Hydrotherapy for dogs:
What is it and should your dog be doing it?
Hydrotherapy is a type of treatment using water as low-impact exercise. It is commonly used in post-surgical rehabilitation as the natural properties of water allow for buoyancy and reduced weight strain across the body. Humans have been using water treatment to alleviate illness and injury for thousands of years, however canine hydrotherapy is a much newer practice.
Hydro Paws is based in Leeds
Michelle owns and operates Hydro Paws Ltd, a small animal rehabilitation centre in Leeds, West Yorkshire. She has been a qualified and registered canine hydrotherapist since 2012, and is registered with the National Association of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists, NARCH. We spoke to Michelle to find out more about what canine hydrotherapy is.
Hydro Paws Ltd comprises of hydrotherapy pool and underwater treadmill. I work with all the vets within the surrounding area and further afield, solely work on veterinary referral for canines, felines and other small animals and as part of a multidisciplinary team with local veterinary physiotherapists, massage therapist, chiropractors and other veterinary paraprofessionals.
What is hydrotherapy and why is it used for dogs?
Hydrotherapy is a form of controlled and reduced weight bearing exercise in warm water to improve muscle tone, function, strength and cardiovascular fitness. It is great for weight control due to reduced pressure on the joints. The use of warm water increases circulation, provides immediate pain relief and reduces swelling.
If you have a dog who is reluctant to weight bear or exercise on land, they can often begin their rehabilitation process sooner by being in water. For some older dogs, the non-weight bearing environment can give them the freedom to chase a ball which they are unable to do on land, and provide much needed mental stimulation.
We see all types of dogs, from Chihuahuas to Great Danes, St. Bernard's and everything in between - we even treat cat! Through the rehabilitation work we see a great deal of post-surgical ligament cases, hip dysplasia, luxating patella cases, and a large quantity of dogs who have undergone spinal surgery.
Are there any conditions that hydrotherapy is known to be good for?
Conditions treated with hydrotherapy generally fall into the following categories:
- Soft tissue injury
- Degenerative and medical conditions
- Age related; juvenile/ developmental, or geriatric
These conditions can include:
- Dysplasia; hip, elbow
- Patella luxation
- Spinal injuries
- Weight control
- Age related mobility issues
What should my dog and I expect for our first hydrotherapy session?
Veterinary consent is obtained prior to your first appointment, whether the session is for fun, fitness, or rehabilitation. For any dogs requiring fitness or rehab sessions, a full medical history is sent from the vet so that we can create a tailor-made treatment plan.
As you arrive, your pet will be given freedom to explore the centre and become comfortable with their surroundings as well as me and the team. During the first consultation, the therapist will assess gait patterns, behaviour, temperament and muscle tone.
Pets then receive a lovely warm water rinse to remove excess hair and dirt, but also so that we can perform a full body health check, from nose to tail. All pets start sessions in a buoyancy aid, including swimmers, until full assessment is complete. Depending on the condition, treatment, and desired outcome, pets will either go into the hydrotherapy pool, or into the underwater treadmill. The length of the first session is determined by your pet; how they settle, fitness levels, and the type of session taking place. Afterwards, they can enjoy another warm rinse, dry and that all-important post-swim treat!
What if my pet is not a strong swimmer?
Your pets do not need to be strong swimmers, or have even swum before. All pets start sessions in a buoyancy aid whether they attend for fun, fitness, or rehabilitation. At all times there is a suitably trained NARCH member in the equipment with your pet, and you are poolside to offer comfort and praise.
Non-swimmers tend to settle well within underwater treadmill environments as their feet stay on the floor, and swimmers prefer the freedom and fun of the pool. Nothing is set in stone, and treatments can be adapted as we deem appropriate. Sessions progress at your pet's own speed and comfort levels.
Hydrotherapy - not just for dogs!
What difference can hydrotherapy make to my pet's life?
It can have a huge impact on your pets' lives. The non-weight bearing environment can help elderly or overweight pets to exercise, chase toys and provide mental stimulation when they are unable to participate in land-based exercise for too long. Hydrotherapy can air and enhance the rehabilitation process following surgery to ensure return to function as soon as possible.
You can find out more about Michelle and what the team at Hydro Paws get up to by following them on Instagram and at www.hydropaws.co.uk