Animal Hydrotherapy

With Australia’s great climate and numerous sources of water – from bathtubs to backyard pools and dams and creeks to rivers and beaches – hydrotherapy has become very popular. This article has been prepared so that you and your furry friend can benefit from our expertise to maximise their rehabilitation. For best results, hydrotherapy should be undertaken at least 3 times a week, with a land-based program supporting the work done in water.

Safety First!

1) Does your pet like water? If your pet shivers in dread at bathtime, introducing water exercises at a time when they are injured, stressed or disabled may end in injury and disaster.  If this sounds like your pet, please discuss your case with one of our physiotherapists before going ahead.

2) Hygiene. Your pet should NOT undertake hydrotherapy in shared water if:

– it has been less than 3 weeks since they had surgery
– they have an open wound anywhere on their body
– they are incontinent of urine or faeces

3) Does your pet need assistance in the water? Many pets can’t manage water exercises by themselves at first.  With smaller dogs, owners might be able to squeeze into the kiddie pool or bath to support them but this isn’t safe with bigger dogs (or for your back!).  Instead we may be able to use floats and life jackets to make their hydrotherapy safer and more comfortable.  Please always discuss your individual situation with us if your pet isn’t walking by themselves.

STOP your hydrotherapy program immediately and seek veterinary attention if your pet: deteriorates, is more fatigued than normal, becomes lame or appears in any kind of pain.

Principles of Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is NOT swimming!

When most people think of hydrotherapy, they think of swimming.  However, there’s a lot more science to it than that – that’s why it’s called hydrotherapy!  In fact, early in rehab we often actively avoid swimming as it puts joints through a large range of motion without activating the muscles that stabilise and protect them.  In a debilitated dog, this may actually cause further pain and compensatory muscle spasm.

Instead, hydrotherapy is most beneficial when static or dynamic exercises are undertaken with the feet in contact with the ground.  Wading is the easiest way for most dogs to start; it allows your dog to practice the movements for their favourite activity (a W-A-L-K!) and start strengthening the appropriate muscles straight away.  Below we’ve outlined a wading program so you can get the best results from hydrotherapy for your best friend.  Your rehabilitation program will be even more effective if this is supplemented with individual water and land based exercises prescribed by one of our physiotherapists.

Wading Program

  • Day 1 – wade for 1 minute; get out of the water and rest or walk slowly for 1 minute on land, watching carefully for any signs of deterioration (increased lameness, stiffness, dragging on the lead). If there are no signs of deterioration, perform a second repetition of 1 minute wading, before getting back out of the water and resting for 1 minute on land again, watching carefully for any increased lameness, pain, etc. Only if there are no signs of deterioration, a third repetition of 1 minute wading may be performed.
  • Day 2 – provided no signs of deterioration were noticed on the evening of Day 1, and the dog did not wake any worse than normal on the morning of Day 2, repeat the Day 1 program of 3 repetitions of 1 minute wades with 1 minute land-walks between to check for signs of deterioration. Continue to check for signs of deterioration throughout the rest of the day.
  • Day 3 – again provided there are no signs of deterioration, either in the evening of Day 2 or the morning of Day 3, repeat the Day 1 program of 3 repetitions of 1 minute wades with 1 minute land-walks between, observing closely for any signs of increased lameness, stiffness, pain, or dragging on the lead.
  • Day 4 – from Day 4 onwards, increase wading by one repetition of 1 minute wading per session, always land-walking 1 minute between wades, to check for signs of deterioration. When your dog can do 10 minutes of wading, we recommend adding more complex exercises, if they haven’t already been introduced – just ask one of our physios for advice.

Who are we?

Our team leader is Dr Helen Nicholson. Helen has both Masters and PhD degrees in animal physiotherapy and has taught and used dog pools and underwater treadmills in the UK, Japan, Austria and Australia.

Helen is passionate about bringing the benefits of physiotherapy that are felt by humans across the world to our furry friends and helping their family to discover how fun physio can be! Our experienced team have many techniques available to show you, either in one of our Sydney centres or via telerehab with Skype.