When you think of hydrotherapy for dogs, what do you think…? Rehabilitation for dogs after having an operation to resolve issues like hip or elbow dysplasia?
Or recovery, to help build up muscle after suffering from an accident? Or maybe old dogs with stiff joints needing a new way of exercising?
Although all these answers are correct and any dog in this situation would be massively helped by hydrotherapy, and should be encouraged to do so by a vet, these aren’t the only reasons to take your dog to hydro. Below is a list of other reasons dogs can come to hydrotherapy, and an explanation as to why. Hopefully you will find a category that fits your dog. Please do not feel you have to read everything in this blog as it is very repetitive!
At the bottom of this page is a paragraph about general hydrotherapy, my experiences so far, and how to get involved.
OAP’s (old age pets)
Although this has been mentioned above, I thought I should explain why it is so good for older dogs to go swimming. Hydrotherapy is a great way to exercise your dog with lowered risk of doing any damage or hurting already painful arthritic joints. You must remember although your dog is still fit and active, they are getting older and, like all of us, walking or running does put pressure on their joints, causing general wear and tear, however swimming doesn’t, or at least does much less!
The warmth of the water also helps to relax tight muscles, assist blood flow and acts as a naturally anti-inflammatory. It is also much better, and more enjoyable for all involved, when the winter months set it. Cold weather has a massive impact on a dog’s joints so even just once a week giving those joints and muscles a break and going for a swim instead is great all round, and you don’t have to go out in the cold for as long either!
Swimming is also great mental stimulation for not only your dog but you as well. Being able to watch your dog play, chase and exercise without being in pain is so wonderful to watch, and just imagine how it makes them feel.
As i'm sure many of you know, it is advised to restrict your new pups exercise, especially for giant or large breeds. However, sometimes this is impractical... 5 minutes per month, so it is expected that your hyperactive 4, 5, 6 month old puppy does 20, 25, or possibly 30 minutes of exercise a day!? And is that on lead, off lead, road walking or fields? In my opinion no one can give a definite answer.
However, swimming is a non weight bearing form of exercise so very little impact will be made on your young pups joints compared to land based exercise. Core strength and muscle will be built up to support those growing joints as well as key mental stimulation which every puppy needs to help become a confident and well developed family pet.
As well as all the above mentioned points, personally I feel puppies, like children, need to learn to swim. Yes swimming is a natural instinct, like it is with humans, but if we panic, we drown. Giving your dog a chance to learn to swim in a controlled, fun environment could stop that panic and potentially save your dog at any point in their lives.
Agility, fly ball, canicross, and working dogs.
Anyone who works, competes or does any kind of sport with their dog knows the strain it can put on them. Working hard to keep in peak physical fitness can put a lot of stress on your dogs joints and muscles. Hydrotherapy is a great way to exercise your dog with the lowered risk of causing injury. It also helps build up muscle, increase range of movement and build cardio fitness. As 1 minute of swimming is said to be the equivalent of 1 mile running, you may find that building up your dogs swimming fitness level will increase overall fitness and will you will certainly see a difference in muscle tone. When your dogs hydro fitness is at its peak, we can turn the jets on to increase resistance and make the work out even harder!
And if your dog does suffer an injury, hydrotherapy is a sure way to decrease recovery time, help keep muscle tone, fitness levels and keep them mentally active whilst resting.
Carrying a little excess weight?
In 2014 the RSPCA reported that every 1 out of 3 dogs was considered overweight or obese. From my experience people have a distorted view of the ideal dog. Being a dog walker and walking both fit and fat dogs, time and time again I hear people commenting that "they need fattening up" or "ahh don't your owners feed you," when these dogs are actually an ideal body condition and in my eyes look great! I have even had others commenting on how fit a dog looks when actually they are overweight! This has always been an important subject to me, which has sometimes led me to upsetting people with my opinion, but for me at the end of the day its the dogs welfare that trumps all!
Physically, dogs are not built to carry weight. They have comparatively small joints, and they are designed to run. After all, they are predators and left to their own devices would be high up the food chain. Because of this, carrying extra weight can have a massive impact on not only a dogs general health, but can also increase joint deterioration significantly.
This is where hydrotherapy comes in...
When an owner realises their dog is over weight, like us, the best way to lose those pounds, as well as portion control, is exercise. However, walking a fat dog more often and/or for longer will put more strain on their already potentially knackered joints. Whereas swimming will not only build and strengthen muscle to support their joints but will also put no additional strain on them. Hydro will also help build cardiovascular fitness so they will be able to run and play for longer without getting out of breath. After just a few sessions, with the correct food balance, the weight will fall away! Bringing out a new lease of life, shedding the years off as they will now be able to easily bound and run around without being in pain or getting out of breath too quickly.
None of the above...
Even if your dog doesn't fit into any of these categories and is just a normal, happy, healthy dog that is no reason not to take your dog to hydro. If your dog enjoys swimming in lakes and ponds, swimming at a hydrotherapy centre is a much safer way for them to enjoy the water. Yes, going to a centre is more expensive, but you could save money in the long run as there is lowered risk of ear and eye infections, no risk of them cutting themselves on broken glass or wire in the water, or getting caught in fishing lines etc. And as there would be a hydrotherapist in the water with your dog, we can ensure your dog is using all their limbs correctly, swimming strongly and getting the most out of it.
Even if your dog doesn't like swimming, but you understand the benefits and want to give it a go, eventually most dogs do get the hang of it and will enjoy it once they know what they are doing!
On a personal note
Considering I only been in this industry for a few months, already I have seen improvements to dogs lives. One lovely cross breed is now running off lead again after a cruciate ligament repair operation and being on restricted lead walking and hydrotherapy to rebuild her muscle, another old girl is potentially coming off her pain killer injections due to natural supplements and hydro. We have also taught many dogs to swim, built up their core strength so they no longer need buoyancy aids and given them the opportunity to enjoy it! With some, including my own, they may never like swimming, tolerate it maybe, but not enjoy it. However, I still continue to persist with taking my 'Daxi' swimming as I hope, and truly believe, this will strengthen his back, maybe enough to avoid the dreaded IVDD (slipped disc).
All I ask of you now is to go away and research your breed. Many of us buy dogs without really knowing what medical conditions they are prone to. Like I have mentioned above with my own Dachshund, they are prone to serious back problems, Labradors and Spaniels are prone to elbow issues, German Shepherds hip problems, Yorkshire terriers knee issues, the list could go on and on. So please look into your breed, not just so you take your dog to hydro, but so you know what to look out for. From my short experience working with dogs, I have seen so many young and old dogs showing obvious signs of pain, yet the owner is unaware as "they have always, walked... sat... lay down, like that." Like I have said before, it is the animals welfare and quality of life that is the most important thing.
Thank you for reading this blog, I hope you have learnt something, have a better understanding of hydrotherapy and have found it interesting. I really enjoyed writing my first blog and hope to continue as I continue to learn.
If you do want to get involved and take your dog swimming please contact:
Lichfield Hydrotherapy Centre
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If you have read this whole blog, well done! You have earned yourself £5 off a swim!
Just mention the blog when you book and we will charge you the discounted rate.