September 7, 2022

What to Expect from a Canine Hydrotherapy Session at AGVP

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Canine hydrotherapy is an excellent way to help your dog stay healthy and fit. It can also be extremely useful to help with rehabilitation following an injury or surgery.

Here at AG Veterinary Physiotherapy, we provide bespoke treatment programmes with our state-of-the-art underwater treadmill, which is delivered by a level 3 or level 4 qualified hydrotherapist. All of our hydrotherapists are also qualified veterinary physiotherapists with a BSc in Veterinary Physiotherapy. So your dog is in good hands!

As a dog owner, if you haven't experienced canine hydrotherapy before, you may be wondering how it works and what will be involved. In this article, we explain what you can expect from a typical session at our facility.

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.

Initial Physiotherapy Assessment

The physiotherapy assessment includes a dynamic assessment to identify areas of abnormal gait patterns, active joint movement, and identification of lameness in the dog.

Palpation assessment is very important to assess muscle tone, identify any areas of muscle spasm and tension, neurological deficit, joint range of motion, and any compensatory changes in posture.

Muscle mass measurements are taken to assess possible asymmetries and provide a basis for progression. This part of the session is also key for establishing the patient's case history, any medical conditions, general fitness levels, management and home routines, and also for our physiotherapists to get to know the dog’s temperament.

Introduction to the Underwater Treadmill

The second part of the introductory appointment takes place in our hydrotherapy room.

Time is taken to allow dogs to familiarise themselves with the room, and the physiotherapist can explain how the equipment and water testing works, to the owner.

We then introduce and try on the appropriate buoyancy aid, ensuring a good fit with no movement restriction. The dog will have a quick shower to remove any dirt and grit from their legs and paws and are then walked through the treadmill a few times with the doors open before closing the doors. This is to ensure that dogs are happy and comfortable in the treadmill environment and are familiar with how to enter and exit the treadmill in a safe, controlled way.

Once acclimatised, some dogs start walking on a dry treadmill to get used to the feel of the treadmill belt moving. Some dogs respond better to the moving belt once a shallow depth of water is introduced. Our physiotherapists have a wealth of experience handling a variety of patients and are constantly monitoring patients’ individual responses to ensure the sessions are completely tailored to each dog’s specific needs.

In this introductory session, most dogs will do a few short walking intervals, with regular breaks, to establish their optimum walking speed and the correct depth of water.

terrier dog having canine hydrotherapy treatment

After the hydrotherapy session

Care after a hydrotherapy session is extremely important to our patients. Dogs receive a warm shower and blow dry (or towel dry) following treatment. It is important that the dog is not left wet, as the cold and damp can cause further stiffness, especially during the winter months.

We advise owners that their dog may be a little stiff and need to rest more than usual after an underwater treadmill session - this is because exercise in the water treadmill is hard work!

After the initial combined physiotherapy and hydrotherapy session, subsequent appointments are 45 minutes to ensure that we can provide the care and attention that your dog needs during this time.

Working with veterinary professionals 

At AG Veterinary Physiotherapy, we believe that good communication is a key part of the rehabilitation process. The treating physiotherapist will send a written report to the referring veterinary surgeon following the initial session, and then every 5-10 sessions, depending on the vet’s preference. This is to keep them updated on the progression of the rehabilitation plan as the patient undergoes their course of therapy.

The benefits of canine hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is beneficial for dogs for a variety of reasons. It can help reduce pain, stiffness, swelling and inflammation. It also encourages an improved range of motion and flexibility.

For dogs that have experienced an injury or undergone surgery, hydrotherapy can enhance healing times and support rehabilitation by encouraging correct gait patterns in a controlled environment.

However, the benefits also extend beyond supporting those patients needing hydrotherapy for medical reasons. The underwater treadmill is excellent for improving cardiovascular fitness, blood circulation, and helping to increase muscle mass, making hydrotherapy very useful as a form of exercise to support general fitness.

For those dogs who need to lose weight, it is a great way to help them burn calories without putting any extra pressure on their joints. Weight-bearing is significantly reduced in water as the natural buoyancy supports the dog's body weight. This can make a big difference for overweight or senior dogs who might otherwise find it difficult or painful to exercise on land.

Hydrotherapy is suitable for all ages, breeds, and abilities, from puppies through to older pets, and can be adapted to each individual case.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss treatment for your dog, please contact us and one of our team will be happy to help.

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