treading water: the benefits of hydrotherapy for pets

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Australian water dog receiving hydrotherapy | The benefits of hydrotherapy for pets
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Mar 12 2014

Hydrotherapy is a type of physical therapy that incorporates water into exercises through the use of swimming and underwater treadmills. If you’ve ever tried water aerobics, or simply just tried walking while your feet and legs were submerged in water, you know it can give you quite a workout. For pets who have undergone orthopedic surgery or who are recovering from an injury, hydrotherapy can put them on the path to quicker recovery.

Hydrotherapy treatment for pets

The benefits are hydrotherapy are many. Most importantly, it allows patients to use their joints in a full range of motion, but in a reduced weight-bearing environment. Much of the stress of everyday movements (like walking and running) are from the paws hitting the hard ground, sending the force of the body’s weight jolting through the muscles and joints. Swimming and underwater treadmills allow for the same groups of muscles to be used in a low stress, low impact environment.

An added bonus of doing all of this work underwater? The water surrounding your pet’s legs and paws adds resistance, which means their muscles have to work harder. This improves muscle tone and promotes tissue repair without stress.

The goal after most surgeries or traumatic injuries is to eventually return the patient to full fitness (or better!). Physical therapy, and more specifically hydrotherapy, increases the quality of healing as well as the recovery rate. A few other benefits of hydrotherapy are:

1. Decreased pain and swelling

2. Increased range of motion in joints

3. Increased circulation

4. Increased cardiovascular fitness (swimming is a great workout!)

5. Increased muscle strength

In addition to the physical benefits that hydrotherapy can provide to your post-op pooch, mental benefits abound. Many pets who are on cage rest post-operatively have a serious case of cabin fever.

The same goes for pets who are recovering from injuries or suffer from arthritis pain—many of the activities they used to enjoy are just too painful to try. Hydrotherapy provides a much needed exercise break that they can enjoy without pain. Once they get used to swimming in a pool or walking on an underwater treadmill, physical therapy becomes more like play time!

Whether your pet is looking to strengthen muscles pre-operatively, get back to her athletic best post-operatively, or simply trying to increase her range of motion in her arthritic joints, hydrotherapy can help. Ask your vet if hydrotherapy is a viable option for your pet and for referrals to local therapists. It might even be covered by your pet insurance (it is with Petplan!).