Water’s healing properties for injuries and aching joints are well recognized as a human medical treatment, but pets can also benefit from hydrotherapy.  Hydrotherapy—a therapeutic treatment modality that involves water, such as swimming or walking on a submerged treadmill—can greatly benefit a variety of orthopedic conditions. Our Central Houston Animal Hospital team offers hydrotherapy treatments—and a range of other rehabilitation options—to support your furry pal’s muscle and joint health, while helping them recover from surgery or injury. Learn about this powerful rehabilitation modality and how this therapy can benefit your pet’s health and wellness. 

What is hydrotherapy for pets

The word hydrotherapy means water healing, which makes sense because hydrotherapy is a physiotherapy modality that uses water resistance to rehabilitate injuries and relieve pain in pets. Buoyancy, resistance, viscosity, and hydrostatic pressure help increase mobility in your pet’s injured joints. For pets, hydrotherapy usually consists of either swimming or walking on an underwater treadmill.

Hydrotherapy in action

During hydrotherapy, your pet uses a treadmill submerged under varying amounts of water, depending on your pet’s needs. This treatment provides nearly weightless physical rehabilitation while removing gravity’s added pressure. Hydrotherapy sessions usually last around 30 minutes, and most pets need five to six sessions, depending on their condition’s severity. During an underwater treadmill session, the water turbulence is adjusted to best suit your pet’s condition and provide the most benefit. Depending on the water’s depth, 62% to 65% of a pet’s body weight is supported, which greatly reduces joint strain. Your pet’s hydrotherapist can increase the water’s turbulence as your pet heals from an orthopedic surgery or injury, or as their body condition improves. Most pets start hydrotherapy doing a slow, forward walk, increasing their speed as they improve. Your pet’s hydrotherapist keeps the water warm to promote increased muscle flexibility and relaxation, which makes moving stiff, sore muscles and joints easier for your pet.

Hydrotherapy benefits for pets

Hydrotherapy strengthens your pet’s muscles and joints without added stress. This therapeutic modality also offers these benefits:

  • Pain relief
  • Decreased swelling
  • Improved range of motion
  • Increased strength, endurance, and flexibility
  • Increased mental stimulation

Pet conditions that benefit from hydrotherapy

If your pet suffers from certain conditions, your veterinarian may suggest your furry pal receive hydrotherapy, and they will discuss the process with you in detail, customizing your pet’s therapeutic plan. Hydrotherapy can benefits the following pets:

  • Pets preparing for surgery — Strengthening your pet’s muscles and tendons with low-impact exercise before surgery can help their tissues heal more quickly after the procedure. 
  • Pets suffering from osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia — Osteoarthritis is a painful joint condition that can make physical activity uncomfortable and difficult. When an arthritic pet uses an underwater treadmill, the water provides buoyancy that takes the pressure off their joints, making exercise easier and less painful. 
  • Pets with mobility issues — A pet’s abnormal gait can lead to muscle atrophy (i.e.,  muscle wasting or muscle tissue loss). The water’s buoyancy helps relieve pressure on the painful or awkward limb, which becomes easier to use while underwater compared with on land. If your pet favors one leg, underwater treadmill therapy can strengthen the limb enough to allow your furry pal to use it normally again.
  • Pets with neurologic conditions Hydrotherapy can help pets with neurologic conditions that impede their balance and coordination. As an affected pet works to find their balance againespecially if they have experienced paresis or paralysisthe water supports their weight and cushions any falls.
  • Overweight pets — Hydrotherapy is beneficial for overweight pets because when they exercise against water’s resistance, your furry pal develops muscle mass and strength in an environment which produces lower impact on their sore joints.
  • Pet athletes — For athletic or working pets, underwater treadmill therapy helps soothe sore muscles and keeps them in shape without damaging their joints, and after an idle period, helps your furry pal regain strength easier. 

Hydrotherapy helps pets with various adverse health conditions. Pets who have conditions other than those discussed above can also benefit from hydrotherapy. These pets include:

  • Older pets with weakness
  • Pets who have undergone orthopedic surgeries
  • Pets who have had a limb amputated
  • Pets with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
  • Pets with metabolic conditions such as Cushing’s disease and diabetes
  • Partially paralyzed pets

Underwater treadmill therapy provides pets a range of benefits and can greatly improve their quality of life. Contact our Central Houston Animal Hospital team to determine if hydrotherapy could help manage your pet’s condition.