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Taking a dip: An introduction to canine hydrotherapy.

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy comes from the Greek meaning ‘water healing’, and has been used as far back as 2400 BC, where it was first discovered that water can be used to heal humans. Canine hydrotherapy utilises the properties of water to facilitate rehabilitation by providing a non-weight bearing form of exercise, that can be performed in either a swimming pool or an underwater treadmill. The key water properties help to reduce pressure on the joints and encourage a greater range of motion.

What are the key water properties and what do they mean?

Buoyancy – this is the upwards force on an object when immersed in the water, this reduced the weight going through the limbs and makes movement easier

Specific gravity - the ratio of body weight compared to water helps with buoyancy.

Surface tension – water molecules tend to adhere to each other creating a greater resistance at the surface of the water. In the under-water treadmill, a hydrotherapist can target certain muscle groups by varying the height of the treadmill therefore build muscle mass quicker in these areas due to surface tension.

Resistance (from viscosity and cohesion) – this is greater in water compared to walking on land. It created a cushioning effect on submerged limbs which makes movement harder, this helps to increase muscle mass.

Turbulence – this is the movement of the water which can create a more challenging environment for the patient. This can be used to benefit fitness patient. It also stimulates the skin increasing circulation.

Hydrostatic pressure – this is the pressure exerted on the body when it is submerged in water. This is what helps to reduce swelling, lactic acid and inflammation.

Thermal properties – the water is heated to 28-30 degrees Celsius. The warmth of the water helps to reduce swelling and inflammation, increase blood flow, joint flexibility, muscle relaxation and decreases joint pain.

Conditions that are often referred for hydrotherapy:

· Arthritis

· Hip / elbow dysplasia

· Cruciate ligament injuries

· Recovery from injury

· Obesity

· Spinal injuries



· Neurological disorders

· Limb amputees

· Sports conditioning

How can hydrotherapy benefit my dog?

Hydrotherapy has been proven to benefit the canine patient in the following ways:

· Improve recovery time post injury / surgery

· Increase proprioceptive reflexes

· Reduce pain

· Reduce swelling / oedema

· Provide mental stimulation

· Increase joint range of motion

· Increase cardiovascular fitness

· Increase muscle tone / mass

· Increase synovial joint fluid production

· Improve gait

· Aid with weight loss

· Overall improve quality of life

A good quality 5-minute swim with a fully qualified hydrotherapist is the equivalent of a 5-mil­­e walk, without the painful side effect for dogs who find walking difficult.


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