Water, water, everywhere

I’ve previously told you about my fun swims with Pam from K9 Aquacise & Hydrotherapy – much cleaner and warmer than the Solent – but hydrotherapy itself was a mystery to both me and mum.

Not any longer! Pam has been kind enough to share her expertise on how and why this water-based therapy is so good for dogs with a variety of health and mobility conditions.

There are a growing number of pooch pools these days so it pays to know what to look out for – and what to avoid.

Read on (and sorry for the images of mum in a wetsuit…)

Wilson at top of the ramp

Who doesn’t love being the one to cause the first ripples on still water, eh?

What is hydrotherapy?  

It’s a complementary therapy using the properties of water to encourage/generate natural movement in a non-weight bearing environment to assist with rehabilitation or maintenance of certain conditions.

The definition is: the treatment of certain diseases and conditions by the external use of water, especially by exercising in water in order to mobilise stiff joints or strengthen weakened muscles.

What conditions can it help?

Hip and elbow dysplasia, spinal problems, cruciate ligament injuries, arthritis, age-related stiffness, obesity and weight management, patella luxation, inter-vertebral disc disease, CDRM (chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy), vestibular syndrome, wobblers syndrome and spondylosis.

What qualifications should a client look for when thinking of hydrotherapy for their dog?

It’s best to look for a centre recognised by either the Canine Hydrotherapy Association (CHA) or National Association of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists (NARCH). You need to ensure your hydrotherapist holds at least a Level 3 Certificate in Hydrotherapy for Small Animals.

How many sessions are required?

It varies on the dog’s condition. Most conditions are lifelong so a level of ongoing hydro is ideal, but post-operatively at least 10-12 sessions are recommended.

Wilson and mum on the ramp

Forgive mother’s gurning

Do people have to pay for for their vet to complete the approval form?

No, they complete it for free as long as they’ve seen the dog in the last three months or so.  If not they may request a check up and charge, before completing the form.  Specialist vets can complete the form instead of the regular vet if they’ve seen the dog the most recently and recommend hydro.

Can I get into the pool with my dog?

Not at my pool.  My insurance only covers qualified hydrotherapists to be in the pool with your dog.

Note: You will see from the photos that mum was in the pool with me. This is because it was a fun swim only, and mum and Pam are friends. This is the only time that mum has ever been in the the pool, and we’ve been coming here on average once a month for the last couple of years.

Does pet insurance cover hydrotherapy?

Most pet insurances recognise hydrotherapy and will cover a level of treatment. It comes under complementary therapy and varies by policy, so you’d need to speak to your insurance company to make sure what level of cover you have. Insurance companies only allow treatment at either a CHA or NARCH centre.

What happens at a hydrotherapy session?

At my centre dogs will have a pre-swim shower to warm up the affected areas, followed by a level of swimming including controlled managed exercises, and a post-swim shower.

Wilson swimming for his ball

It’s all about the ball…the blue thing on the left is the pool covering which is unrolled over the water when the pool isn’t in use

What should people look out for when choosing a hydro centre?

As previously mentioned ensure you’re using a CHA or NARCH centre as they have quality guidelines that must be adhered to when administering hydrotherapy. Certificates should be visible both for the centre and the hydrotherapist, who should be qualified at least to a Level 3 in Hydrotherapy for Small Animals.

Ideally your dog would have a hydrotherapist in the pool with them. Ropes, tethers and poles (or similar) should not be used. And yes it should be clean – the water should be tested regularly through the day and sanatised to a safe level. You can always request water records.

Why is swimming good for dogs?

So many reasons…

  • It’s non-weight bearing so no stress/pressure on the joints
  • It allows increased range of movement
  • Increases muscle mass
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Increases cardiovascular fitness
  • Increases circulation
  • Pain relief
  • Provides mental stimulation
  • It can prevent secondary problems
  • Improves gait
  • May help with weight loss.

How often should my dog swim?

It varies on the dog, and level of mobility, but as a ball park…

  • Post-op – initially twice a week for four weeks then at least once a week for the following four weeks. Then any swimming thereafter is a benefit to the dog
  • Pre-op to build muscle, at least once a week
  • Arthritis – depending on severity at least twice a month – ideally weekly if severe
  • Age related stiffness – as above
  • Weight loss – as often as is possible and affordable!
Wilson focused on the ball

We both look a bit deranged here, quite frankly

Why did you decide to train in hydrotherapy?

My dog required hydro for elbow dysplasia aged one-and-a-half. It benefitted him greatly and he loved it. So when the company I had worked for for 22 years relocated, I decided this was my opportunity to set up in business on my own doing something that I believed in and allowed me to work with animals – dogs especially 🐶.

Is it only suitable for dogs or can it benefit other animals?

It can benefit any small animal. The principles of hydrotherapy work for them all, just as they do for us. I welcome cats and rabbits, but am happy to consider all fur babies if hydro can help.

What if a dog doesn’t like water?

I also offer water confidence. And until I’m proved otherwise I believe all dogs can swim, it’s just how competent they are, and also just like us, if they like it. But I guess what you’re asking is, they need hydro but hate water.

I’ve heard this a lot and usually I can get them comfortable within three or four swims. They may not love it, but the benefits outweigh them having to get wet. That being said, I will not over-stress an animal. If I don’t think I can get them comfortable, I will tell the owner it’s not for them. There are alternatives that may suit that particular dog such as an underwater treadmill.

Note: Mum and I can vouch for Pam’s patience and expertise here. I had never been in a shower prior to going swimming with Pam (I was 2.5 years old by this time) and was initially very unsure about stepping off the ramp into the pool. It took 17 toys – we counted – before I took the plunge! Now I will have my pre- and post-swim shower without any fuss, and I thunder up the ramp towards the pool and then dive in (almost literally) without hesitation.

Wilson looking at mum

I think mum was telling me to swim rather than try to catch the balls she was throwing…

Are there different benefits for a pool and a water treadmill?

Both use the properties of water so the benefits are the same, however there are differences between a pool and a treadmill.

Post-operatively treatment in a treadmill can be started much earlier than in a pool – the difference being two-threee weeks for the treadmill and eight weeks for the pool.  This is because the treadmill is a much more controlled environment where the water level can be varied to target the muscle groups required.

Giant breeds, spinal injuries, those that are reluctant to swim and those with a loss of proprioception are ideal candidates for the treadmill, along with those recently post-op.

The pool, whilst more fun and stimulating for the dog is a less stable environment for those recently post-op and may allow too much movement initially.

Most hydro centres will offer other types of swimming:

  • Exercise – weight loss!
  • Fun swims – great exercise and a good way of varying your dog’s exercise. Five minutes’ swimming is equivalent to a 30 minute walk and they have to use all their muscle groups in the pool
    Note: Mum usually books my swimming session for her first rest day off night shift, so I get plenty of exercise and she gets to take it easy
  • Also good to ensure your dog is confident in the water – plus they get used to the pool, just in case they need hydro in the future. It would also go some way to help prevent certain problems such as cruciate ligament injuries
  • Puppy swims – as puppies can only exercise and additional five minutes for every month of life up to one year so as not to affect their growth plates, swimming is ideal as it’s all non-weight bearing and won’t damage them.

Thanks Pam!

Wilson being shampooed

Getting attacked by the Baby Fresh shampoo!

Those who follow me on Twitter will see numerous photos of me in the pool having a great time – you can find out more about Pam’s pool on her website. Her pool is based in Romsey, Hampshire.

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