Dogs are like people in so many ways: they need to be touched, loved, and appreciated; they need exercise, proper nutrition, and good care; and sometimes they get the same diseases, like arthritis.
It's been found that one of the best treatments for humans suffering from arthritis and other joint diseases is water aerobics, a form of hydrotherapy. It should be no surprise that dogs benefit similarly from the support and warmth of hydrotherapeutic pools, especially since most dogs enjoy water so much anyway.
While a few years ago canine hydrotherapy was looked upon as a little odd to say the least, today canine hydrotherapy facilities are growing much more common. Veterinarians are as likely today to prescribe canine hydrotherapy for hip displasia and other canine joint problems as they are to prescribe medications.
How Does It Work?
Canine hydrotherapy is very simple. Special pools with powerful jets are provided for the dogs. The jets are set up so that the dog can swim against a current, building its muscles and strengthening the ligaments around weak or damaged joints. Generally the canine hydrotherapist enters the water with the dog, helping guide him into exercising the right parts of his body, calming him and remaining close by in case the dog grows distressed.
This sort of exercise is called isokinetic - it isolates particular muscular movements to help retrain weak muscles. The number of treatments needed depend on the dog and the problem. If the hydrotherapy is recommended for a short-term condition, like rebuilding strength or recovering from surgery, it can be as few as three sessions. For a dog with a chronic illness, the hydrotherapy may be long term or even ongoing for the rest of his life.
What Should I Look For?
The canine hydrotherapy pool should be warm but not hot; ideally somewhere around 92 degrees is best. Therapists should work closely with your dog's veterinarian so they know what to treat for your pet. An individual plan should be developed for your dog intended to optimize wellness, with consideration given to muscle development, conditioning, general fitness, and relaxation.
Common reasons for the use of canine hydrotherapy include pre or post surgical conditioning; dysplasia or arthritis; obesity; cardiovascular workouts for older dogs; stroke reconditioning; and pain management, usually secondary to a joint disease.
How Do I Know Who To Use?
In Britain, the Canine Hydrotherapy Association was formed in 2000. They maintain standards and further the knowledge and use of good practice in hydrotherapy.
Not every hydrotherapist is a member. You can also find a good canine hydrotherapist by asking about the experience the therapist has had with dogs. Have they bred or shown dogs? Run kennels? Did they ever work in a veterinary capacity?
Canine hydrotherapy is a new-enough industry that there are no schools or degrees. Your best bet: let your dog choose. If the dog likes the therapist, if he's willing to work with the therapist and cooperates in his treatment, then you have a good canine hydrotherapist for your dog.