Hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy has become an important part of physical rehabilitation for dogs following injury or surgery. The first use of hydrotherapy in animals was in the equine. Race horses were found to recover from injuries more quickly and still stay fit for racing if they swam as part of their rehabilitation. In the early 1970s the first equine hydro-treadmill was developed. In the mid 1980s the hydro-treadmill became available for human patients. In 1998, TOPS Veterinary Rehab outside Chicago introduced the world to the use of the hydro-treadmill for canine rehabilitation. Since then hydrotherapy whether in a pool or an underwater treadmill has proved to be a valuable tool for canine rehabilitation.
Exercising in water has many benefits. It improves strength and muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, range of motion, and well being. Most dogs find water exercise, particularly swimming, to be fun! Dogs recovering from anterior cruciate surgery, fractures, neurological conditions, tendon or ligament injuries benefit greatly from aquatic therapy as part of their rehabilitation. Overweight, arthritic and senior dogs, dogs with hip dysplasia or spondylosis ( a disease of the spine) are also candidates for aquatic therapy. Even dogs that do not suffer from any of these diseases can benefit from the increased level of fitness that aquatic therapy provides.
Hydrotherapy does not mean just throwing your dog in a pool or hydro-treadmill and watching it try to swim around. There are some precautions that have to be taken before instituting a hydrotherapy program. Dogs with open wounds or sore, dogs that have breathing difficulties or dogs with heart disease are not candidates for aquatic therapy. If the dog panics in water, aquatic therapy may not be the right therapy for him as the dog may injure himself thrashing in the water. Lifejackets, swim buddies and competent aquatic therapists may be able to assist such a dog get used to swimming or the underwater treadmill might be a better choice. The therapist must determine the fitness of the dog as swimming in particular can be very strenuous. After surgery it is not uncommon for a dog to be able to swim or walk in an underwater treadmill for only a short period of time due to fatigue. A rehabilitation veterinarian is trained to develop a hydrotherapy program for your dog that matches his level of fitness and degree of injury.