WHAT IS HYDROTHERAPY
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Some of the main benefits afforded by hydrotherapy treatment are:
- Muscle strengthening, maintenance and restoration
- Relief of pain, swelling and stiffness
- Promotion of relaxation
- Joint movement
- Increase in the range of motion of affected joints
- Improved circulation
- Cardiovascular fitness
Canine hydrotherapy is the treatment of many conditions using the benefits of water. The treatment is commonly carried out in a heated pool in the form of controlled swimming and is most often used for dogs which require postoperative treatment where a limb has lost muscle condition through limited use of the leg. This creates an ever worsening situation, as the dog will adjust quickly and naturally to walking and running using three legs. This lack of use then heightens the decrease in the muscles’ strength until a point is reached where it may become impossible for the dog to walk normally on the affected leg. The problem is made worse by the dog’s natural mental ability to ‘mask out’ the use of the injured leg to the point that even if the muscle is brought back to near full strength, the dog will still not use the leg normally. This creates a problem that makes full recovery from injury very difficult: the sooner muscle tone and strength is treated to reverse the decline, the more successful the treatment will be.
Correct hydrotherapy takes place in heated water. Cold water makes the muscles less efficient as it restricts the flow of blood and causes constriction of the blood vessels near the skin and the muscles that lie just below.
MUSCLE WASTING & PAIN
The muscles begin to waste away very quickly from reduced use, so the sooner hydrotherapy is started (if and when possible) the better. Tendons, joints and bones absorb the stresses caused by normal walking on land. When these stresses become painful and damaging, the dog will compensate naturally by simply restricting use of the leg. Whilst this may reduce pain and help the dog, it will do nothing for the continued healthy condition of the muscle. Masking the pain by drugs is a common treatment, which will then allow the dog to live a more comfortable life, while maintaining its natural muscle tone through regular and suitable exercise. However, long term use of drugs and increasing age will naturally restrict the type and amount of exercise in which the dog will engage. Along with reduced use through exercise of the muscles, the heart and related blood flow will also suffer..
These physical issues are relatively straightforward, but the lack of exercise, whether due to injury or the advancement of years, also has an effect of the mental health of the dog. Any animal, including man, feels well and exhilarated through the practise of exercise, especially vigorous exercise.
The dog – due to injury or old age and age related conditions, will either be unable or unwilling to exercise enough or in the most suitable manner. However, a dog in a heated pool and supported so he cannot sink, even if he made no attempt to swim, would benefit even if he were simply to lie in the warm water. The heat of the pool would increase the blood flow and the general well being would mask to a degree some of the aches and pains felt by the dog. Like us, the dog would feel better when coming out of the pool and this state of mind can bring on a desire to exercise in a normal fashion, which was not there before. It is important to remember that the dog’s body, like ours is designed to walk on land and for the continued good health of bones and ligaments, the pressures and stresses of abrupt muscle movement and jars of walking, are vital. The problem therefore is that when this ‘harsh’ exercise on land is self regulated or ceased by the dog due to pain or old age, hydrotherapy can, in the majority of instances, be a major help. The situation of the dog moving in water means that the muscles must work harder. Every movement of legs, though less painful due to the lack of weight load involved, is harder for the muscles. There is also a weight pressure on the rib cage due to the water which forces the lungs and the muscles surrounding this area to work harder. Harder working muscles will achieve more in a shorter space of time and with the increase in blood flow due to the heated water and aerobic exercise, the opportunity exists for improvement of many parts of the body. Swimming by its very nature demands work from almost every muscle in the dog’s body. As the dog’s muscle condition improves and increases, the ability and desire of the dog to move and exercise naturally will increase. The fitness and ability of the dog to swim also encourages the dog to increase the ‘session’ time in the pool, thus beginning a general upward spiral of exercise both in the pool and on land which will bring about an improvement of the condition being treated.
SWIMMING FOR FUN & EXERCISE
Hydrotherapy pools – in addition – can be used simply for exercise – both for dogs which are overweight and need to slim down, and just because many dogs love swimming! It is not uncommon to find that dogs, once they become accustomed to the pool and the pool environment, will very much look forward to swimming sessions and given the opportunity will dive in alone! For anyone with a lack of space and a number of dogs to exercise, or for those who simply want to offer their dogs variety of exercise, pools offer a fun alternative to traditional walks.
Swimming must be done bearing in mind the dog’s general health – dogs will normally be referred for hydrotherapy by a vet . A sensible pool owner will ensure that any dog presented to him or her for swimming is healthy enough to benefit from swimming – taking into account age, overall condition and an acknowledgement from the owner that the dog has no known health problems that might cause problems while swimming.