Hydrotherapy:swimming into good health

Just as with people, hydrotherapy can be used for dogs after an injury or surgical procedure, or for chronic conditions, to help regain strength and mobility. It has been proven to speed recovery time from surgery, improve function and minimize complications. Early intervention may help them recover more quickly and completely. There is a growing consensus among veterinarians and pet owners in the United States and Europe, that a little exercise in water can be very beneficial in improving the health and quality of life for dogs. Whether young and bursting with health and energy, old and feeling sore or stiff from arthritis, or recovering from injury or surgery, hydrotherapy has something in store for almost all dogs.

What is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy, sometimes also called aquatic or swim therapy, is a complimentary treatment that is coming to popularity. It is a form of active assisted exercise that includes the use of a swimming pool, underwater treadmill, or therapy spa to engage an animal in swimming activities. The health benefits of active assisted hydrotherapy have been studied extensively and are now recognized by modern veterinary surgeons around the world. Aquatic exercise is purposely advised for increasing muscle strength, balance and stamina, and is essentially a part of many rehabilitation programmes.

What are its benefits?

According to Dr. Jeffrey Norton, Surgery Resident at VCA/All Care Animal Referral Center in Fountain Valley, California, USA, hydrotherapy has numerous goals and benefits, including the restoration of muscle function in the post-operative period. The decision to initiate hydrotherapy is based on the patient’s tolerance, the clinical judgment of the veterinarian, and the availability of physical rehabilitation facilities. Restoration of muscle function following surgery is critical. Water provides more resistance than air; and due to the additional support, the likelihood of further injury during exercise is reduced. However, this is a new field which is yet to be well-regulated. Apart from swimming, underwater treadmill also has its benefits to offer. As the water in a treadmill lifts 60% of the dog’s weight off its feet, while still allowing the feet to touch the ground, dogs move normally and are not frightened. This reduces the chance of injury due to thrashing and hyperextension, as it sometimes happens in a regular pool, especially to dogs who have just had surgery. Moving against the resistance of the water strengthens muscles and improves balance and coordination.

Other benefits include decreasing pain and facilitating healing of injured and inflamed tissues, preventing further disuse and atrophy of affected muscles, improving strength and function of weak or paralysed limbs, besides facilitating weight loss and improving general overall condition. Hydrotherapy also relieves pain and stiffness caused by arthritis and provides positive psychological effects for both the dog and the owner.

What kind of exercises does it offer?

Hydrotherapy facilities currently can offer hydrotherapy rehabilitation, which include swimming, massage for exercise, underwater treadmill, and conditioning purposes.

What are the factors to be considered in hydrotherapy?

The function of a treadmill varies with design. There are specific designs for dogs, rather than one adapted from a human or horse treadmill. Adapted treadmills can cause injury or death to weak dogs. The extreme turbulence in horse or human treadmill could prove hazardous for dogs.

Other factors like suitable water temperature, depth of the pool, noise level, chlorine level, etc should be equally considered. And most importantly, an expert should be attending the dog while the exercise goes on. Hydrotherapy providers should be clean, well-informed, insured and have a valid business license. Following certain guidelines will help dogs enjoy the benefits that swimming and hydrotherapy offer.

(Judy Teresa Pogreba is the Founder and President of See Spot Swim, Inc?–?a canine hydrotherapy, rehabilitation and conditioning center in USA. More information can be had from www.seespotswim.com. And further details on underwater treadmills can be obtained from www.animalrehab.co.uk or www.ferno.com)

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