Aquatic Therapy for Dogs

Aquatic therapy for dogs is a form of rehabilitation and athletic conditioning. In both cases, canine aquatic therapy prevents injury, lessens pain, strengthens muscles, and restores or enhances mobility. Dogs do not have to live near water or like to swim to undergo aquatic therapy, which occurs indoors in a shallow tank. Aquatic therapy for dogs is also known as canine hydrotherapy, canine aqua training and canine underwater training.

Uses of Canine Aquatic Therapy

Aquatic therapy may be customized to the needs of your dog. Your dog’s veterinarian or surgeon will consider a number of factors in designing an aquatic therapy regimen, including your dog’s age, lifestyle, medical history and type and degree of illness or injury. Here are uses of canine aquatic therapy:

  • Post-operative rehabilitation
  • Prevention of injury
  • Retraining due to nerve damage or deficiencies
  • Pain control
  • General conditioning
  • Intensive conditioning for sport dogs
  • Hydro-massage

How the Treadmill Is Used in Canine Aquatic Therapy

Canine aquatic therapy is administered in a clear tank of water outfitted with an underwater treadmill, which is specially made for dogs. Due to its buoyancy, water lessens the pressure on a dog’s joints and muscles during a physical workout. In addition, water provides gentle resistance that increases a dog’s strength and stamina.

What Happens in the Water Tank

The therapist will be sensitive to your dog’s reactions to being placed in water. Your dog may be hesitant or resistant at first. Or, your dog may be too infirm to walk or run outside the tank. Fortunately, aquatic therapy tanks are designed to gently acclimate your dog to hydrotherapy, no matter its physical condition. Here’s what happens during an aquatic therapy session:

  • Your dog enters the water tank, which is made of a clear material.
  • If necessary, your dog may be fitted with a life vest when instability is a concern. The therapist fills the tank with water, which is heated to a comfortable and soothing temperature.
  • The therapist adjusts the water level, as needed.
  • Your dog begins to walk on the treadmill, which cycles at a speed also adjusted appropriately by the therapist.

How the Vet Determines Hydrotherapy Is Right for Your Dog

During the initial examination, your dog’s vet will evaluate the following baseline physical attributes: gait, strength, functional mobility, and physical measurements. He or she will then provide a prognosis of desired outcomes of aquatic therapy. For some conditions, the sooner aquatic therapy begins, the greater chance muscle and bone damage may be arrested or reversed. In addition, your dog will likely reap psychological rewards, feeling happier during convalescence and recovery.

Conditions that May Be Treated by Canine Aquatic Therapy

Your vet may recommend aquatic therapy to treat the following conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Gait disruption
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Spinal injury
  • Paralysis
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Weight control
  • Coordination disorders
  • Overall physical deterioration