September 8, 2022

The Benefits of Hydrotherapy for Canine Obesity

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Did you know that over 60% of pet dogs in the UK are considered overweight? And a staggering 90% of dog owners would fail to recognise obesity in their pets.

As a dog owner, it's important to be aware of the risks associated with canine obesity. Obesity in dogs has strong associations with health problems such as respiratory and heart disease, cancer and musculoskeletal issues like osteoarthritis.

Not only can being overweight lead to a variety of health problems, but it can also reduce your dog's lifespan by up to two and a half years.

As a dog owner, you may be wondering what you can do to help your obese dog lose weight.

Diet and exercise are always a good place to start, but for some dogs, the usual routine isn’t enough. This is where hydrotherapy comes in.

Hydrotherapy is a safe and effective way to help your obese dog lose weight and improve their quality of life.

Why do we need to combat obesity?

Evidence supports the use of weight loss as a tool in managing musculoskeletal disease, as studies have shown that losing 6% of excess body weight will significantly reduce an arthritic dog’s lameness. Some research has shown that 34% of lameness can be eliminated if overweight dogs achieve a healthy, optimum body weight.

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy is a type of water therapy that uses the natural resistance of water for therapy and rehabilitation. It can be used for a wide range of conditions, including obesity, arthritis, ligament damage and hip dysplasia.

Hydrotherapy is also an extremely effective form of exercise because it takes the weight off joints while still providing a full-body workout. For obese dogs, hydrotherapy can be a useful tool to help burn calories and build muscle mass while also improving cardiovascular fitness.

When performed under the supervision of a trained professional, hydrotherapy can be an extremely effective way to help your dog lose weight and improve their overall health

dog enjoying hydrotherapy

Why use hydrotherapy for weight loss in dogs?

Hydrotherapy helps build muscle

One of the benefits of hydrotherapy is that it helps build muscle. When dogs exercise in water, they have to work harder than they would on land because they are fighting against the natural resistance of water. This resistance helps to tone and build muscle, supporting overall health and fitness.

Hydrotherapy is low impact

Another benefit of hydrotherapy is that it is low impact. Walking in water provides buoyancy, meaning that it is gentle on your dog's joints and muscles, which is important if your dog is overweight or obese since these dogs are more likely to suffer from joint problems like osteoarthritis.

The use of an underwater treadmill allows overweight dogs that might ordinarily find normal land-based walking or running hard, to exercise more comfortably.

Water-based exercise can reduce inflammation

The hydrostatic pressures in water can help reduce inflammation and improve blood circulation. This is particularly important for overweight dogs with underlying joint problems. A reduction in inflammation reduces pain and improves joint range of motion, making exercise easier, not only on the underwater treadmill but on land as well.

Building your dog's fitness

Exercise on the underwater treadmill is harder than normal land-based exercise.

Varying the depth of water to change the resistance or drag through the water and introducing inclines can increase the challenge for dogs further. This means that it is brilliant for increasing cardiovascular fitness and improving stamina.

As dogs get fitter, their metabolism improves, which leads to fat burning.

Hydrotherapy can be fun!

Finally, hydrotherapy can be fun! Dogs love playing in water, so hydrotherapy is a great way to get your dog moving while also giving them a chance to have some fun. And the different form of active exercise provides good mental stimulation for dogs who may otherwise struggle to go on walks.

If you're looking for an effective and enjoyable way to help your dog lose weight, hydrotherapy may be the perfect solution.

Is hydrotherapy suitable for all dogs?

Hydrotherapy is generally safe for dogs, but there are some exceptions. Dogs with open wounds or infections should not take part in hydrotherapy until they have healed completely. If your dog has any pre-existing medical conditions, please speak to your vet before starting hydrotherapy sessions.

In general, consultation with a veterinary surgeon or qualified veterinary physiotherapist as to an individual dog's suitability for hydrotherapy is recommended.

Your dog's first hydrotherapy session

If you're considering hydrotherapy for your dog, it's important to find a reputable facility with trained professionals who can provide a safe and comfortable environment for your pet.

At AG Veterinary Physiotherapy, all dogs that are referred for hydrotherapy have an initial physiotherapy assessment and introduction to the underwater treadmill. This is carried out by one of our professional veterinary physiotherapists and generally lasts approximately an hour and a half. Read more in this separate article: What to Expect from a Canine Hydrotherapy Session at AGVP

During your dog's first session, the hydrotherapist will assess their condition and develop a tailor-made treatment plan. From there, you'll work together to set realistic goals for your dog's weight loss journey.


If your dog is overweight or obese, hydrotherapy can be a great way to help them lose weight in a safe and effective manner. Hydrotherapy helps build muscle, burns calories, and is low impact, which means it's gentle on your dog's joints and muscles. Plus, it's also a lot of fun for dogs!

For more information, please visit our Canine Hydrotherapy page, or to book a session or discuss any questions you may have, please call on 07494 689566 or fill in the details on our contact page.

Reference Sources:

Canine Arthritis Management

Laflamme, D.P., 2006. Understanding and managing obesity in dogs and cats. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice.

Marshall, W.G., Bockstahler, B.A., Hulse, D.A. and Carmichael, S., 2009. A review of osteoarthritis and obesity: current understanding of the relationship and benefit of obesity treatment and prevention in the dog. Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology.

Marshall, W.G., Hazewinkel, H.A., Mullen, D., De Meyer, G., Baert, K. and Carmichael, S., 2010. The effect of weight loss on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis. Veterinary Research Communications.

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