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The Benefits of Hydrotherapy for dogs.

Hydrotherapy can improve your dog's way of life in many ways, from improving balance, building muscle and stamina to improving their blood circulation, but there is much more to it than that !!!!

Hydrotherapy is a form of occupational therapy or physiotherapy that uses the resistance of the water to help rehabilitate injuries and relieve pain,

but does this type of therapy have the same benefits for dogs as it does their human counterparts? The answer is absolutely yes !!!!!

So what is Hydrotherapy for dog's and what are the benefits?

Hydrotherapy uses the benefits of the water - buoyancy,  resistance,  and hydrostatic pressure, to support a dog to move their joints. Water also makes the body buoyant, so when submerged, the weight of the body is supported. This means the dog is not fighting gravity. The buoyancy of water reduces stress on the joints and this creates a much safer and supported environment for recovery after surgery.

Hydrotherapy is also beneficial for dogs who are recovering from an injury, dogs who suffer from degenerative joint disease, and those who have been paralyzed. Water therapy can also help dogs suffering from fractures, hip dysplasia, the amputation of a limb, and neurological disorders. Hydrotherapy may be especially beneficial for dogs who suffer from arthritis due to old age; the warm water helps reduce joint swelling, along with many other benefits.

  • Muscle strengthening

  • Alleviation of muscle spasms

  • Increased range of motion

  • Promote blood circulation

  • Tissue healing

  • Cardiovascular fitness

  • Gait modification

  • Faster recovery from injuries

  • Relief of pain, swelling, and stiffness

Simultaneously, water therapy stimulates, strengthens and relaxes the body. Water therapy may also improve balance, coordination, and increase overall energy levels, all while reducing pain and stress.

Other benefits include:

  • Water increases circulation, ideal for skin and coat.

  • Water can increase lymph drainage, rid the body of toxins, and improve the immune system.

  • Water can encourage better digestion and can promote balance and coordination.

  • Hydrotherapy can also help dogs who need to shed a few pounds. A great form of low-impact exercise, regular walks on the underwater treadmill or swimming in a pool can help promote weight loss and general fitness in dogs.

What are the types of Hydrotherapy for dogs?

Underwater Treadmill

During an initial consultation with your Hydrotherapist and consultation with your veterinary practice, it is taken into consideration which would be the most beneficial form of Hydrotherapy for their treatment plan. In many cases, the underwater treadmill is chosen because it is a more balanced option than swimming. The majority of patients using the treadmill are dogs with osteoarthritis in multiple joints, those recovering from orthopaedic surgery, or managing a neurologic disease (i.e. degenerative myelopathy). Sometimes it is also chosen if a dog has a fear of the pool, so as to not cause to much stress during the first visits they can be introduced to the water slowly and calmly using its unique functions.

At the beginning of a treadmill session, the dog enters by means of a shallow incline ramp. Once in the treadmill, warm water ( approximately 27 to 31 degrees Celsius) enters the chamber and the dog is soon walking in water. The level is then adjusted to whatever the dog requires, such as shoulder-high for extra buoyancy after surgery or to relieve joint pain, or knee-high for a more vigorous workout.

Most dogs start out with one to three exercise sets, each lasting around two to three minutes, depending on how they tolerate the activity. In most cases, the goal is to get them up to 20 minutes of continuous walking. The time it takes to get there varies widely depending on the age and condition of the dog.

Advantages of Underwater Treadmill Use

  • Extension of the limbs/joints is more complete than with a swimming session.

  • Control of how fast the patient moves(Regulated speed control)

  • Control of how much weight the patient bears as they are moving (Regulated height of the water)

  • More balanced treatment for patients with multiple issues (multiple joints, muscle atrophy, etc.)

  • Support for weak patients (able to move better in water than on land)

  • Less intimidating than swimming for patients who are fearful of water (The water fills slowly from the bottom)

  • Gentle and low impact enough for post-surgical patients (2 weeks post-op in some cases)

Hydrotherapy swimming pool

Although swimming is an active exercise, it is not always the best option for therapeutic treatment. It may surprise you that not all dog's know how to swim and some dogs do not like water and will panic or fight when faced with it and wrongly owners often think they are swimming, but in fact, merely panicking. So the pool can be a great way to build your dog's confidence in and around the water  Most people understand that swimming can be beneficial for cardiovascular health and whilst some dogs have the strength in their core to stay afloat and balanced, some do not. Swimming also takes weight completely off of their limbs, which is good for arthritis but not helpful for patients who are reluctant to use the limb ( TPLO, Hip Dysplasia etc.)

Advantages of Swimming

  • Flexion of the joints is greater when swimming than walking in the treadmill.

  • Swimming renders the patient completely non-weight bearing which removes all concussive forces on their joints

  • Great for core strength

  • Improves cardiovascular strength

  • Patients with front limb nerve injuries often times use the limb during swimming before they will place the limb to walk

  • Neurological patients who are unable to stand and support themselves will sometimes swim before they walk because the buoyancy of the water makes them “weightless”

The size and depth of the pool will largely depend on the therapist or vet and what type of joint issues your dog needs to work on. Most of the time, your dog will wear a floater or might be on a harness if they are not too fond of water. At all times regardless, your therapist should be in the water at all times with your dog.

If you need any advice on if Hydrotherapy can benefit your dog, please contact a member of the Fit4dogs team. Visit our website or


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