Most dogs love swimming. Pet parents are all too familiar with the shake and spray that comes after a good dip. Water has healing properties; even your four-legged fluff brain knows that. Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, is becoming increasingly popular to help pets with various ailments. If you've heard this buzzword, keep reading to find out how aquatic therapy can help your companion animal.

What is Hydrotherapy for Dogs?

dog hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is a form of physical therapy that uses water's properties to assist dogs where rehabilitation, exercise, and recovery are needed. The viscosity, buoyancy, and resistance in water positively affect muscle strength and pain management. With reduced contact force and pressure, discomfort, and inflammation on joints, bones, and muscles is avoided. The water temperature can also affect various systems of the body. 

Historically, water healing has been a useful tool in natural medicine. With various treatment methods for humans, recent trials have shown that it is also beneficial to canines. Hydrotherapy, water therapy, aquatic therapy, pool therapy, and balneotherapy are the many names for this natural wellness practice.

A certified hydrotherapist does canine hydrotherapy with various equipment. A vet will prescribe hydrotherapy exercises for injuries, disability, fitness, or surgery recovery for dogs of all ages.

Types of Hydrotherapy for Dogs

Various areas of the canine body are targeted with the use of several hydrotherapy practices and tools. The type of therapy chosen will be suited to your dog's needs. In most cases, your pooch wears a harness to keep them safely above the water level and in the right position while they exercise. Therapists will make use of balls, toys, and other enticing objects to help motivate the dog. A pet owner is often present for the session and will encourage their dog by talking to them as they move. 

Water temperature is important, and a good facility will set it to the right warmth so that injured and strained muscles and joints find relief. Colder temperatures are set for athletic dogs who are recovering from exercise. 

Underwater Treadmills

Imagine a treadmill in a glass box filled with water. Dogs can enter on a ramp or are lowered into the pool to walk on the treadmill belt. The pool is filled up to the appropriate water level for your dog. Once inside, the treadmill belt will move at a monitored speed, and the hydrotherapist will assist any muscles and limbs that need help so that the correct range of motion can be achieved. 

dog hydrotherapy treadmill

Whirlpool Therapy 

It's a doggy hot tub! Whirlpool therapy is used for pain management and treatment in dogs who have discomfort following an injury or surgery. The water eases stress with the use of warm water jets. The movement of the water can massage your dog's tender muscles. It's a relaxing form of therapy.

In a study with humans, "Ten minutes of immersions in whirlpools produced...increased feelings of well-being and decreased state anxiety." Since treatments that are beneficial to humans have a similar effect on our furry counterparts, rehabilitation protocols in the veterinary field are alike. We can assume that a similar stress-reducing effect is experienced in dogs when they have whirlpool and other hydrotherapy treatments. 

Dog Pools

Canine hydrotherapy pools come in different shapes and sizes. The pool is usually small in size and accommodates the pet and therapist. Some pools will be raised so that therapists stand on the outside and help your dog. Other hydrotherapy pools resemble a human swimming pool, and the therapist will join your pup for a swim, assisting them in their movement the whole time. For easy access and less strain on joints, a pool with a ramp is preferable.

The Benefits of Dog Hydrotherapy

Many people associate physical water therapy with being a way to aid the recovery and strengthening of joints. While this is one of the many benefits, hydrotherapy has been found to help with many other physical and neurological conditions.  

Here are some of the many benefits of hydrotherapy.

Eases and Treats Orthopedic Conditions

Osteoarthritis is a musculoskeletal disorder that is very common in dogs. Data from 200 veterinarians showed that osteoarthritis is reported in 20 percent of all dogs over one year of age in the U.S and surrounding areas of North America. The number one concern with Arthritis is pain that results from the friction between the bones due to the erosion of the cushioning cartilage. It is a hereditary condition, and breeds predisposed to osteoarthritis include Rottweiler, Golden Retriever, and Labrador Retriever. 

Degenerative joint disease, such as hip dysplasia, is common in larger breeds such as Mastiffs, Boxers, Italian Corso dogs, German Shepherds, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, and Bernese Mountain dogs.

Patellar Luxation is another orthopedic condition that can benefit from hydrotherapy sessions. It's common in smaller breeds such as Pomeranians, Chihuahua, Yorkshire terrier, and French Bulldogs.

For all of these orthopedic conditions, hydrotherapy may assist in muscle strength, aiding in joint surgery recovery, and decreasing the action of degenerative joint disease. The water buoyancy enables the dog to do more than they would on land by providing resistance.

dog in hydrotherapy pool

Weight Loss and Management

Weight is another factor that can bring on or worsen degenerative joint disease. For this reason, hydrotherapy can help with weight loss to avoid the onset of Arthritis or other chronic health conditions.

Quickens Postoperative Recovery

By doing physical therapy in water, postoperative recovery times can be reduced. With the right professional at their side, movement can be manipulated to strengthen muscles correctly.

The following surgeries can benefit from hydrotherapy as part of their rehabilitation:

  • Tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy (TPLO)

  • Cruciate ligament repairs

  • Hip replacements

  • Fracture repairs

  • Back and neck surgeries

  • Femoral head and neck ostectomies (FHO's)

  • Patella luxations, and other orthopedic-related surgery.

Pain Treatment

Chronic pain or temporary pain management due to dog injuries can be eased with Whirlpool hydrotherapy. The water movement and temperature can help pain management without adding strain or stress on the inflamed area. 

Can Form Part of the Treatment for Respiratory Diseases

Hydrotherapy has proven to be helpful for humans with Asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD is chronic bronchitis that affects the pulmonary or respiratory system and is irreversible. Non-specific treatment in dogs with COPD includes mild exercise to promote weight loss. Therefore, hydrotherapy for dogs can form part of their wellness plan to increase lung strength. 

Overall Health

The benefits of hydrotherapy for dogs are numerous. When looking at water healing in humans, we see that water temperature makes a difference in the body's effects. Metabolic rate, blood pressure, nerve conduction velocity, cortisol levels, decreased tension, fatigue, memory, mood, immune system, and more can all be improved by water therapy. Water therapy may also benefit skin and coat health by increasing circulation. 

Reduced Anxiety

Water is soothing. Anxious dogs will benefit from its healing properties and exit the pool with reduced stress, increased energy, and a renewed zest for life. Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins, responsible for this joyous high. 

Fitness Training for Canine Athletes

Water therapy isn't only reserved for those pets with ailments; it has also been used to exercise canine athletes. Dog hydrotherapy can increase their fitness quicker than if they trained on land. This form of fitness training's main benefit is that water buoyancy is gentle on joints, and an athlete is protected from injury during training. Exercising in a pool further benefits athletes by improving their balance, proprioception, and cardiovascular fitness.

dog swimming in hydrotherapy pool

Dog Hydrotherapy vs. CBD for Dogs

If you're looking for a holistic option to help your dog with discomfort, you may want to consider CBD.

CBD is more popular than ever in the holistic wellness space, and more and more pet parents are turning to CBD every day to help support their dog's health and happiness.

CBD works by interacting with a dog’s internal endocannabinoid system, helping to support normal cardiovascular, immune, and neurological function. But CBD can also help with promoting relaxation in dogs, helping with occasional discomfort, and even supporting mobility--just take a look at all the success stories of pet parents who've used CBD for these reasons and more.

The best part is that CBD for dogs comes in all forms, like CBD oil, delicious bites and chews, and even! This makes it incredibly easy to administer CBD to your pup--in fact, most dogs look forward to their daily dose of CBD thanks to the delicious flavors CBD comes in.

Getting Started with Hydrotherapy for Dogs

As you take the step to dip your toe into the world of canine hydrotherapy, there are a few things to consider. Giving these points some thought can help you find a hydrotherapy facility that will consider your dog and their unique needs. 

Average Costs 

Once your vet has recommended water therapy as a treatment, you can ask for recommendations for a trustworthy hydrotherapist in your area. The cost of water therapy will vary depending on your location, the method used, and each session's duration. Of course, your dog's condition may also affect the cost. 

Pool-based therapy that does not use expensive equipment will be more affordable, and some hydrotherapists will do home-visits in your pool. Underwater treadmill therapy will be more costly, sometimes $10-20 more per session than pool therapy. According to Wag, therapy sessions can cost between $30-$50 per 30 minutes. The number of sessions your dog needs will vary depending on their treatment and rehabilitation goal.

Make Sure You Use a Professional

Hydrotherapy is not something that you can do at home and is best carried out by a professional. Canine Hydrotherapists regulate water temperature and ensure the pool is sanitized to lower the chance of infection on any wounds. Dirty pools can cause ear infections, irritation of skin conditions, and bacterial infections. These risks are avoidable by choosing a facility that uses correct hygiene practices for their pool.

A professional is familiar with the correct range of motion that muscles are capable of and will accurately manipulate your pet's limbs and posture to help them become stronger without furthering any injury. Hydrotherapists have straps and harnesses that will support crippled and injured pets with low muscle tone. With years of experience, a professional will create an exercise plan with your pet's condition and rehabilitation goal in mind.

Water maintenance, personalized programs, and understanding canine biology are all factors that make hiring a professional hydrotherapist worth it. Pet insurance providers are likely to cover the cost of alternative therapies such as hydrotherapy, as long as it's been recommended by your vet. If you see the need for alternative therapy in your dog's future, make sure you have a comprehensive pet insurance cover that will include it in your policy.

How to Find a Hydrotherapist 

Trusting someone with your pet's wellness is a huge step. Choosing a good and reputable hydrotherapist is important and can significantly impact your pup's health and rehabilitation progress. Firstly, you want to ask for the advice of your vet. They should be able to refer you to a licensed hydrotherapist with clean facilities. With a little more research, sourcing references, and checking customer reviews, you can make an informed decision on a dog hydrotherapy facility that you can trust. 

After meeting and possibly observing a therapy session, you can assess whether the therapist has the temperament to put your dog at ease. Since hydrotherapy necessitates several therapy sessions, a good relationship between your dog and the therapist will reduce stress and create a bond. 

Hydrotherapy for dog wellness

Water Therapy, Take The Dive

Seeing your dog's health improve brings hope, joy, and pride to a pet owner's heart. You want them to live a long life at your side. When your previously crippled dog learns to walk, or your obese pooch has dropped the pounds, prolonging their life, every dollar spent and every challenge seems insignificant. 

Hydrotherapy is one part of the plan to get your dog's health into shape. Heed your vet's advice, continuing with medication or natural remedies that can ease their discomfort and keep them calm during therapy sessions. With professional expertise and specific types of hydrotherapy care, your dog can have a spring in their step again.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is canine hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is a form of physical therapy that uses water's properties to assist dogs where rehabilitation, exercise, and recovery are needed. The viscosity, buoyancy, and resistance in water positively affect muscle strength and pain management.

Is hydrotherapy good for dogs?

Many people associate physical water therapy with being a way to aid the recovery and strengthening of joints. While this is one of the many benefits, hydrotherapy has been found to help with many other physical and neurological conditions.

How much does hydrotherapy cost for dogs?

Once your vet has recommended water therapy as a treatment, you can ask for recommendations for a trustworthy hydrotherapist in your area. The cost of water therapy will vary depending on your location, the method used, and each session's duration. Of course, your dog's condition may also affect the cost. 

Can I give my dog hydrotherapy at home?

Hydrotherapy is not something that you can do at home and is best carried out by a professional. Canine Hydrotherapists regulate water temperature and ensure the pool is sanitized to lower the chance of infection on any wounds.

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