Canine Hydrotherapy

Dogs that are suffering from hip or elbow dysplasia, anterior cruciate ligament injuries, tibial plateau leveling osteotomy, osteoarthritis, chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy, femoral head ostectomy, orthopedic conditions and spinal injuries can benefit from hydrotherapy. Additionally, dogs that are recovering from fractures, trauma, neurological damage and other injuries, as well as those who are participating in post-op recovery, have experienced decreased recuperation periods, decreased pain perception, increased range of motion in the active state, reduction during rest period, and increased release of endorphins, which helps your pet’s quality of life.

What is Canine Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy for humans has proven to be extremely beneficial for people who are required to participate in physical therapy. Essentially, hydrotherapy utilizes the natural properties of water, including viscosity, hydrostatic pressure, resistance and buoyancy to improve physical functioning. Hydrotherapy is not necessarily a new concept to the veterinary practice, as all the way back to the early 1900’s there were inventions that provided this therapy to work horses to ensure that they could return to the fields faster and stronger after an injury.

Long-Term Benefits of Hydrotherapy

Some of the short-term benefits of hydrotherapy were already discussed; however they are not the only benefits for canines who partake in hydrotherapy. The long-term benefits that dogs will experience from hydrotherapy include: increased range of motion in joints, increased muscle strength, prevention of secondary complications, improved cardiovascular health, decreased inflammation and pain, the potential to regain normal function faster, degenerative diseases may slow in progression, and your dog will enjoy the socialization as they work toward improving their quality of life.

Hydrotherapy Case Studies


Oliver, a shih tzu who fell 6 meters from a balcony to concrete, suffered from multiple injuries, including a fractured pelvis and a punctured lung. Although the orthopedic surgery was successful, Oliver faced months of healing. Rehabilitation included physiotherapy sessions and a home exercise program. After the first stage of recovery was successful, hydrotherapy was added to Oliver’s mending program. Although shih tzus are not necessarily keen to water and swimming, the temperature of the water is kept quite warm and with staff encouragement, Oliver took well to his treatments.

A vital aspect of Oliver’s recovery included rebuilding the muscle mass on his hind legs to create support for his hips and ensure full range of motion. Various techniques and strategies were taught to Oliver, including the ability to shift and gain confidence on a surfboard. He has learned to bear weight on the leg that was injured and his limp has nearly disappeared.


Flint, a 3 year old German Shepherd, was training to be a K9 cop when his training was suspended due to a stretched anterior cruciate ligament. Flint participated in hydrotherapy to speed recovery time and, despite his trainer’s fears that Flint would never again have a chance at a career as a police dog, was able to return to training toward the end of the training course. Today, he has not only recovered completely, he has also completed his police dog training and is now working a full time career.


Daisy, the 5 year old Cocker Spaniel, was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia in 2010. She would experience lameness after long periods of rest or exercise, and this lameness was more pronounced in her left leg. Rather than sending Daisy to the surgery room, she participated in hydrotherapy first. If hydrotherapy did not work to improve her condition, she would need a total hip replacement (THP). Daisy was full of energy and loved to play, but exhibited muscle atrophy and frequently “bunny-hopped” – a very common occurrence in hip dysplasia.

First, she spent time on the water treadmill to address the muscle atrophy. After only the first session, Daisy’s owner reported to us that she was not exhibiting obvious stiffness or lameness anymore. The second session included time in the pool, which Daisy was much more enthusiastic about than the treadmill.

The pool, as it seemed, was the better course of treatment for Daisy, due to the enthusiasm that she displayed. Then, the resistance of the swim jets was incorporated into Daisy’s hydrotherapy regimen to assist with building her muscles and improving range of motion. By her 6 week check-up, Daisy exhibited significantly improved muscle tone and was no longer taking pain medications; we postponed surgery as long as she was doing well with her hydrotherapy. Only two months after she started the hydrotherapy, Daisy was released from the treatment program and functioned with normal exercise at home, just like other dogs her age.

These are true stories about real pets that benefitted from hydrotherapy as a physiological alternative healing method. Studies have revealed that pets who have participated in hydrotherapy have recovered from their injuries, surgeries and ailments 50% to 60% faster than pets that were using other methods of recuperation. Some pets, like in Daisy’s case, may be able to avoid surgery if hydrotherapy is used, while other pets could essentially skip the pain medicine or quickly wean off of it, with the use of hydrotherapy.