All About Hydrotherapy for Dogs

Affiliate Disclosure: Center for Dog Pain Relief, Inc. sometimes uses affiliate links within our content. This comes at no cost to you but helps us to be able to create more helpful content!

    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    Scroll to Top

    What is Hydrotherapy?

    Hydrotherapy is defined as “the use of exercises in a pool as part of treatment for conditions such as arthritis or partial paralysis.” The concept has been around for around 2,500 years for humans but wasn’t formally introduced as an alternative treatment until the 18th century and then in the 19th century, it became more widely known. Horses in the horse racing industry were the first animals to be introduced to hydrotherapy. When it came to canines, it was used in Greyhound racing after seeing the benefits in the horses. It wasn’t too long before it became available for dogs of the general population 

    Hydrotherapy with underwater treadmill work essentially allows for rehabilitation and exercise by taking the weight off of the compromised joints and allowing movement that would otherwise be painful or impossible. The viscosity of the water actually increases the work that the muscles are doing at the same time. There are three main types of hydrotherapy for dogs:

    english bulldog in hydrotherapy
    Photo Credit: Healing Paws Center

    What Does Hydrotherapy Help?

    Hydrotherapy for dogs can be used in the treatment or management in numerous health conditions and injuries. Some of these include: 

    • Obesity
    • Improve arthritis
    • Improve hip dysplasia
    • Orthopedic surgery post-operative recovery 
    • Increased emotional well being
    • General fitness
    • Increased lymph drainage 
    • Improved circulation 
    • Increased joint flexibility
    • Decreased joint pain

    What Are the Types of Hydrotherapy?

    Pool-based Hydrotherapy

    A dog is put into a life jacket that has a handle on top for the therapist during a pool-based hydrotherapy session. The therapist holds the dog up and lets them swim while holding them up in the water. They may also let the dog swim on their own depending on their strength. This can be done in either a normal pool or a dedicated hydrotherapy tub.

    woman in pool helping a dog do hydrotherapy
    Photo Credit: Hudson Aquatic

    Underwater Treadmill

    This is probably what comes to mind when you think of hydrotherapy for dogs. Essentially, there’s a treadmill belt in a small tank of water that’s filled with warm water which can be adjusted. The dog is assisted by the therapist as they walk on the treadmill or may be harnessed in. This form of hydrotherapy is extremely customizable for what’s needed for each dog.

    two women assisting a dog doing hydrotherapy in an underwater treadmill
    Photo Credit: Hydro Physio

    Whirlpool Therapy

    Whirlpool therapy is like a jacuzzi for dogs that help to relieve pain from health disorders or surgery. Dogs are lowered into the whirlpool via a harness and the water level is adjusted. A warm jet stream then massages the injured muscles.

    man helping a dog do hydrotherapy in a whirlpool
    Photo Credit: Unknown

    What Dogs Can Do Hydrotherapy?

    Not all dogs qualify for hydrotherapy and there needs to be written veterinary consent before beginning hydrotherapy and the therapist will also examine the dog to determine if they qualify. The following can disqualify a dog for hydrotherapy time being or indefinitely:

    • External fixator
    • Skin irritation or infection
    • Diarrhea
    • Untreated cardiac, liver or kidney disease
    • Incontinence
    • Uncontrolled epilepsy
    • Emesis
    • Unhealed surgical incisions

    Dogs of all ages with various disorders or injuries can benefit from hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy should only be conducted by a professional to diminish the risk factors. Remember to never force a dog to swim, if they are showing signs of discomfort, discontinue hydrotherapy immediately for either the time being or until the therapist feels they are able to continue.

    Find a Canine Sports Medicine specialist near you!

    hydrotherapy pinterest pin