Hydrotherapy has long played an important role in the rehabilitation of humans and the benefits of utilising an underwater treadmill are increasingly being realised in animal rehabilitation. Canine hydrotherapy allows for rehabilitation to begin earlier, with patients able to begin therapeutic exercise within days of injury or surgery with minimal risk of re-injury1 and reduced pain.
Exercise in water has several unique advantages over exercise on land. Water unloads painful joints, allowing safe, controlled weight bearing on weak and/or painful limbs2 and walking in water has been shown to reduce pain, particularly in patients with osteoarthritis3. The buoyancy of water enhances movement at all joints below water level when using an underwater treadmill4,5. The hydrostatic pressure of water assists in the management of swelling which is particularly important for patients with acute injuries or following surgery.
Use of an underwater treadmill has further advantages over a dog pool in that we can control the speed and resistance an animal is exposed to. Studies also demonstrate that the muscles that sit closest to the joints and are most important for joint stability are only activated when the feet are in contact with the ground so the same benefits are not seen with swimming.
An underwater treadmill can benefit any animal presenting with joint pain or disease or animals with weakness, either secondary to disuse or neurological conditions. It is particularly useful in animals recovering from surgery or with multiple issues such as:
- Osteoarthritis especially if overweight/multiple joints affected.
- Elbow and hip dysplasias
- Intervertebral disc extrusions and protrusions
- Fibrocartilaginous embolism
- Any deconditioned animal with multiple co-morbidities.
The Small Animal Specialist Hospital has a dedicated Sports Medicine and Veterinary Rehabilitation centre where dogs and cats with osteoarthritis can undertake aquatic therapy and all sessions are supervised and planned by our Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Veterinarian or our Animal Rehabilitation Therapists.
- Konilan, C (1999) Aquatic therapy: Making a wave in the treatment of low back injuries.Orthopaedic Nursing 18(1): 11–20.
- Steiss JE (2003) Canine rehabilitation. In: Braund, K.G. (ed.)Clinical Neurology in Small Animals – Localization, Diagnosis and Treatment. IVIS, New York.
- Silva LE, Valim V, Pessanha AP, Oliviera LM, Myamoto S, Jones A and Natour J (2008) Hydrotherapy vs conventional land-based exercise for the management of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomised clinical trial. Physical Therapy. 88(1):12-21.
- Jackson AM, Millis DL, Stevens M and Barnett S (2002) Joint kinematics during underwater treadmill activity.Second International Symposium: on Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy in Veterinary Medicine. Knoxville, Tennessee.
- Marsolais GS, McLean S and Derrick T(2003) Kinematic analysis of the hind limb during swimming and walking in healthy dogs and dogs with surgically corrected cranial cruciate ligament rupture.Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 222(6): 739–743.
- Monk ML, Preston CA and McGowan CM (2006) Effects of early intensive post-operative physiotherapy on limb function after tibial plateau leveling osteotomy in dogs with deficiency of the cranial cruciate ligament. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 67(3): 529–36.