Hydrotherapy for dogs

Hydrotherapy for dogs

For dogs who live with chronic pain or are recovering from an injury, hydrotherapy can be used as a method of occupational or physiotherapy.

Just as is the case for humans, hydrotherapy has many benefits for pups, too! But there’s much more to hydrotherapy than simple movement in water. Let’s learn more...

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy, or “water exercise”, has been used to treat humans, and even horses, for centuries. To put it simply, it is the use of water to treat certain conditions where weight-bearing exercises may be less beneficial, or even harmful (for example, conditions involving the hips, knees, and other lower joints). After horse trainers began seeing successful results in hydrotherapy, racing Greyhound trainers started to rely on these methods to keep their dogs in shape.

Now, hydrotherapy for dogs is available all over the world. It allows painful joints to move more comfortably while stimulating the cardiovascular and lymphatic symptoms without overexertion.

Why does hydrotherapy for dogs work?

Hydrotherapy works because it makes a dog weightless. Try as he might, pupper won’t be able to move as quickly in water as he would on land, eliminating the negative effects of gravity on painful joints!

What’s the difference between hydrotherapy and swimming?

Swimming could be a form of hydrotherapy, but hydrotherapy doesn’t always involve swimming. It involves performing certain exercises that aim to improve the patient’s condition.


Types of hydrotherapy

There are three common types of hydrotherapy: Underwater treadmill therapy, swimming, and in-pool assisted hydrotherapy.

Underwater treadmill therapy

This method is the most common, and involves a moving treadmill at the bottom of a water-filled glass chamber. It allows dogs to walk with additional buoyancy, reducing the pressure put on painful or healing areas. Intensity and speed varies for each pup depending on their condition, weight, age, and other factors. Veterinarian Carol Helfer, DVM says, “Most dogs use their front limbs significantly more than their rear limbs while swimming, and since I see far more problems with the rear limbs, walking on an underwater treadmill is an effective therapy for most patients.”


Unlike treadmill therapy, swimming combines range of motion with strengthening and endurance, alongside circulation improvement. Because swimming is a more vigorous activity, a dog undergoing hydrotherapy may start with a different type first.

In-pool assisted hydrotherapy

This method of hydrotherapy is usually reserved for dogs with very severe injuries or in cases where they are not mobile, whether that has occurred from injury or a neurological disorder. These dogs are typically not able to swim unassisted if at all, so they will have a human companion’s help as they move around in the water.

Which conditions in dogs can benefit from hydrotherapy?

If your dog lives with any of the following conditions, he likely experiences mild to severe discomfort and may benefit from hydrotherapy:

  • Joint dysplasia

  • Arthritis

  • Joint stiffness (whether from old age or prior injury)

  • Bone fractures

  • Ligament ruptures or tears

  • Degenerative myelopathy

  • Blood clotting

  • Spinal conditions

Benefits of hydrotherapy for dogs

In conjunction with veterinary treatment, hydrotherapy can provide both immediate and long-term relief to your pup. Whether your dog is healing from an injury or surgery, living with a general ailment, or has a developmental condition, hydrotherapy can help in more ways than one. Benefits include:

  • Pain, swelling, and stiffness relief

  • Improved and increased tissue healing

  • Improved heart and lung fitness

  • More efficient and quicker recovery times

  • Improved blood circulation

  • Greater range of motion in joints

  • Reduced muscle spasms

  • Muscle maintenance and strengthening

Because hydrotherapy exercises are done in very warm water (hovering around 30 degrees Celsius), the warmth can also help accelerate healing and relief.

Is hydrotherapy right for your dog?

Hydrotherapy is quickly making waves throughout Australia and beyond. If your pup is living in pain or discomfort, traditional therapeutic methods alone might not be as helpful as combining them with alternative methods like hydrotherapy.

With that said, it’s always important to check if a treatment is right for your dog. If in Melbourne book in with the friendly team at Melbourne Animal Physiotherapy, and they can assess their needs in more depth.

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