September 22, 2022

The Benefits of Hydrotherapy for Canine Fitness and Performance Improvement

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As any dog owner knows, our canine friends love to run, jump and play. But did you know that hydrotherapy can be a great way to help your dog stay in shape? Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, is excellent for dogs of all ages and abilities. Here are some of the benefits of hydrotherapy for canine athletes.

In the world of canine athletic performance, we often look for those marginal gains that put one dog above the rest. Whether that be, reducing an agility or flyball time by a second, allowing a gun dog to recover slightly faster, facilitating better stamina in a working sheepdog or improving stride length in a racing greyhound.

How do we go about creating these marginal gains for our canine athletes? Incorporating hydrotherapy such as exercise in an underwater treadmill has many benefits for performance enhancement.

The effects of hydrotherapy on the cardiovascular system

Exercise in an underwater treadmill provides resistance to the limbs, creating an increased cardiovascular system demand.

The resistance of the water means that dogs must work harder to maintain similar speeds to those on dry land. This increased effort comes from increased muscle activation, which helps strengthen muscles, and increased cardiovascular effort, meaning stamina and fitness are improved. Studies have shown that dogs that are more cardiovascular fit have lower resting heart rates and recover more quickly following periods of intense exercise.

Benefits of exercising in water

Exercising in water provides support to the muscles and joints which reduces stress on these tissues. As your dog's muscles work harder to move through the water there is an increase in muscle mass.

We can challenge dogs further by altering the speed of the treadmill belt and by introducing incline work. Inclines slightly alter weight distribution by shifting a dog's centre of gravity onto the hindlimbs, encouraging greater engagement of the hindquarters.

Dogs that are physically stronger have a reduced risk of injury because a healthy musculoskeletal framework better supports their bodies.

An alternative could be to train our dogs to run more up hills to achieve the same strength and fitness levels. However, that is where another feature of canine hydrotherapy using the underwater treadmill has an advantage.

The water in the treadmill provides buoyancy, meaning there is less concussion and loading strain through joints and soft tissue structures like tendons and ligaments.

Studies have shown that at deeper water depths, a dog's stride length is significantly increased, and that stride frequency is reduced. Reduced stride frequency means they take fewer steps in the same amount of time but take longer steps to maintain the same speed. This means a dog experiences less mechanical wear and tear on its joints whilst still achieving the desired fitness.

The depth of the water improves stride length, which is particularly important in sporting dogs where speed is a factor. Dogs that are better able to cover the ground in less time will be faster overall. In addition, exercise in the underwater treadmill is very safe and controlled, which means there is a reduced risk of injury in training so that athletic dogs can concentrate on performing at an elite level.

How does this benefit my dog?

Improved cardiovascular fitness will result in better stamina during exercise, meaning your dog can work for longer before tiring.

Increasing muscle mass will lead to better power and propulsion, resulting in faster times over obstacles or up hills.

And finally, the improved joint function will mean less pain and soreness after exercise meaning faster recovery times and a reduced chance of injuries occurring.

These three factors all contribute towards marginal gains in performance, whether that be on the agility field, gun shooting range or herding sheep on a mountainside!

dog running

Performance management

Regular hydrotherapy appointments with a qualified veterinary physiotherapist also mean that subtle abnormalities or changes to a dog's gait or strength can be picked up early and then managed or treated.

Muscular asymmetries can be identified, measured, and monitored, meaning hydrotherapy programmes can be specifically tailored to target areas of weakness. This is important as it can reduce the likelihood of catastrophic injury or time out of athletic work further down the line.


Hydrotherapy can provide many benefits for canine athletes, including improved muscle tone, increased stamina, and better joint movement. If you think hydrotherapy may benefit your dog, get in touch. You can either call on 07494 689566 or fill in the form here.

Our team is happy to discuss the treatment process and answer any questions you may have.

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