Swimming is an amazing way to get exercise for humans. The increased resistance from moving in water provides maximized physical benefits in a short amount of time, yet buoyancy simultaneously decreases stress on joints. So it's no wonder that veterinarians and animal rehabilitation specialists are starting to recommend hydrotherapy for dogs.
Water therapy is also a great exercise option, particularly in the summer months, when exercise can induce heat stroke. Plus, swimming can be just plain fun!
Several conditions that dogs face are particularly suited for hydrotherapy: Aging pets that need to regain mobility without straining delicate and sore joints, rambunctious dogs that have played themselves into overuse injuries, obese dogs, those needing post-surgical rehabilitation, and dogs with hip dysplasia, just to name a few. Every body system is positively impacted through increased circulation, better respiration, and hydration. But these are just the physical ailments that can be alleviated through swimming.
There seems to be something almost magical about water, the way it soothes, comforts, and gives freedom of mobility even to injured pets. Maybe on some subconscious level it echoes that happy floating place in utero where we were safe, warm, nurtured, and care free.
What does hydrotherapy look like?
I toured a local veterinary office that offers hydrotherapy as part of their animal rehabilitation and wellness center. I was struck by the innovative equipment: an aquatic treadmill with depth adjustment to accommodate different heights, a good-sized circular pool with an adjustable current to increase or decrease resistance, and life jackets in every size. Even the lighting and music created an atmosphere of peace and calm, which is important, since a scared dog isn't going to relax enough to enjoy the benefits of the therapy.
The canine hydrotherapy pool at the Animal Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Castle Pines, CO.
This is why a trained professional who understands the emotional and physical aspects to therapy is hugely important. They need to be able to read which dogs will benefit from swimming after tennis balls versus a calm session involving aquatic massage. You know your dog. Trust your instincts. If your dog seems to show more stress with sessions, consider another venue, a different trainer, or a different therapy altogether.
Making the journey to better health for each other is a bonding experience like no other. Here is a reference to see if exploring this option might be a viable choice for you and your pet:
The Association of Canine Water Therapy
Special thanks to The Animal Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Castle Rock (Castle Pines) Colorado for giving me an impromptu tour!
Photo by Phiz.