Hydrotherapy is a complementary therapy which has been utilised in people since as early as 500BC, when Roman civilisations used their baths not only to get clean (and for socialising!) but also for healing. Water has long been known for its uses for health and medical problems and, over the years, using water for therapy has been adapted for use in pets. Hydrotherapy is now a popular activity for both poorly pets and those who are looking for some fun and fitness.
The uses of hydrotherapy are many and varied, and can include:
and of course……FUN!
For some pets, exercising in water allows their bodies to carry out movements that may not be possible, or may be difficult on land. This can greatly improve and maintain their mobility, as it helps to ease the pressure on their musculoskeletal system. For older dogs, this can help them to stay fit, strong, mobile and pain free for longer. For younger dogs, this enables them to maintain peak fitness, allowing their bodies to be well prepared for what lies ahead as they get older. As we all know, the fitter and stronger we are, the more able we are to cope with what life throws at us!
So why don’t we recommend using rivers, the sea, or lakes to swim dogs? There are several reasons behind this. Firstly, not all outdoor swimming locations are safe, especially if your dog is older, is worried about water, or has an injury. Currents in rivers and the sea can be dangerous, and there are often unknown hazards below the water. Lakes can be very deep and cold, and cold-shock is a very real risk. There are also other factors such as pollution, infection risk or algae blooms which can make open water risky for pets.
When a pet swims outdoors, their actions are completely uncontrolled, and dogs will tire quickly due to having to work very hard to stay warm, work against currents, and stay afloat. This can actually cause more harm than good – we know that our muscles can start to struggle and perform differently when they are very cold, and it’s the same for pets.
Indoor swimming and underwater treadmills are a much safer option – the water is heated to 26-30 degrees Celsius as this is known to have therapeutic effects on the soft tissues. Often dogs will wear a buoyancy aid to help them stay afloat and feel secure, and this can reduce some of the pressure on their musculoskeletal & cardiovascular systems. Alongside this, it’s important to have a qualified hydro-therapist working alongside your dog to ensure their safety, make sure they are using their body correctly, and make sure they are achieving the correct range of movement in order to achieve their fitness or rehab goals. For example, dogs often swim mostly with their front legs, not using their back legs, so free swimming in a lake would not help hips or knees – working in a pool with a therapist or on a water treadmill would ensure these areas are being worked correctly.
Older pets, or water phobic pets in particular will benefit from being in such a controlled environment, either in the pool or on the water treadmill. This allows the therapist to work with them to build confidence and overcome any fear, as well as taking care that they aren’t overdoing things.
It’s also important to remember that pools and water treadmills are super clean! So you won’t have to worry about infection risk, or algae, and won’t have a cold, wet, muddy dog to put in your car afterwards…always a bonus!
You might wonder what the difference is between a pool and a water treadmill? We have both, and both are super useful for lots of different types of dogs. A water treadmill is a lot like an ordinary treadmill you might find at the gym, except that it is contained within a clear tank which can be filled with warm water. The height of the water can be varied, and so can the speed of the treadmill, giving the hydrotherapist precise control over how much work the dog is doing. It allows the therapist to watch carefully through the see-through sides to accurately monitor things such as limb flight and paw placement and, if needed, the therapists can safely stand inside the treadmill tank to reassure and support the dog.
The pool is a lot like a small version of a human pool – it’s not too deep and has a safe entry system for dogs to gently climb in and out. It’s shallow enough for our therapists to stand up in, so that pets can be carefully guided and monitored throughout their workout. Free swimming in a pool is less controlled than working on a water treadmill, but lots of dogs love splashing about having fun whilst building their fitness. It’s also great for some types of rehabilitation and injury management.
Of course, not every dog is a suitable candidate to freely swim in the pool, and our amazing team of therapists always make sure they are picking the right option for each dog. Some pets need the ultra-control and precision of working on the water treadmill, and this can also be less alarming for worried dogs. For older pets or those undergoing rehab, it can be an excellent option due to the ability to completely control the speed and the action of the dog. Dogs coming for fun swims, or those that are younger may benefit more from the pool as, with the help of the hydrotherapist, they can splash about with a favourite toy, and swim freely in the warm water. Some pets may begin their rehab on the treadmill before progressing to the pool – each pet is treated as an individual as it’s important that they enjoy the experience as well as getting maximum benefit. Don’t forget, if your dog is really worried about water, we are equipped to help and can work with you and your dog to get them feeling confident and positive about the experience.
Don’t forget – hydrotherapy and water based exercise can be amazing for people too! We draw the line at swimming the owners here, but we can help your dog! So why not get yourself going in a human pool and set a 2021 fitness or rehab goal alongside your canine friend?!