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Non weight bearing exercise
While swimming, you avoid the joint stress caused by bearing the weight of the dog’s body on land, while still using most of the muscle groups used every day. This property is particularly helpful in conditions such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, where we often see the dog’s posture visibly relax into the hydrotherapist, as it settles on the resting platform and its body is supported by the water.
Increased muscle mass
In many conditions, particularly upper limb joint issues, dogs may have lost or damaged a certain amount of muscle mass, either due to surgical intervention, or because they are favouring an opposite limb or part of the body, in order to take the weight off a painful area. This can become part of an endless cycle. Not only will regular swimming increase the overall muscle mass of the dog, but it will be joined in the water by a trained hydrotherapist who will monitor and assist the swimming technique so that the limbs are being used correctly to counteract this, helping with posture re-education and proprioception (spatial awareness and position sense).
An increased range of joint motion and flexibility
Hydrotherapy, enables patients to use a greater range of motion while carrying out a weightless exercise. This can be particularly important after a surgery where scar tissue may be forming and we want the joint to retain as much flexibility as possible.
Improved joint stability
Muscle wastage around affected joints leads to joint instability which can aggravate existing conditions. Our carefully managed hydrotherapy plans, aim to rebuild this muscle and re-stabilise the joint, avoiding any further complications from the condition.
Benefits of warm water
Being warm increases blood circulation to the tissues close to the skin and in the extremities. Increased blood circulation, not only leads to more oxygen availability to the cells, but reduces swelling and increases healing.
We are often asked if swimming in lakes and the sea has the same therapeutic benefits as hydrotherapy - because of the relatively small size of the dog, it has a fairly high surface area to body mass ratio, this makes it fairly vulnerable to changes in the external temperature around it. As the body cools down, mechanisms within it cause the blood to be diverted away from the extremities towards the vital organs (heart, lungs, etc) – the same reason that our fingers and toes go numb in cold weather, muscles become stiff and hard to use, in a worst case scenario, over exertion when cold can lead to stiff and pulled muscles at the worst, it certainly will not have the same therapeutic benefits as swimming in warm water.
Increased overall fitness
As with most cardiovascular exercise, and increase in the fitness of the dog through swimming will result in improved respiratory function and condition of the cardiac muscle, and cardiovascular system. Due to a certain amount of water pressure, the heart and lungs have to work harder when in the water. This is one of the reasons that time spent exercising on land, is not equal to time spent exercising in the water.
Many dogs who are on restricted land-based exercise often suffer with frustration, stress and excess energy, occasionally dogs may be treated who are otherwise recumbent the majority of the time. Being able to swim, uses up this excess energy and provides an enjoyable and mentally stimulating activity – we love it when owners come back to us saying how well their dog settled and slept that night!
As the dog’s body is immersed in the water, it comes under hydrostatic pressure - pressure from the water is applied equally all over the dog. This pressure can prevent swelling in the limbs during exercise as it increases blood circulation. The same pressure also stimulates the skin receptors, which has an analgesic effect by reducing the pain response received by the sensory receptors.
Assist in weight management
Obesity is often the catalyst for many other medical conditions in dogs including cardiac disease, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis and joint and locomotory problems. In combination with specific dietary management and land-based exercise, hydrotherapy is an effective aid to weight loss. The increased resistance provided by the water requires a higher energy input by the dog and it is said that swimming requires 4 times the amount of energy as land-based exercise. By providing this exercise in a non-weight bearing environment, it avoids wear and tear on over stressed joints.
Even a dog who may be reluctant to swim initially, generally learns to love it and gets excited about their swimming sessions, we may use carefully chosen toys to encourage your dog, or encouragement and praise may be enough. If you are simply looking for an alternative form of exercise and would like to improve general fitness, we would love to hear from you.
'Many people assume that swimming skills come naturally to dogs, and to some degree many will learn how to propell themselves through water if driven enough to achieve a goal, and may eventually establish a good technique with enough practice, but they are not always so good at appreciating the risks and the risks can be high.
My previous weimaraner suffered cruciate rupture and was prescribed hydrotherapy as part of her treatment. She was not at all interested in water before she started her hydrotherapy having had once accidentally run into the lake and scared herself. As a result of her hydrotherapy, she developed a strong and powerful swimming technique and had no problems coping with hazards such as underwater weeds and steep banks.
I booked Escher into swimming lessons for this reason - we live around water, and water can kill. I want to be sure that should he fall in a river or lake or get stuck in water, his confidence and technique could save him. Escher has been swimming with Helen Canney at Three Counties Hydrotherapy in Chrishall since June 2016. Escher is a big lad and can be pretty reluctant to be handled by people he doesn’t know but Helen has been fantastic with him, and clear and professional in her communication with me - I knew I wanted him to learn ‘properly’, I now have a far better understanding of his physical dynamics and how his muscles work under water, as well as symptoms to look for with regard to fatigue and possible risks such as secondary drowning and ‘cold tail’.
My dog is very much a part of my family and his safety and welfare is as important to me as that of any human family member, so swimming lessons are simply part of our day to day survival essential skills. In choosing an instructor for any new skill, communicative ability, theoretical knowledge to back up practical experience, empathy and patience are key factors. Helen will be blushing, but I cannot recommend her services highly enough.'
(Diana Attwood - lMDT Qualified Dog trainer for Paws4me.co.uk and Red Dog Training)