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What is Hydrotherapy For Dogs

Hydrotherapy for dogs uses the properties of water — buoyancy, viscosity, resistance, and hydrostatic pressure — to enable a dog (or human) to move her joints. Water makes the body buoyant, so when submerged, the weight of the body is supported. This means the dog is not fighting gravity. The buoyancy of water reduces stress on the joints and this creates a much safer environment for recovery after surgery.

Hydrotherapy is also beneficial for dogs who are recovering from an injury, dogs who suffer from degenerative joint disease, and those who have been paralyzed. Water therapy can also help dogs suffering from fractures, hip dysplasia, the amputation of a limb, and neurological disorders. Hydrotherapy may be especially beneficial for dogs who suffer from arthritis due to old age; the warm water helps reduce joint swelling, another benefit.

In general, hydrotherapy is the use or application of water to promote or supplement the healing process. With that in mind, hydrotherapy is preferred over traditional methods is that it is a weightless environment that promotes the use of the limbs, and provides a range of motion and movement generally not attainable with normal exercise or rehabilitation programs.

dog physiotherapy hydrotherapy hydro treadmill aquatic water swimming walking cat canine
dog hydrotherapy treadmill underwater pool swimming walking aquatic water

Hydrotherapy Swimming

As active as swimming is, it is not always the best option for therapeutic treatment. Surprisingly, some dogs do not like water and will panic or fight when faced with it, especially if we are trying to walk them into an open pool.  We all know swimming can be beneficial for cardiovascular health. However, patients need to have a strong core to keep their body level and afloat which most of our family pets and even athletic companions do not possess. Swimming also takes weight completely off of their limbs, which is good for arthritis but not helpful for patients who are reluctant to use the limb (i.e. post operative TPLO patients, etc.).

  • Flexion of the joints is greater when swimming than walking in the water
  • Swimming renders the patient completely non-weight bearing which removes all concussive forces on their joints
  • Great for core strength
  • Improves cardiovascular strength
  • Patients with front limb nerve injuries often times use the limb during swimming before they will place the limb to walk
  • Neurological patients who are unable to stand and support themselves will sometimes swim before they walk because the buoyancy of the water makes them “weightless”
  • Swimming benefits flexion of joints more but is not as effective for improving extension
  • Not a good option for patients who are unfit (seniors/geriatrics, weak core/stamina, etc.)
  • More intimidating for patients who are fearful or do not like water
  • Minimal control of the patient’s movement
  • Dogs do not generally use their hind limbs effectively when swimming (they use primarily forelimb movement)
  • Contraindicated in early post-surgical patients
dog hydrotherapy treadmill underwater pool swimming walking aquatic water

Hydro Treadmill

Patient variables (primary complaint, age, etc.) are taken into consideration when deciding on which modality would be the most beneficial for their treatment plan. About 95% of our patients use the underwater treadmill because it is a more balanced option than swimming. The majority of those patients are dogs with osteoarthritis in multiple joints, those recovering from orthopedic surgery, or managing a neurologic disease (i.e. degenerative myelopathy).


  • Extension of the limbs/joints is more complete than with swimming
  • Control of how fast the patient moves
  • Control of how much weight the patient bears as they are moving (height of water)
  • More balanced treatment for patients with multiple issues (multiple joints, muscle atrophy, etc.)
  • Support for weak patients (able to move better in water than on land)
  • Less intimidating than swimming for patients who are fearful of water (with our treadmill, water fills slowly from the bottom)
  • Gentle and low impact enough for post-surgical patients (2 weeks post op with sutures removed)
  • Some patients are fearful of the belt moving under their feet and will refuse to walk
  • Walking on a moving belt in the water requires the patient to have some degree of coordination or body awareness which can be very challenging for seniors or severe neurologic patients

The Benefits of Hydrotherapy

It’s particular value comes about because of the effects of the warmth and pressure of the water and particularly the buoyancy provided. Some of the main benefits are:

  1. Non weight bearing exercise
  2. Relief from pain, swelling and stiffness
  3. Promotion of relaxation
  4. Joint mobilization
  5. Cardiovascular fitness (heart and lungs)
  6. Muscle strengthening, maintenance & restoration
  7. Increase in range of motion of affected joints
  8. Improved circulation
singapore top hydrotherapy dogs canine cats