Hydrotherapy Precautions

Hydrotherapy for Dogs – Precautions You Need to Know

All patients attending hydrotherapy should have a veterinary clearance before doing so. Not all dogs are suitable candidates and there are a host of factors to consider. The treating veterinarian will do an assessment as well as the hydro-therapist.

The hydro-therapist will need to know certain information about your dog. Some of the questions they will ask are:

• Date of last vaccination?
• Previous level of fitness or exercise?
• Has the dog ever swum before and if so where?
• Any incontinence or ear problems?
• Have they been toileted prior to arriving?
• When they were last fed?
• Do they have a veterinary clearance to perform hydrotherapy?

The many factors to consider apart from their current medical or physical condition are the dog’s temperament, and past good or bad experiences with swimming. How well they do with it and their degree of anxiety depends on their past experience and the experience of the handler now attempting to swim them.

Most animals become adjusted after the first few visits. There are buoyancy vests, equipment to encourage the animal and extra staff to assist with easing the nervousness. Keeping the first sessions shorter in duration will also help.

There are a number of things the therapist will check the dog for before permitting it to go into the pool. Some of them are: the ears for problems, open sores, torn nails, the dog’s heart rate and respiratory rate at rest, and any skin condition.

Hydrotherapy for dogs is contraindicated if the dog is experiencing any of the following conditions:

• Open wounds
• Surface infections
• External skeletal fixators
• Incontinence or diarrhoea
• Vomiting
• Suffering from contagious disease (kennel cough, parvovirus, ringworm, mange)
• Certain spinal conditions
• Cardiac and respiratory dysfunctions
• Epilepsy (if dog has had one or more seizures one week prior to hydrotherapy)
• Conditions which compromise the blood supply to peripheral areas
• Water phobia causing extreme panic
• Vestibular syndrome

No animal should ever be left unattended while participating in hydrotherapy. Dog pools and dog underwater treadmills may appear safe but it is extremely dangerous to leave any dog alone in them. Accidents can happen very quickly if they are not supervised.

There are some dogs that can participate in hydrotherapy but you would need to be careful with them. These dogs are the following:

• Very obese dogs
• Dogs with a heart murmur
• Brachycephalic breeds (Bulldog, Boxer, Pug, Pekinese, Pug, Shih Tzu) these breeds have small nasal openings which limits the  amount of airflow. They are not efficient at panting so they tend to overheat and need to work much harder when exercising to get enough oxygen.
• Elongated soft palate (this is a flap of tissue which closes off the airway and when it is elongated it can obstruct the airway. This can  cause laryngeal collapse.
• Dogs with Cushing’s or Addison’s disease
• Dogs with Diabetes
• Laryngeal paralysis (the dog has noisy breathing, reduced heat tolerance)
• Spinal injuries
• Heatstroke or hot days
• Undiagnosed forelimb lameness
• Extreme laxity of joints or hyperextension injuries

Download the Ultimate Rehabilitation & Physiotherapy Guide for Dogs

A treatment plan or programme needs to be written and discussed with the owner. The goals of the treatment and the expected time frames for improvement also need to be discussed. The goals can be anything from just being able to walk again, to returning to agility or hunting and retrieving sports. Whatever the reason is for attending a dog pool, canine hydrotherapy is the best choice for rehabilitating and conditioning dogs prior to surgery, post surgery, or from an injury.

About the Author

Helga Schmitt has been passionately studying and researching dog health, physiotherapy and rehabilitation hands on for the past 20 years. She is a Certified and Registered Hydrotherapist, Chartered Herbalist, Holistic Nutritionist, and holds a Certificate in Homeopathy. She strives to educate dog owners about healthy choices. You will find a wealth of information in her e-book “The Ultimate Rehabilitation & Physiotherapy Guide for Dogs.”

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