Hydrotherapy for rehabilitation of dogs: Important things to know

hydrotherapy for dogs

Hydrotherapy is designed to help your dog recover lost ability and make the best use of function as it returns. If your pet is paralyzed, or has suffered an injury recently and you have lost all hopes of your pet walking again then hydrotherapy should definitely be given a shot. Recovery from paralysis and other conditions continues for some time after the accident and hydrotherapy will help your pet make the best recovery possible. But just like any other treatment, it is always good to gather as much information as you can before starting the treatment. We have compiled some useful information on ‘hydrotherapy for paralyzed dogs’ which will help you make the best decision for your furry kid.

How does hydrotherapy for dogs work?

Hydrotherapy, which has become an important part of physical rehabilitation for both humans and animals these days uses the unique properties of water —buoyancy (an upward force experienced by a body immersed in liquid), viscosity, resistance, and hydrostatic pressure to enable a dog to move his joints.

Here’s how it works: Water makes the body float due to buoyancy. So when an animal with disability is submerged, the weight of the body is supported. Due to buoyancy there is very little stress on the joints of the animal, which gives safer environment for recovery to the disabled animal.

In which cases hydrotherapy is mostly used?

Hydrotherapy is beneficial for dogs who are recovering from an injury, suffering from degenerative joint disease, and paralyzed dogs. Hydrotherapy aids both therapy and fitness and is particularly beneficial for those who are unable to work out on collar on land, as is often the case with Neurological Conditions.

Water therapy can also help dogs suffering from fractures, amputation of a limb/limbs, arthritis, hip dysplasia and neurological disorders. It even helps obese dogs to lose weight.

What kind of water is used in hydrotherapy?

In hydrotherapy, the water is heated to about 85 degrees. Warm water used in hydrotherapy helps reduce joint swelling, provides relaxation, improve movement of stiff or swollen joints, strengthen weak muscles and alleviate aches and pains.

Never force your dog to swim

Whatever the training may be, keeping your pet safe and comfortable all the time is very important. You should read your dog’s signals and do what’s best for your pet’s mental and physical health at all times. If your dog is scared, he should not be forced to swim as it may result in injury for your pet.

What types of hydrotherapy can dogs do?

Some of the available forms of hydrotherapy for dogs include underwater treadmills, whirlpools and dog pools. All three options offer a controlled environment.

Underwater treadmills: These are often used for dogs with joint problems. It is basically a treadmill encased in a glass or plastic enclosure. The dog is put inside the closed chamber or indoor hutch and the water is filled up just above the dogs’ legs. As the dog begins to walk on the treadmill, water creates the resistance needed to strengthen the muscles in a low-impact environment. All this while, a therapist monitors the dog’s movements through the clear sides of the water tank.

Whirlpools: Dog whirlpools have water jets that are effective for massaging muscles.

Dog Pools: Such hydrotherapy pools have a current that offers resistance for dogs as they exercise. Dog pools are used for agility exercises, strength and flexibility exercises.
dog pool hydrotherapy

When is hydrotherapy advised for paralyzed dogs?

Your vet will assess your pet’s condition and decide on when your pet may begin hydrotherapy. How soon the therapy can begin will depend on what caused paralysis in your dog. For example: If the paralysis is caused by a fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE), your vet may suggest you to start hydrotherapy right away. On the other hand, if the cause of paralysis is medical or surgical treatment of intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), the pet has to be given crate rest first. It means, he/she will be confined in a crate and advised to rest for up to 10 weeks to allow healing first. Any rigorous activity or exercise during crate rest can hamper your pet’s chances of recovery.

If your pet gets proper crate rest for some days, he/she will be ready for hydrotherapy when crate rest ends.

Benefits of hydrotherapy for dogs

Hydrotherapy began as a treatment for humans in ancient times and expanded to include animals when several animals started benefitting it too. The benefits of hydrotherapy include:

  • Improved circulation which leads to healthy skin and coat
  • Increased joint flexibility and decreased joint pain
  • Increased lymph drainage which helps rid the body of toxins and improves the immune system
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Increased cardio respiratory endurance
  • Increased flexibility, and agility
  • It encourages better digestion
  • Hydrotherapy helps obese dogs lose weight. It is a great form of low-impact exercise, which helps promote weight loss and general fitness in dogs.

Caution: Hydrotherapy should never be tried without a professional

While hydrotherapy has several proven benefits for dogs, doing it without professional assistance can be dangerous. Without professional assistance, a dog recovering from surgery, injury or paralysis may not have the muscle strength needed to swim. Also, to use water therapy as a treatment aid, the water temperature needs to be regulated and the temperature of the water in lake, pond and other water bodies is unregulated. Apart from that, bacteria from the pond or lake may cause an infection in a recent incision. Finally, if your dog swims without professional assistance, he may be putting pressure on the area in recovery, doing more harm than good.

As with starting any new medical treatment, it is always best to check with your trusted veterinarian.

How long to continue hydrotherapy?

Whether or not you should continue to do hydrotherapy will depend on your pet’s recovery. Although hydrotherapy facilitates healing to occur, nerves regenerate very slowly. Therefore, hydrotherapy may need to be done for weeks or months following an injury to maximize recovery. The decision will be taken by your vet after assessing your pet’s condition. It is important to be patient because recovery takes time, hard work and lots of patience. A steady program of professionally monitored aquatic exercises over the course of time is the key to successful rehabilitation

Risk factors to keep in mind

While hydrotherapy and swimming both have proved to be beneficial for pets, there are some risks associated with hydrotherapy that the pet parents should be aware of. Some common risk factors include:

  • Recurrent ear infections from too much water in the ears
  • Excessive fatigue may cause the dogs to drown. So, always monitor your dogs as he swims and look for signs of fatigue to prevent mishaps from happening.
  • Aggravation of certain skin conditions
  • Dogs with existing health conditions should follow the vet’s instructions and should be allowed to recover fully before hitting the pool.
  • If you see your dog coughing or gasping for breath, he should be pulled out from the water immediately for observation and rest. Pets that are anxious or stressed may experience increased blood pressure and increased heart rates. The goal of hydrotherapy is gentle exercise and anything that is observed contrary to this plan means the activity must stop immediately.
  • Dogs with open wounds or sores should not be doing hydrotherapy.,
  • If your dog has breathing difficulties or heart disease, he/she is not the ideal candidate for aquatic therapy. Also, if your dog panics in water, aquatic therapy may not be right for him as he may get injured while desperately trying to get out of water.


Hydrotherapy has many benefits for paralytic dogs and dogs suffering from other conditions listed in the article. Many pet parents have benefitted from this therapy and as more research in this field is forthcoming, many other benefits of this therapy will become apparent in the days to come.