I was out in my front yard the other day and watched as a woman walked her older lab down the street. The lab was very stiff in the rear end and was struggling a bit to walk. I felt sorry for the dog and wondered if he was in any pain. Part of me wanted to speak to the woman, but I didn’t because she seemed oblivious to the fact that her dog was having a hard time walking. If I had spoken with her I would have told her how much hydrotherapy could have helped her dog.
For many years, hydrotherapy has been a prescribed exercise by human doctors for a variety of conditions such as arthritis, joint and muscle stiffness, chronic back pain, and post-surgical recovery. It’s been known to be particularly helpful for seniors who are less flexible and who may be suffering from a number of age related conditions. As an exercise for weight reduction, swimming engages the cardiovascular system while being kind to the skeletal structure. Muscles become stronger, flexibility is increased, and fat is burned. When compared to running, for instance, a 10 minute swim can be equivalent to a 30 minute run without putting excessive pressure on the spine, muscles and joints.
With that said, what’s good for us is also good for our beloved dogs. Non-weight bearing exercises such as warm water hydrotherapy are proven to help build muscle tone, increase cardiac fitness, loosen joints, relax muscles, increase flexibility, and reduce stress, pain and anxiety. Veterinarians agree that swimming/hydrotherapy can be beneficial for senior dogs who are arthritic and suffer from stiffness in their joints, post-surgical dogs recovering from neurological or orthopedic injuries, soft tissue injuries, degenerative diseases such as hip dysplasia and muscle weakness. Overweight or obese dogs can shed pounds through regular swim sessions (in conjunction with diet). Healthy dogs and canine athletes will increase their endurance and maintain cardiovascular fitness while strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility and range of motion. Swimming, especially in a warm water pool, is an ideal exercise because it delivers a safe and low-impact full body workout.
In the five years we’ve been in business, we’ve worked with a number of dogs in our indoor warm water pool who are arthritic, overweight, have degenerative joint diseases, are suffering from genetic defects such as dysplasia, or are recovering from surgery, and even those with behavioral problems. The improvements in their health and well-being have been dramatic, even the attending veterinarians are amazed at the dogs’ progress. We’ve prolonged the lives of several dogs, and even given people “their puppies back” as they lose weight and regain lost energy and mobility through regular swimming.
We all love our pets and want to do what’s best for them. I urge you to pay attention to your dog and if he needs it, help him regain the level of health and vitality he enjoyed as a young dog. Hydrotherapy is a great way to do that.
Sherri Cappabianca, an expert in the field of canine health and fitness, is the author of two books on canine health, and co-owner of Rocky’s Retreat, an intimate and personal boarding, daycare, hydrotherapy and fitness center, and Barking Dog Fitness, a Gym for Dogs, both located in Orlando. For more information, visit rockysretreat.com or barkingdogfitness.com.