Most dogs absolutely love playing in the water. As it turns out, this love for water makes for excellent therapy for dogs with arthritis, spinal injuries, degenerative myelopathy, obesity and other conditions. Unlike a visit to the veterinarian, dogs tend to love their hydrotherapy sessions!
Hydrotherapy for humans has been around for quite some time. It didn’t really start catching on for dogs until this last decade. Hydrotherapy basically makes exercise easier on the joints, since the buoyancy of water makes a body practically weightless. It also takes more energy to move body and limbs through the water, making exercise more therapeutic.
A canine hydrotherapy facility usually has a small, heated indoor pool, specially designed with a ramp to make it easy for dogs to get in and out of the water. The pool may have water jets that work as massagers and as a force to swim against. Some facilities also have underwater doggie treadmills!
A therapist guides the dog in the water, making sure the dog feels safe and secure. “Most dogs get right in and have fun,” said Jennifer Franchetti, a manager of the Water 4 Dogs facility in New York City. “We use life vests for dogs who are nervous about it. Dogs who have never been in water before usually take right to it.”
Dogs who are “toy motivated” are especially well-suited for hydrotherapy, since going after a ball makes the exercise more like a game for the dog.
If your dog has hip or elbow dysplasia, arthritis, is preparing for or recovering from surgery, or has other health conditions, your veterinarian may recommend hydrotherapy to manage pain and promote healing.
If your dog is overweight, a little or a lot, hydrotherapy, along with a healthy diet, is an effective and enjoyable way for your dog to get back to a healthy body condition.
If you have an older dog, who has gotten a little stiff and not moving around as well, hydrotherapy can help him get the exercise he needs without stressing his joints.
Please make sure you consult your veterinarian before starting hydrotherapy on your older or overweight dog, or if your dog has a health condition.
If your dog is an athlete, hydrotherapy provides a great cardio workout and muscle strengthening to help him stay in peak condition.
Even if your dog doesn’t have any needs for hydrotherapy, most hydrotherapy facilities have times open for recreational swimming. The Water 4 Dogs facility in New York City has an 8,000 gallon pool, heated to a comfortable 92° for therapy, that is also open for social swims. The pool can accommodate up to six dogs and their owners at a time.
“We have a lot of dogs who are not therapy clients come for our social swims,” Jennifer said. “The Labradors and Retrievers seem to love it the most. They love jumping in and fetching balls out of the water.”
Of course, you don’t have to go to a special facility to provide hydrotherapy for your dog. In warm weather, a healthy dog can get just as much exercise for free in a nearby lake. But, if your dog has joint problems or other health issues, it’s far safer for him to get his workout in warm water in a controlled environment, carefully supervised by a therapist. And, it’s an activity your dog can enjoy year-round.
See canine hydrotherapy in action in this Snouts in Your Town video!