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Rehabilitative Canine Therapy

Benefits of canine hydrotherapy

Learn how the underwater treadmill and hydrotherapy pool differ and how they can work together for rehabilitation.

Why we use hydrotherapy for rehabilitation

Canine hydrotherapy is an extremely useful tool in rehabilitation; however, it is important to understand its benefits, in particular how the hydrotherapy pool and the underwater treadmill work, what they achieve, how they can help the canine patient both independently and in conjunction with one another.

Hydrotherapy, as a whole, works to help a variety of conditions including orthopaedic, neurological, and soft tissue injuries. Walking and moving around on land can sometimes be quite painful or strenuous for your dog during their rehabilitation, due to the concussive forces placed through the joints. Hydrotherapy uses water at a therapeutic temperature of approximately 30-32 degrees C. The warmth of the water alongside the weightlessness properties that it offers, allows exercise to be performed comfortably and safely to achieve muscle building, strengthening, and overall improvement in comfort levels.

We also use both the underwater treadmill and hydrotherapy pool for cats that will tolerate water. This can help our feline friends that may be suffering from musculoskeletal injuries or other conditions to exercise in a comfortable, non-weight bearing environment to increase soft tissue flexibility and strength as well as reducing pain.

Overall benefits of canine hydrotherapy:

  • Relief from pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • Increased sensory perception
  • Relaxes muscle tension and spasms
  • Less concussion on the joints
  • Increases range of motion
  • Increase and maintains muscle strength
  • Improves cardiovascular fitness
  • Improves mobility
  • Mental wellbeing (releases endorphins) levels

There are various therapeutic properties of water that work to allow canine hydrotherapy to be as beneficial as it is. Understanding these properties allows for the therapist to appropriately and effectively tailor the session to the needs of the patient for maximum benefit.

The main water properties and their effects include:

  • Buoyancy → Creates a weightless environment that alleviates pressure on joints and supports weak muscles
  • Hydrostatic pressure → Creates pressure against the body to decrease pain and swelling
  • Resistance → This can be beneficial for building muscle and increasing cardiovascular fitness
  • Temperature → Warm water allows an increase in elasticity of tissues, circulation, and relaxation which therefore contributes to pain relief and improving movement

Benefits of the hydrotherapy pool

The hydrotherapy pool acts as a completely non-weight bearing exercise for your dog. Due to this property, this allows for range of motion to be performed in a comfortable and controlled environment, with no concussive forces going through the limb – which usually occurs on land-based exercise and in the underwater treadmill to a certain extent.

This makes the hydrotherapy pool an extremely useful tool in orthopaedic conditions (such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and osteoarthritis). The buoyancy of the water creates a completely weightless environment that alleviates pressure on the joints to allow for optimum function and strength to be restored. Compared to land-based exercise, the hydrotherapy pool can be utilised to ensure full range of motion is achieved in a comfortable and controlled manner.

When implemented into a rehabilitation programme, the hydrotherapy pool is often chosen to improve and encourage active range of motion, providing an environment that is completely weightless to allow for comfortable movement whilst also targeting cardiovascular fitness.

Benefits of the underwater treadmill

Compared to the hydrotherapy pool, the underwater treadmill provides a low weight bearing environment, which can be altered by the therapist. The concussive forces created through moving on the treadmill belt alongside the resistance of the water makes this a very useful rehabilitation tool, that is more comfortable than land-based exercises due to the water properties reducing the pressure on the joints.

The underwater treadmill provides a more controlled environment in which the therapist can alter the speed, duration, incline, and water level to target different areas. When implemented into a rehabilitation programme, this is chosen to build and increase muscle mass, encourage gait re-education and proprioception. This is often used in cases such as soft tissue injuries, neurological conditions, and post-surgery to promote early muscle building and gait re-education.

How the two can work in conjunction with one another

We often use both the underwater treadmill and hydrotherapy pool in conjunction with one another to target different things throughout the rehabilitation plan, as we find that a multimodal approach can be particularly beneficial. One case that has proven that is Freckles, read more about this below.

Case Study: Freckles recovers from lameness

One case that has proven how effective a multimodal approach to rehabilitation is Freckles the German short-haired pointer.

Freckles was originally referred to Clent Hills Pet Fitness and Rehabilitation Centre with a persistent right forelimb lameness – suspected to be a soft tissue injury as x-ray imaging highlighted no current orthopaedic conditions to be causing the lameness.

Freckles presented as 4/10 lame in walk meaning she had an obvious limp on her right forelimb during movement, observed through a head nod and not placing full weight through this limb. She also showed pain during manipulation of the right shoulder joint.

 

She was struggling to exercise for long periods of time, and had significantly lost muscle mass in her right forelimb. Following her physiotherapy initial assessment and some laser therapy, she began hydrotherapy.

 

This started with the underwater treadmill mainly to promote muscle building and gait re-education due to compensatory walking for a few months. Following a few weeks of 2 x weekly underwater treadmill exercise, she then began to alternate between the underwater treadmill and hydrotherapy pool.

 

The pool was introduced to promote a more active range of motion in a weightless environment once her strength had improved. Following physiotherapy reviews throughout her process, Freckles now comes to the centre every other week for hydrotherapy. She is no longer lame, can exercise for at least an hour a day, and now has even muscle measurements in both of her forelimbs. Freckles’ recovery really highlights the benefits of hydrotherapy as a multimodal approach.

 

Read what Freckles' owners had to say
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