Could Your Dog Use Pool Therapy?

Could Your Dog Use Pool Therapy?

By Dr. Tracy Dewhirst for Exceptional Canine

Could Your Dog Use Pool Therapy?

You’ve probably heard about swimming’s role in successful rehabilitation for people. And if you’ve ever been injured, you’ve likely experienced the proven health benefits yourself -- decreased joint pain, better moods, improved fitness levels. But swimming’s not just for humans. Aquatic therapy has become a trusted tool in canine rehabilitation. Paddling across a pool helps dogs recover from surgery and improves strength and mobility in older dogs with arthritis. The gentle resistance of swimming allows the canine patient to push physical limits -- without the risk of injury.

Swimming is also useful if your dog needs to lose weight or increase activity levels to improve overall health. Most dogs enjoy playful, fun exercise, which makes swimming ideal even for the couch potato pooch.

The demand for aquatic therapy has increased dramatically over the last 10 years. Veterinarians have seen the positive benefits and recommend therapy increasingly often. Owners are also keenly aware of how pool time improves the animal’s quality of life. Dogs that once limped and rarely wanted to play are active again and seem years younger. Some owners have even discontinued arthritis medication because water therapy was so successful for their dog.

Find the Right Dog Therapy Pool
Canine aqua therapy centers are easy to find because of their recent popularity. However, not all centers provide safe and legitimate care. If you’re considering aquatic therapy, ask your veterinarian for a referral. It’s also important to confirm that any limited mobility or joint stiffness your dog is experiencing is not due to a more serious problem, such as autoimmune diseases, infectious causes, or cancer that can clinically resemble osteoarthritis.

As you evaluate dog therapy pools, consider this checklist:

  • Staffing Dr. Andrea Henderson, the first veterinarian in the new physical therapy resident program at The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, says aquatic therapy centers should have certified therapists and veterinarians managing the patients.
  • Access The therapist should be able to reach the dog from all sides of the pool, cautions Henderson. The pool should be deep enough for large dogs to swim in without hitting the bottom, and shallow platforms should be available for resting. The ideal pool should have an entrance/exit ramp covered in a surface material that provides traction. Steps can be used, but care must be taken to avoid struggles or slips.
  • Chemical balance It is very important that the surface material on the ramps is mildew-resistant and that the filtration systems be equipped to handle the increased demand from the body hair and bacteria. Monitor dogs in water therapy programs for dry skin or eye irritation, both of which are indicators that the chemical balance might need adjusting.
  • Safety Dogs should wear a personal floatation device for initial pool sessions. Although most dogs know how to swim, not all are effective in the water. Many dogs become stressed and disoriented. Avoid working with facilities that do not use appropriately sized life jackets for each dog.
  • Comfort No one wants to get into frigid water, so look for pools that are clean and have a water temperature of 80 F to 90 F for comfort and muscle flexibility.

Personal pools are available for purchase if an owner prefers a private system. Home therapy is ideal for convenience, but it’s important to first start your dog in a rehabilitation center to develop an individualized program.

With a relaxed, friendly environment and knowledgeable therapists, your dog should dive right in to water therapy.

Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a graduate from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, practices small-animal and equine medicine in Knoxville, Tenn. She is a long-time columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Dewhirst also sits on the East Tennessee Peer Review Board. Dr. Dewhirst blogs frequently for Exceptional Canine.

Note: This section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters.