If your dog is old, achy, injured or just overweight,
consider taking the plunge with Hydro or Water Therapy
Not long ago, Nicole Rosell’s 11-year-old terrier mix Lily blew a disc in her neck, leaving the previously active pooch temporarily paralyzed. Surgery helped to relieve the compression on her spinal nerves, but then the hard work of rehabilitation began. Among her treatments was one fairly novel to many dog owners: hydrotherapy sessions on an underwater treadmill.
Although Lily didn’t have enough coordination to walk on land, the water was buoyant enough to support her as she took her first tentative steps. Now she’s ready to frolic. “She’s doing really well; she’s off all her pain meds,” says Rosell. “She walks a little differently, but she’s back to her playful self. I feel great knowing she’s not in pain anymore.”
Rosell is one of many dog owners who have seen the benefits of water therapy first hand. She isn’t just a client, though. She’s a canine rehabilitation assistant at Holistic Veterinary Care in Oakland, California. She spends her days around the “pool” helping sick or injured dogs just like Lily.
Although people have known the benefits of hydrotherapy for decades, using it in dogs is relatively new. If your pooch has dog arthritis or is barely walking after being hit by a car, or if he’s older and not getting enough exercise anymore because his joints hurt, hydrotherapy might be the answer.
Exercising in water allows dogs to work most of their muscles, getting a full range of joint motion without the stress caused by motion on hard ground. After an injury, the therapy can help reverse muscle wasting caused by lack of use. It reduces tissue swelling and is considered a natural anti-inflammatory. Hydrotherapy can also provide a good cardiovascular workout.
How Hydrotherapy Is Used with Dogs
It’s most commonly used to treat dogs with arthritis, dysplasia (joint malformation) and joint injuries, as well as dogs with soft tissue problems like tendinitis or muscle sprains. But in some cases, it’s also used to help an overweight dog get the exercise he needs to lose weight.
For overweight dogs, there’s no single fix, according to Gary Richter, DVM, the owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital and Holistic Veterinary Care in Oakland, California.
. “They have to exercise, change their diet, and change their lifestyle,” he says, “but if you have a dog who is overweight and has trouble exercising, hydrotherapy can help.”
Hydrotherapy pools use warm water, which experts recommend keeping at a temperature around 85 degrees. This is warm enough to facilitate blood flow and relax muscles, but not too warm that it causes overheating.
Dog hydrotherapy has flourished for more than 15 years in the United Kingdom. In recent years, more and more U.S. veterinarians are embracing the practice. You can find hydrotherapy units at many veterinarian offices, and some facilities are set up just for hydrotherapy. To find a qualified practitioner in your area, visit the International Association of Canine Water Therapy.
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