherapy makes use of the properties of water. These properties are:

  1. Resistance. Depending on the depth, the limbs must move through the water, or be lifted out of the water. This activity improves strength and counteracts muscle atrophy.
  2. Buoyancy. The water supports weak patients and those that are unable to stand unassisted. There are less concussive forces on the joints. 
  3. Hydrostatic pressure. The pressure that the water places on the body can assist with circulatory problems and to reduce oedema.
  4. Water temperature. Warm water soothes muscles and aching joints. 

Swimming is an activity which demands a great deal from the cardiovascular system. In its purest form it is super for enhancing endurance, maintaining fitness and conditioning the muscles. When used for this purpose the dogs are not compromised in any way and are fit and healthy. Swimming can also be used very effectively as a therapeutic tool. 

Swimming in physically impaired canine patients can:

  • Increase flexion. Joint flexion is increased during swimming when compared to walking in water.
  • Remove all concussive forces on the joints because the dog is non-weight bearing. This is particularly positive for dogs with osteoarthritis. 
  • Improve core strength.
  • Benefit cardiovascular health.
  • Assist with some nerve problems or dogs that are unable to stand or walk.        Water encourages the correct posture because dogs instinctively strive to keep themselves upright. Although unable to stand or hold themselves upright many dogs will attempt to swim before trying to walk. 

There are certain areas where swimming is not recommended or when a physical rehabilitation therapist should proceed with caution. Some cases would be:

  • Patients that are fearful of phobic of water.
  • Unfit dogs. Do not place your older dog in the pool if your dog has never swum before. There may be an underlying heart issue. The stress may precipitate a heart attack. 
  • Dogs with flat faces, so-called brachycephalic breeds. These dogs are exercise intolerant and may faint or move into respiratory distress and failure if swum unsupervised or for too long. They have difficulty thermoregulating as a result of their shortened faces. Too much exercise (including too much swimming) may cause heat stroke. 
  • Fractures. Bone healing requires weight bearing. 

There is much to consider when choosing a form of hydrotherapy. If you have any questions please contact a registered professional. To find one in your area go to www.saapra.co.za