Hydrotherapy uses the properties of water – buoyancy, viscosity, resistance and hydrostatic pressure – to enable compromised animals to exercise, build strength and muscle mass, improve the range of motion of joints, as well as ease stiffness and pain.
Aquatic exercise is beneficial for a variety of conditions. This therapy is non-weight bearing thus has low impact on bones and joints. Water however, is denser than air, creating resistance activating and building muscle mass. This is ideal in post-surgical recovery, painful conditions such as arthritis or joint dysplasia, as well as overweight patients who find it difficult to exercise on land. Aquatic exercise is great to keep your companion in shape and aid weight management, as well as maintain fitness, strength and body conditioning.
Your companion must undergo a veterinary examination prior to embarking on hydrotherapy ensuring that they are of adequate health for this activity.
The temperature of the water must also be kept in mind. Athletic dogs who are training are typically swum in colder water to help them maintain a balanced body temperature. Warmer water soothes tight muscles and joints and is used in therapy focusing on recovery and rehabilitation.
Not every companion is a natural swimmer, some may need to be taught. The most important aspect is safety and comfort. Your companion must be in a harness or canine life jacket. During hydrotherapy introductions, always make use of a canine life jacket for safety reasons, as well as improving your pet’s sense of comfort and security. Some companions always swim in a life jacket, while others progress to only a harness. Control is key. When doing it yourself, you need to be in the water with your companion. It is essential that you help your companion into and out of the pool, ensuring that no slipping or injury occurs. In some instances, non-slip mats will be required.
This form of exercise is introduced gradually. During the first few sessions we will only go as far as your companion is comfortable. This may be simply standing on the step eating treats for some or swimming like a fish for others. BARCC uses a lot of positive reinforcement in the form of treats, toys and/or praise, the process is not forced as this may cause your companion to become fearful. Lengths or widths are always brought to an end at the step or point of exit of the pool so that should your companion fall into the pool accidentally or go swimming of their own accord, they will know how to get to safety. Once comfortable with the water, your companion is guided into swimming widths of the pool and then lengths, gradually increasing the number completed ensuring that your companion kicks all limbs.
Your companion will start by swimming the widths or lengths in sets of two completing each set at the “safety point” giving your companion a chance to catch their breath.
Just as in humans, as your companion builds strength and stamina you may increase the number of lengths or widths swum with fewer and shorter breaks. Your companion is your best guide. We are to monitor them for fatigue in the water and their habitus after the swim. A tired companion after exercise is acceptable, however a painful companion is not the goal. After a small nap your companion should be bright and happy. Should your companion be painful or excessively tired the intensity of the workout must be reduced. A rest day is usually given in between each exercise session; however, this is companion specific.
Companions are rinsed after swimming to rid their coat of the chlorinated water and their ears are dried thoroughly. Once accustomed to the exercise you need not necessarily be in the pool with your companion, but you must be next to it to ensure the exercise is completed safely and correctly.