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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.


Advanced rehabilitation for dogs and cats

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-injury 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 limbs and walking in water has been shown to reduce pain, particularly in patients with osteoarthritis. The buoyancy of water enhances movement at all joints below water level when using an underwater treadmill. 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.

Hydrotherapy Tank

Hydrotherapy for recovery from surgery

Physiotherapy, including hydrotherapy, is beneficial for dogs that are recovering from a number of different surgeries.

TPLO surgery (to stabilise knees following cruciate ligament injury) is one of the most common orthopaedic surgeries in dogs. A clinical study* investigating rehab techniques after TPLO surgery compared dogs receiving physiotherapy in conjunction with hydrotherapy to those receiving only rehab at home. The results measured the circumference of the affected thigh & range of motion of the knee before and six weeks after surgery. A larger thigh circumference indicates larger and stronger muscles, while range of motion measures how much mobility the knee has. Together, these two variables are good indicators of recovery progress and ability for the dog to use its leg after surgery.

dog physio hydrotherapy results

The study showed that the combination of rehab physiotherapy and hydrotherapy improved the circumference of the thigh by 650% compared to home rehab. While the thigh became larger and stronger for those receiving hydrotherapy, the thighs of dogs not receiving treatment actually became smaller after 6 weeks. Similarly, therapy was able to increase range of motion by 170% compared to home rehab. While mobility improved in dogs receiving therapy, mobility actually decreased in those receiving home rehab after 6 weeks.

The results of the above study highlight the importance of having a Sports Medicine Veterinarian assess and design an appropriate physio and hydrotherapy plan for pets that have or are undergoing orthopaedic surgery.

*Monk et al. 2006, AJVR 67(3): 1-8

Uses for hydrotherapy

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:

The Small Animal Specialist Hospital has two dedicated Sports Medicine and Veterinary Rehabilitation centres (North Ryde and Central Coast) 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.

Watch the Water Treadmill in action

SASH’s team of Sports Medicine & Rehab Veterinarians and Rehab Therapists are Australia’s leading experts in providing physiotherapy and hydrotherapy rehab services for pets. For more information contact SASH by clicking the button below.

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