Canine Hydrotherapy

By Jill Firth PG Dip(AM) CertEd


Canine Hydrotherapy

Canine hydrotherapy (swimming) is one of the top recommended therapies for recovery from injury, surgery and for rehabilitation.  It is also extremely useful pre surgery to build muscle tone before any operation takes place as recovery is often enhanced if muscle tone and fitness are optimal prior to surgery.

There is research available which suggests that muscle atrophy begins within 2-3 days following injury/surgery.  Research also shows that when rehabilitation is delayed, there is increased swelling due to lack of movement, loss of muscle control and joint stability and increased stiffness of muscles and tendons.

Full weight-bearing activities would often be delayed or limited for weeks after surgery, which then extends the recovery time.  Swimming allows rehabilitation to begin almost immediately, or very soon after surgery/injury.  It allows muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints to work whilst avoiding the stresses caused by weight bearing and concussion.

Swimming allows dogs to build physical muscular strength and cardiovascular stamina whilst weightless exercise performed in the buoyancy of water allows limbs to move freely with full range of movement, thereby helping to avoid joint stiffness problems.

Warm water provides a therapeutic massage and enhances circulation and blood flow, which delivers oxygen and essential nutrients to injured areas.

Swimming is also excellent as part of a weight reduction programme for overweight dogs and a fitness programme for performance dogs.

Underwater treadmills

Underwater treadmills are also available more so in the USA, but now increasingly in the UK.  It allows dogs to walk or run in water and is an excellent way to improve gait, weight bearing, and reduce lameness. The underwater treadmill usually has hydrotherapy jets, which provide a stimulating massage as well as resistance of up to seven times that of walking on land.  A benefit of this treatment when compared to traditional swimming is that the variables (speed, resistance, etc) can be controlled so the therapy can be planned in a more controlled and progressive way.  In addition, the patient is introduced to the water in a slow, controlled manner, this reduces fear which helps the patient relax, and so improves the results of the therapy session.


The whirlpool effects of a Jacuzzi promote muscle relaxation and healing by a combination of warmth and massage. The warmth and circulation of the water relaxes the skin, fascia, and superficial muscles, whilst the buoyancy of the water allows opening of joint spaces by relieving weight and stress on the joints therefore increasing range of motion. 

Jacuzzi therapy is effective for:

  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Surgery recovery
  • Injury recovery

In conclusion hydrotherapy is beneficial for:

  • Pre and post operative conditioning 
  • Arthritis – reduction of pain and increased mobility 
  • Hip dysplasia – especially useful for young dogs who are restricted to lead exercise 
  • CDRM
  • Spinal injuries 
  • Cruciate ligament injuries and post operative recovery
  • Muscle strengthening, maintenance and restoration
  • Relief of pain, swelling and stiffness
  • Relaxation of muscle spasms
  • Cardiovascular fitness (heart & lungs)
  • Obesity (weight loss in conjunction with diet)

It also helps dogs recovering from:

  • Orthopaedic surgery
  • Neurological surgery
  • Back, hip, knee, elbow surgery

It is always better to seek veterinary advice before arranging hydrotherapy sessions for your dog.  Your dog should be checked for heart problems, respiratory defects and certain ear infections before commencing swimming.  You should also check that the pool operators are qualified in basic canine first aid.

Other Animal Complementary Therapies