What is hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is very similar to physiotherapy, but exercises are carried out under water, either in a pool or on an underwater treadmill. It is predominantly based around exercise therapy and is used to treat or manage musculoskeletal disease. The buoyancy of the water reduces the weight going through the limbs, so is helpful for pets who may struggle with exercises on land (such as when one limb is weaker after surgery). Water can also increase resistance against movement, enhancing the effect of exercises. Warm water is used which can help reduce swelling and stiffness.
The hydrotherapist will assess your pet by observing them moving around, as well as physically examining to feel muscle mass, tone and symmetry. This allows them to identify areas of discomfort, inappropriate posture, or difficulty with movement. A personalised treatment plan can then be implemented to help reduce pain, improve mobility and prevent further injury by increasing muscle mass and tolerance.
Why is hydrotherapy useful?
Hydrotherapy can be used for:
- Recovery after orthopaedic or spinal surgery
- Management of chronic joint conditions (such as hip dysplasia or arthritis)
- To improve general fitness or conditioning in athletic dogs
- To help with weight loss
When performed by a suitably qualified person, hydrotherapy is very safe. Some pets may feel stiff or sore afterwards, as we would after a work-out. Depending on your pet’s response to treatment, sessions may be carried out more or less frequently.
What can I expect from a hydrotherapy session?
Hydrotherapy sessions are usually recommended to take place weekly, with an initial course of 4-8 sessions. The length of each session, and exact number required, will vary depending on what is being treated, how much needs to be achieved, and how your pet responds. Some conditions will be greatly improved and, once the pet is back to normal, hydrotherapy can be stopped. Other conditions are chronic, such as arthritis, and regular hydrotherapy sessions are recommended indefinitely to maintain muscle condition.
Many insurance policies will cover hydrotherapy under a “complementary therapy” claim. Your insurer may want confirmation from your vet that they have recommended this treatment. If in doubt, check your policy or call your insurer directly.
Who can perform hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy must only be carried out with consent from your pet’s primary vet, as it is not suitable for every condition or immediately after surgery. There is currently no regulating body for veterinary hydrotherapists, meaning anybody can offer this service without having suitable qualifications. Your vet should be able to recommend a trusted hydrotherapist, but you can also look for a member of the National Association of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists (NARCH) or the Canine Hydrotherapy Association (CHA).