Veterinary Physical Rehabilitation
Hydrotherapy has become very popular in veterinary physical rehabilitation in the last 10 to 15 years. It is primarily used to enable early return to function after surgery or injury, improve muscle strength and improve range of motion in compromised joints. It is also becoming more frequently used in animals for athletic conditioning and weight management. While it is not the only modality used in rehabilitation, and may not be appropriate for all patients, it is often the most exciting.
Hydrotherapy encompasses all forms of water therapy but most frequently in veterinary medicine, it is either pool swimming therapy or underwater treadmill therapy. Hydrotherapy is highly beneficial as it uses the therapeutic properties of water to improve range of motion, strengthen muscles, and boost endurance, while reducing the risk of injury. They warm water also promotes muscle relaxation and pain management. The water’s buoyancy reduces weight-bearing stress while at the same time its resistance increases metabolic demand and improves muscle strength. This modality is beneficial when used correctly and at the proper time to optimize surgical recovery, improve and restore function, improve quality of life for our geriatric and arthritic patients. It works to improve muscle strength, improve flexibility and joint range of motion, and to raise cardiovascular fitness and endurance for athletic conditioning.
Many clients express concern about their dogs’ receptiveness to hydrotherapy. “My dog HATES water” is a common report from clients when hydrotherapy is recommended. At Friendship, we have an underwater treadmill, which tends to be much less traumatic for dogs than a swimming pool. The pet goes in dry and the water enters the exercise chamber very slowly while we give continuous positive reinforcement (patting, toys, treats, etc.). The water is filled to about mid-thigh level so they are never fully submerged. Once comfortable with the water the treadmill is introduced with a therapist in the tank for assistance. After several appointments, they are much more relaxed and are often excited. In my 10 years of experience, I have had very few patients that would not tolerate or that were not good candidates for the treadmill. We typically recommend trying one or two appointments with a trained therapist to see how the pet tolerates the session before deciding it is not a viable option. I think you will be surprised with the process and the outcome!