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Dog Hydrotherapy

Dog Hydrotherapy

Dog hydrotherapy is a fantastic way to get your dog into the pool and help them make a full recovery from an injury, accident or to increase their fitness and muscle if they are getting older. It can be a excellent way to get your dog back on the road in no time.

What is dog hydrotherapy?

Fast forward 2400 or so years and these advantages have now been recognised to hugely benefit our dogs too, meaning that it is becoming increasingly popular.

Dog hydrotherapy started initially with the race horsing industry. It was found that walking racehorses in water helped their conditioning and helped them heal from injuries. The greyhound racing world copied this. It was so successful in helping dogs with health issues that, from there, dog hydrotherapy’s popularity spread and it started being used for the general dog population.

Dog Hydrotherapy is therapeutic exercise carried out in warm water, usually either in a pool or on an underwater treadmill. Due to the properties of water, this enables your dog to do non-weight bearing or partially weight bearing exercise.

When your dog walks or exercises normally on land, they experience concussive forces - i.e. the shock caused by the impact of a collision/blow -  through their joints. However, these forces are removed when exercising in water. This therefore reduces pressure on joints, while increasing joint flexibility. This allows for greater mobilisation and range of motion of the joints. Movements which wouldn’t otherwise be possible on land, are able to be performed in the water. 

Warm water is used during hydrotherapy for various reasons. Warm water helps to allow the muscles to relax, promote improved circulation, and reduce any excessive muscle tension. Warm water is soothing. It also, usually, provides pain relief, particularly pain from conditions such as arthritis. Blood flow stimulated by the warm water helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues, and speeds up removal of waste products from them.

Obviously warm water is much more relaxing and calming for a dog’s nervous system than being in cold water. This means a dog getting a hydrotherapy treatment can stay in the water longer, and it reduces any anxiety or stress associated with the treatment.

There are three properties unique to water.  These are: Resistance, Buoyancy and Hydrostatic pressure.

  • Resistance – Water has much greater resistance in comparison to air. This increased resistance creates a ‘cushioning’ effect on any limbs which are submerged and makes movements harder to perform. Working against this increased resistance is beneficial for building muscle mass, as well as improving cardiovascular fitness and circulation.
  • Buoyancy – Water exerts an upward force on any object when it is in water.  This upward force is known as buoyancy. Buoyancy means an object becomes weightless in water. This releases pressure from limbs and helps to support weak muscles.

Hydrostatic pressure – This is the pressure exerted by a fluid against an object, when submerged, because of gravity. It’s caused by the weight of the fluid above, pressing down on the fluid below. It increases with depth and acts equally in all directions. Hydrostatic therapy in the case of hydrotherapy helps to reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain.

What are the benefits of dog hydrotherapy?

What are the benefits of dog hydrotherapy?

  • Relief from pain, swelling, stiffness
  • Relaxes muscle tensions and spasms
  • Less concussive forces on joints
  • Increases range of movement/motion/mobility
  • Increases and maintains muscle mass
  • Improves fitness and cardiovascular
  • Mental well-being (it releases endorphins) and stimulation
  • Removes pressure from the joints improving range of motion
  • Reduces inflammation and increases blood circulation

What conditions or injuries can be treated with dog hydrotherapy?

  • Orthopaedic injuries or conditions such as hip or elbow dysplasia, osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, spinal conditions (see below), after a bone fracture or orthopaedic surgery, and in certain cases for patellar luxation or cruciate ligament injury, when the muscles around the knee need strengthening.
  • Soft tissue injuries such as muscle strains and sprains, tendon and ligament injuries, bursitis and tendonitis, repetitive stress injuries, post operative rehabilitation after surgical repairs to soft tissue injuries, and chronic soft tissue conditions such as fibrosis and myofascial pain syndrome.
  • Neurological conditions such as Degenerative Myelopathy, Pug Myelopathy, Cerebellar Hypoplasia, Canine Vestibular Disease, Peripheral Neuropathies, post-stroke rehabilitation, and the muscle atrophy associated with neurological conditions.
  • Spinal injuries or conditions such as IVDD, spondylosis, or spinal cord injuries, such as traumatic injuries or herniated discs.
  • Age related conditions such as arthritis, the muscle weakness and atrophy associated with decreased mobility and activity levels, joint stiffness. Hydrotherapy also helps to counteract cognitive decline by providing stimulation and reducing stress. Overall, hydrotherapy is great for older dogs by maintaining some muscle strength and activation, as well as cardio fitness.
  • Weight control, helping to tackle obesity in less active dogs, or a great way for a dog that’s overweight and out of shape to get moving again.

Underwater treadmill or hydrotherapy pool?

Whether a treadmill or hydrotherapy pool is better for your dog depends very much on their condition, and what the hydrotherapy is aiming to achieve. Also a dog may also indicate a preference, which might also determine which one is used. Use of one or the other allows the hydrotherapist to tailor a rehabilitation programme to a specific dog’s needs.

Benefits of a treadmill:

  • Control over the variables: As the level of water in a treadmill can be changed, this offers the hydrotherapist a lot of control over how much weight bearing the dog is doing, plus how hard the dog will have to work in the water (deeper water makes it harder). The treadmill speed, level of incline, and duration of session are also all under the hydrotherapist’s control. It’s helpful for the hydrotherapist to be able to control the treadmill speed, for example if a dog’s reluctant to move through laziness or, conversely, is over enthusiastic and needs holding back.  If the treadmill has less water in it, and the dog bearing more weight, this can help build muscle strength, promote bone density, and improve gait mechanics. 
  • Less intimidating: For a dog is scared or worried by a pool full of water, treadmills are less threatening.
  • Better for Multiple Conditions: If a dog has multiple conditions that need very specific rehabilitation, treadmill hydrotherapy allows the hydrotherapist to be very targeted about how the conditions are treated.
  • More Limb Extension: Treadmills allow for more limb extension than in the pool. Hip dysplasia, for example, makes limb extension difficult, but being on the treadmill can make a significant difference.
  • Rear Limb Strength: The treadmill is particularly good for helping to restore rear limb strength.
  • A Good Option for Early Stages of Rehabilitation: The treadmill can sometimes be the best place for the beginning stages of hydrotherapy rehabilitation. It can be the starting point to build up a dog’s strength and muscles, with a view to them eventually going in the pool.
  • Fast Results: Hydrotherapists report that gains on the treadmill in terms of improvement, translate quickly into land based movements, with visible progress in terms of rehabilitation.

Benefits of a hydrotherapy pool:

  • Swimming freely in all directions: Being in a pool allows 360° range of motion, which gives the dog and hydrotherapist the ability to move freely in all directions. In turn, this can help to improve flexibility, range of motion, and muscle coordination.
  • Buoyancy: As mentioned earlier, the upward force that water exerts on any object when it’s in the water, means that the dog’s joints have less impact on them. Being in a pool means that the dog is actually weightless. This allows for low impact exercise, particularly beneficial for dogs with arthritis, joint pain, or mobility issues. Being weightless can also sometimes help dogs suffering from neurological conditions, which means they’re unable to weight bear on land, regain some limb function.
  • Joint Flexion: If a dog’s got reduced joint flexion from surgery or injury, being in the pool allows more possibility for working on joint flexion (whereas the treadmill offers possibility to work on joint extension).
  • Core Strength: Swimming in the pool works a dog’s core and helps strengthen and improve the core muscles.
  • Front Limb Strength: Dogs swim using doggy paddle which is a great way for them to strengthen their shoulder girdle, especially if that area is particularly weak from an accident or injury

Both the pool and the treadmill are very good for dogs who are beginning to build back cardiovascular fitness or, for dogs starting to lose their mobility, maintaining it.

What is dog hydrotherapy, and how can it benefit my dog's health?

Dog hydrotherapy uses the benefits of water (resistance, buoyancy, and hydrostatic pressure) to rehabilitate dogs who’ve been injured, had surgery, are suffering from conditions which mean exercising while weight bearing has become either too painful or difficult, or are obese or overweight. 

Hydrotherapy takes place in warm water. This soothes muscles and sore joints, is relaxing for the dog’s nervous system, and helps improve circulation. Hydrotherapy means a dog will burn calories (good for overweight or obese dogs). It also improves nerve efficiency, coordination, as well as increasing and improving soft tissue elasticity. At the same time it can decrease inflammation. Hydrotherapy is also great for cardiovascular fitness and overall physical conditioning.

What conditions or injuries can be treated with dog hydrotherapy?

A fitter, leaner dog is a healthier dog. A variety of conditions and injuries can be helped and managed by hydrotherapy. Ensure your dog’s hydrotherapy is undertaken by a qualified hydrotherapist, as part of an overall treatment plan in conjunction with your vet and/or physiotherapist.

Orthopaedic Conditions:

  • Osteoarthritis: Hydrotherapy can reduce pain, improve joint mobility, and promote muscle strength and flexibility for dogs suffering from osteoarthritis.
  • Hip Dysplasia: Dog hip dysplasia can often impact a dog’s mobility because of the pain and difficulty it causes around moving. Hydrotherapy can help strengthen the muscles around the hip joint, improve range of motion, and alleviate discomfort.
  • Cruciate Ligament Injuries: Cruciate ligament injuries, such as a torn cruciate ligament, may benefit from hydrotherapy. This is because hydrotherapy strengthens muscles, improves joint stability, and aids in rehabilitation following surgical repair.
  • Patellar Luxation: Dogs with patellar luxation may benefit from hydrotherapy as part of their rehabilitation process. It helps to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint and improve mobility.
  • Spinal Conditions: Dogs with spinal conditions, such as intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) or spondylosis, may benefit from dog hydrotherapy to maintain muscle strength, improve circulation, and support overall spinal health.
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD): Many dogs are affected by IVDD - a common spinal condition in dogs that can cause pain, weakness, and loss of mobility. Dog hydrotherapy can help to maintain muscle strength, improve range of motion, and support overall spinal health.
  • Fractures and Orthopaedic Surgeries: If a dog’s suffered from a bone fracture, or is post surgery, dog hydrotherapy can help with rehabilitation. It provides a low-impact form of exercise that helps maintain muscle mass, improve range of motion, and promote healing.
  • Muscle Weakness or Atrophy: A dog with muscle weakness or atrophy, perhaps because of an injury, illness, or even ageing, will re- build muscle strength, improve coordination, and enhance overall fitness with dog hydrotherapy.
  • Degenerative Joint Disease: Dog hydrotherapy can help manage the symptoms of degenerative joint disease (DJD), also known as degenerative joint osteoarthritis (OA), because it helps reduce pain, improves joint function, and allows movement, which enhances a dog’s quality of life.

Soft Tissue Injuries:

  • Muscle Strains and Sprains: If a dog is suffering from either muscle strains or sprains, dog hydrotherapy provides a controlled environment for exercise that helps to promote healing, improve range of motion, and prevent muscle atrophy.
  • Tendon Injuries: Dog hydrotherapy can benefit dogs with tendon injuries, such as strains or partial tears, by supporting the healing process, increasing blood flow to the injured area, and improving tendon strength and flexibility.
  • Ligament Injuries: Dogs with ligament injuries, such as strains, sprains, or partial tears, can be helped by dog hydrotherapy. It strengthens the surrounding muscles, improves joint stability, and reduces pain and inflammation.
  • Soft Tissue Trauma: Soft tissue trauma, including contusions, hematomas, or lacerations, might benefit from dog hydrotherapy as a way of promoting tissue healing, reducing swelling, and improving circulation to the affected area.
  • Bursitis and Tendonitis: Symptoms of bursitis (inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion joints) and tendonitis (inflammation of tendons) can be partially managed by dog hydrotherapy. This is because it provides gentle exercise that supports joint mobility, reduces pain, and promotes healing.
  • Repetitive Stress Injuries: Agility or flyball exercises may put a dog at risk of developing repetitive stress injuries in soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Dog hydrotherapy can help minimise these symptoms, prevent further injury, and support overall musculoskeletal health.
  • Post-Operative Rehabilitation: Dog hydrotherapy can help post-surgery, particularly for procedures to repair soft tissue injuries, such as ligament or tendon repairs. The recovery process is supported by dog hydrotherapy because it provides controlled exercise that promotes healing, strengthens muscles, and improves range of motion without putting excessive strain on the surgical site.
  • Chronic Soft Tissue Conditions: Dogs with chronic soft tissue conditions, such as fibrosis or myofascial pain syndrome, may benefit from hydrotherapy to manage symptoms, improve mobility, and enhance quality of life.

Neurological Conditions

  • Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): DM is a progressive, sadly terminal, neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord. It leads to weakness and loss of coordination in the hind limbs, and eventually complete paralysis. Dog hydrotherapy is great for helping to maintain a dog’s muscle mass, improve balance, and prolong mobility in dogs with DM.
  • Cerebellar Hypoplasia: Cerebellar hypoplasia is a condition where the cerebellum is underdeveloped ( responsible for controlling the precision of movement), resulting in poor coordination and balance problems. Hydrotherapy provides a safe environment for exercise, helping dogs with cerebellar hypoplasia improve muscle tone, coordination, and confidence.
  • Canine Vestibular Disease: Dogs suffering from Canine vestibular disease experience symptoms such as loss of balance, disorientation, and difficulty walking. Dog hydrotherapy can help to improve balance and coordination, reduce muscle atrophy, and enhance proprioception (awareness of body position) in dogs recovering from vestibular disease.
  • Spinal Cord Injuries: Dogs with spinal cord injuries, e.g. a traumatic injury or herniated disc, can benefit from dog hydrotherapy as part of their rehabilitation process. Dog hydrotherapy will assist in improving muscle strength and enhancing mobility.
  • Peripheral Neuropathies: These conditions affect the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, leading to weakness, numbness, and gait abnormalities. Hydrotherapy can help to maintain muscle tone, improve circulation, and enhance proprioception in dogs with peripheral neuropathies.
  • Post-Stroke Rehabilitation: A dog who’s suffered a stroke may experience weakness, paralysis, or coordination problems. Dog hydrotherapy can aid rehabilitation as a low-impact form of exercise that promotes muscle strength, coordination, and mobility.
  • Muscle Atrophy: Muscle atrophy can be a result of neurological conditions that decrease mobility and activity. Dog hydrotherapy provides controlled exercise that targets specific muscle groups and promotes muscle growth, thereby halting, or in some cases reversing, this atrophy.

Where can I find a hydrotherapist or hydro pool?

Obviously a quick google search will identify Hydrotherapy facilities in your area. However, beyond that, it’s important to choose a hydrotherapist who’s trained, and a hydrotherapy facility that’s hygienic, safe, with an overall environment that’s supportive and professional.

It’s worth asking your vet or physiotherapist if they have any recommendations, as they will know your dog’s needs and might be able to match them to a specific hydrotherapist they know has expertise in that field.

When choosing your Hydrotherapist, these can be some helpful questions to ask to ensure your dog is being treated by someone you trust:

What Qualifications and Certifications does the hydrotherapist have?  

As canine hydrotherapy isn’t currently regulated in the UK, you might want to look for a hydrotherapist who’s a member of a reputable professional body, such as Institute of Canine Hydrotherapists (ICH/IRVAP), National Association of Canine Hydrotherapists (NACH), or is a Registered Canine Hydrotherapist (RCH). These organisations have codes of practice, which is also important. In the US, look for members of the Canine Hydrotherapy Association (CHA).

What experience does the Hydrotherapist have? 

If your dog has a very specific medical condition, or is recovering from complex surgery, for example, it is worth asking if the Hydrotherapist has previous experience working with patients with similar issues.

How is the Hydrotherapy Facility? 

You can ask to visit the Hydrotherapy facility before committing to a session. This lets you check cleanliness, safety measures, and overall environment and atmosphere. You can ask about the equipment, what to expect from sessions, and understand what to expect from the hydrotherapy sessions in terms of your dog’s rehabilitation, mobility, fitness, etc.

What’s the Hydrotherapist’s treatment approach? 

Hydrotherapists usually adopt a holistic approach. They understand that hydrotherapy is as good for a dog’s mental wellbeing as their physical. Finding out about the hydrotherapist’s treatment approach and philosophy will help you get a better feel for how they approach what they’re doing.

Does the Hydrotherapist have an area of specialisation? 

If your dog has specific orthopaedic issues or a neurological condition, it can be worthwhile asking if the hydrotherapist specialises in treating these. A hydrotherapist with specialised expertise might possibly lead to a more effective outcome.

What are the supervision requirements at the facility? 

Enquire about supervision levels  at the facility. Ideally, the hydrotherapist will be monitoring your dog’s progress consistently, adapting treatment when needed, and able to handle any emergencies that may arise.

How are the hydrotherapist’s communication skills? 

It’s important you feel you can talk to your Hydrotherapist and ask questions if anything is worrying you. In return, the hydrotherapist should have good listening skills, be able to answer your questions, and give you information about treatment options in a manner that’s clear and understandable.

Ultimately, trust your instincts. Choose someone who’s qualified, and makes you feel comfortable and confident that your dog will receive the best possible care.

How does dog hydrotherapy differ from other forms of canine rehabilitation?

Dog hydrotherapy specifically uses water-based exercises for a variety of purposes, including physical rehabilitation, fitness, physical conditioning, and mental wellbeing. Dog hydrotherapy exploits the unique properties of water - buoyancy, resistance, hydrostatic pressure - so that a dog who’s in pain, has limited mobility, obese or overweight, or needs rehabilitation, can exercise in a way which they might be unable to do on land. 

In most cases, dog hydrotherapy is an incredibly effective and important part of a dog’s rehabilitation programme. However, other forms of canine rehabilitation, such as physiotherapy, rehabilitation exercise, canine massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care can also be hugely beneficial different approaches and techniques. They can also have highly beneficial results for health and mobility issues. Each discipline has its own benefits and considerations. The right approach for your dog depends on your dog’s specific, individual needs and physical condition.

Dog Hydrotherapy vs. Physiotherapy 

Dog hydrotherapy focuses on exercises performed in water, such as swimming or walking on an underwater treadmill. Dog hydrotherapy is  low-impact exercise. It promotes muscle strength, joint mobility, and cardiovascular fitness. Physiotherapy for dogs may include a broader range of therapeutic techniques, such as manual therapy, stretching, strengthening exercises, and gait training, both in and out of the water. Physiotherapy may also use laser or PEMF to supplement the treatment. Both aim to improve mobility, reduce pain, and enhance function through targeted exercises and interventions and often work in tandem with each other.

Dog Hydrotherapy vs. Rehabilitation Exercise

Dog hydrotherapy is a form of rehabilitation exercise, but specifically involves exercises performed in water. Other forms of rehabilitation exercise for dogs usually include land-based exercises, such as walking, trotting, climbing stairs, or performing agility drills. These exercises will be tailored for a dog’s specific mobility issues, and strengthen muscles, improve balance and coordination, and enhance overall fitness.

Dog Hydrotherapy vs. Canine Massage Therapy

Dog hydrotherapy focuses on physical exercise and conditioning in water, whereas canine massage therapy involves manual manipulation of the muscles and soft tissues to promote relaxation, reduce tension, and alleviate pain. Both dog hydrotherapy and canine massage therapy for dogs can help improve circulation, flexibility, and range of motion, as well as provide emotional and psychological benefits, but in different ways. In dog hydrotherapy the dog is more active, whereas in canine massage therapy the dog is a passive recipient of the treatment. Dog hydrotherapy and canine massage therapy can complement each other as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program, but serve different purposes and target different aspects of the dog's physical and emotional well-being.

Hydrotherapy vs. Acupuncture or Chiropractic Care 

Acupuncture and chiropractic care are alternative therapies. They both have a focus on restoring balance and function to the body's energy systems or skeletal alignment. They can be used to address a variety of health issues, including musculoskeletal pain, neurological dysfunction, and internal organ disorders. While dog hydrotherapy targets physical rehabilitation through water-based exercises, acupuncture and chiropractic care aim to restore balance and promote healing through non-invasive techniques such as needle insertion or spinal manipulation.

Can hydrotherapy be used for both rehabilitation and fitness in dogs?

Dog hydrotherapy is an incredibly versatile treatment modality.

It can be used as a rehabilitative modality for many conditions - orthopaedic, neurological, soft tissue, or age related - including those that affect mobility or cause pain - as well as for post-surgery recovery, and to help heal traumatic injuries.

Another application of hydrotherapy is for fitness and physical conditioning of dogs. It can be used for a dog of any age. For example, specific programmes can be tailored for dogs who participate in competitive agility, to assist them in reaching peak performance in terms of their fitness and core strength. Young large-breed puppies who are at risk of developing joint issues (eg hip or elbow dysplasia) can use dog hydrotherapy so that they’re exercising ‘weightfree’. This ensures they’re putting unnecessary force on their joints as they grow, which can make future problems worse.

Overweight or obese dogs can use dog hydrotherapy to start exercising again, without adding excessive force to their joints, and is a great way for them to lose weight. Dog hydrotherapy for weight loss is classed as rehabilitative dog hydrotherapy so your dog will need to be referred by a vet.

Finally, dog hydrotherapy can be huge amounts of fun for your dog and therefore can be done for purely recreational purposes. A lively, active dog that needs a lot of mental and physical stimulation, will thrive on learning how to swim and having a play in a hydrotherapy pool, with hydrotherapists on hand to help them make the most of their sessions.

Do you offer medical equipment for at-home dog hydrotherapy sessions?

It’s not advisable to try dog hydrotherapy at home, particularly if your dog is suffering from a medical, orthopaedic, neurological, soft tissue, or age related condition. A qualified hydrotherapist will help your dog get the most from a rehabilitative hydrotherapy session for their particular condition, and know how to keep your dog safe.

Never leave your dog unattended around water.

What types of hydrotherapy equipment are suitable for different dog sizes and breeds?

Rather than dog size or breed determining what hydrotherapy equipment is best suited to a specific dog, the hydrotherapist will take into account the dog’s rehabilitation needs, any condition from which they’re suffering, age, and general fitness levels into account, as the dog’s previous experience, and level of comfort, with being around water. These are the relevant factors and will determine whether the pool or treadmill will be used, for example.

Dog hydrotherapy uses various equipment:

  • Dog Hydrotherapy Pool: The pool is warm enough to be relaxing for dogs. It’s usually heated between 28 and 32 degrees. Full buoyancy means that the dog isn’t weight bearing so all exercises are low impact. Being in the pool means a dog can move freely in any direction. The pool also allows a focus on joint flexion exercises
  • Dog Hydrotherapy Treadmill: The treadmill allows the hydrotherapist to control the speed, water levels (increasing or decreasing the levels determines how much weight bearing the dog is doing), and the incline levels of the treadmill. The treadmill can be good for dogs who are only just starting their rehabilitation programme, or who are nervous of the hydrotherapy pool. The hydrotherapy treadmill also allows a focus on joint extension exercises.
  • Buoyancy Jackets / Float Jackets: The appropriate jacket is always used to keep a dog safe, and ensure that the hydrotherapist can easily support and get hold of the dog.
  • Swim cap: Some dogs are prone to developing ear infections. These are a good option if that’s the case.
  • Toys: Toys are only used in hydrotherapy pools for motivation and not for playing or retrieving, due to the risk of secondary, or “dry” drowning. This is when the dog inhales water into their lungs. This then causes vomiting, difficulty breathing, slow and dazed “drunk” movements, shock, irregular heartbeat, and skin and gums changing to blue/grey colour. Secondary drowning can occur several hours, or even days, after swimming and can be fatal.

Can hydrotherapy aid in weight management for dogs?

Canine hydrotherapy is a fantastic choice of exercise for dogs that are obese or overweight, particularly if they have mobility problems. It’s a very easy way for your dog to get moving again, without stressing the joints. This is because hydrotherapy is low impact due to the water. If a dog that’s overweight is doing land-based exercise, excessive pressure can be exerted onto the joints. This pressure then exacerbates joint conditions, such as hip dysplasia or arthritis. Canine hydrotherapy removes this pressure on their joints. A dog exercising water can burn up to four times the amount of calories in the same amount of time spent walking. Canine hydrotherapy is also good for cardiovascular health. 

If your dog is obese, the hydrotherapy will come under the category of rehabilitative hydrotherapy. Your vet will need to prescribe it. However, overall, if your dog’s obese or needs to lose a bit of weight, canine hydrotherapy is one of the best exercise options that there is to help with this.

How do I determine if my dog is a good candidate for hydrotherapy?

There are various criteria to consider when deciding whether or not to embark on a course of canine hydrotherapy. Your dog’s suitability as a candidate will depend on a variety of factors. Canine hydrotherapy can be an incredibly beneficial form of exercise and rehabilitation for many dogs. In particular, it can help those with specific conditions - such as joint issues, hip dysplasia, for example - or recovering from injuries - such as strained tendons and muscles, or sprained ligaments.

  • Veterinary Recommendation: Has your vet prescribed hydrotherapy? If not, check with your vet or veterinarian physiotherapist. They can assess your dog's overall health and determine if hydrotherapy is suitable for your dog's specific condition or needs.
  • Physical Conditions: Dogs with arthritis, joint pain, muscle weakness, obesity, or recovering from surgery or injury can benefit from hydrotherapy. If your dog falls into any of these categories, hydrotherapy is likely to be a good option.
  • Mobility Issues: Does your dog have difficulty moving or exercising on land due to injury or pain? If so, canine hydrotherapy can provide a low-impact way to build strength, improve mobility, and alleviate discomfort.
  • Post-Surgery Recovery: Canine hydrotherapy can be an effective tool in  post-surgical rehabilitation. This is because it strengthens muscles, promotes range of motion, and often helps dogs regain musculoskeletal function more quickly.
  • Orthopaedic Conditions: Hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament injuries, or degenerative joint disease may all benefit from canine hydrotherapy to manage pain and improve joint function.
  • Weight Management: Canine Hydrotherapy can be a very effective component of a weight management program for obese and overweight dogs. It’s calorie-burning exercise, without putting excess strain on the joints. It’s good for physical conditioning, and for keeping the cardiovascular system healthy.
  • Behavioural Considerations: There are some dogs who don’t like being in water or may experience anxiety during canine hydrotherapy sessions. Therefore, think about your dog's temperament. Do you already know whether or not they’re comfortable in water? If the answer is no, this may be something you want to discuss with an experienced hydrotherapist, before committing to sessions.
  • Contraindications: If your dog’s suffering from a particular health condition, such as heart disease or respiratory problems, then they may not be a good candidate for canine hydrotherapy. Before starting canine hydrotherapy, ask for your vet’s advice on suitability if your dog has any underlying medical conditions (see below).
  • Professional Guidance: Canine hydrotherapy should only be undertaken by trained professionals - e.g. veterinarians, veterinary technicians, or certified canine rehabilitation therapists. They will know how to tailor a canine hydrotherapy programme to your dog's specific needs, and be able to track and monitor their progress safely.
  • Response to Water: For some dogs, canine hydrotherapy is very enjoyable and they take to it ‘like a duck to water’. It’s worth noting that even those dogs who are initially reluctant, can often get used to canine hydrotherapy over time. However, to reach this stage will take patience and positive reinforcement.

Your dog should only do canine hydrotherapy with caution if suffering from:

  • Obesity
  • Is a breed with an elongated soft palate (e.g. bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Pekingnese, Pug, Rottweiler, and Shih Tzus)
  • Brachycephalic Breeds (e.g. Cavalier King Charles, bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Pekingnese, Pug, Rottweiler, Dogue de Bordeaux, Llaso Apso, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers)
  • Laryngeal Paralysis and tie back
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Cushing / Addisons Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart Murmur
  • Renal Failure

Your dog should not be doing any canine hydrotherapy (i.e. it’s contraindicated) if they’re suffering from any of these:

  • Diarrhoea and/or incontinence - active gastrointestinal disease
  • Vomiting
  • Suffering from any contagious disease (e.g. Canine Distemper, Canine Influenza, Parvovirus, ticks, fleas, or mange)
  • Open wounds
  • Before a fibrous seal formation is present on surgical wounds
  • Surface infections, including eye infections
  • External skeletal fixators
  • Unstable fractures
  • Severe joint laxity
  • Certain spinal conditions (check with your vet or hydrotherapist) e.g. active spinal cord compression/instability, 
  • Cervical spinal issues
  • Extreme aggression

Can hydrotherapy be used in conjunction with other veterinary treatments?

Canine hydrotherapy on its own is a very effective therapy for dogs with certain conditions or recovering from surgery or injury. It’s generally understood to speed up the healing process and improve the quality of healing.  It’s also anti-inflammatory which often decreases swelling in tissues. However, it can be used in conjunction with other veterinary treatments and therapies very successfully.

In particular, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy work well together and are mutually supportive approaches to a dog’s rehabilitation. Physiotherapy is a hands-on treatment, which sometimes also uses additional modalities such as laser therapy or therapeutic pet ultrasound, that works to address musculoskeletal problems. It’s recommended that any physiotherapy assessment is booked for a different day than a hydrotherapy session. Canine hydrotherapy may also work well alongside canine massage therapy and/or acupuncture.  

If your dog is having canine hydrotherapy, and you haven’t already thought of these, you may also want to consider joint health supplements, natural pain relief supplements, Omega 3s, and balanced nutritional support through a diet rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Ask your physiotherapist and hydrotherapist whether a wrap, support, splint, or brace might help your dog, depending on their condition. As ever, consult your vet for their advice and recommendations.

Are there contraindications or conditions where hydrotherapy should be avoided?

Yes there are a few conditions where canine hydrotherapy should only be used with caution.

Your dog should only do canine hydrotherapy with caution if suffering from:

  • Obesity
  • Is a breed with an elongated soft palate (e.g. bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Pekingnese, Pug, Rottweiler, and Shih Tzus)
  • Brachycephalic Breeds (e.g. Cavalier King Charles, bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Pekingnese, Pug, Rottweiler, Dogue de Bordeaux, Llaso Apso, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers)
  • Laryngeal Paralysis and tie back
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Cushing / Addisons Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart Murmur
  • Renal Failure

Your dog should not be doing any canine hydrotherapy at all (i.e. it’s contraindicated) if they’re suffering from any of these:

  • Diarrhoea and/or incontinence - active gastrointestinal disease
  • Vomiting
  • Suffering from any contagious disease (e.g. Canine Distemper, Canine Influenza, Parvovirus, ticks, fleas, or mange)
  • Open wounds
  • Before a fibrous seal formation is present on surgical wounds
  • Surface infections, including eye infections
  • External skeletal fixators
  • Unstable fractures
  • Severe joint laxity
  • Certain spinal conditions (check with your vet or hydrotherapist) e.g. active spinal cord compression/instability, 
  • Cervical spinal issues
  • Extreme aggression

What is the ideal frequency and duration of dog hydrotherapy sessions?

The duration of a dog hydrotherapy session depends entirely on the individual dog, their existing fitness level, whether or not they’re suffering from a specific condition, and the objective of the hydrotherapy (e.g. rehabilitation, weight loss, or recreation). The hydrotherapist will have customised a plan for your dog, perhaps in collaboration with your dog’s physiotherapist, if they’re seeing one. 

Typically however, sessions last between 10 minutes and an hour. When a dog’s starting hydrotherapy they may be recommended several sessions a week on a regular basis. Once they’ve started showing improvements, (e.g. rebuilding muscles that have been wasted, decrease of symptoms, weight loss) it may be that the frequency of the sessions can be reduced. Sessions may go down to once a week, every other week, or perhaps even less. The duration of the session may get longer as your dog’s stamina and wellbeing improve. The hydrotherapist will advise you on this and keep you up-to-date, letting you know what’s appropriate at each stage as they continuously reassess your dog’s progress.

Dog Hydrotherapy - What Is It, How Does It Help and Benefits