This week on Ireland AM, we took a different angle to “Pet Project Slimdown”, looking into hydrotherapy for dogs. Along with my own dog Finzi, and our slimming-down dog Gizmo, we visited the Canine Country Club in County Kildare, to attend a session at the Canine Rehabilitation and Hydrotherapy Centre.
Hydrotherapy has been used as part of rehabilitation programmes for humans for many years and has also been used to help racehorses to recover from sports injuries. Dogs are the latest group of patients to be introduced to hydrotherapy: swimming is good exercise for all animals with joint problems. A dog’s natural buoyancy supports the weight of the body, allowing strenuous, muscle-building exercise without over-stressing the joints. Up until now, swimming was only possible in ways that could be found by individual owners. A dog might swim in the sea, or in a local river. Exceptionally, an owner might have had access to some type of human swimming pool that could be used for their pet.
Over the past decade, several centres offering hydrotherapy for dogs have been opened in Ireland: the one that we visited has the largest pool, as well as an underwater treadmill. There are many uses for hydrotherapy. Some dogs visit for treatment for joint problems, while others who have specific muscle and tendon injuries. There are also patients who are rehabilitating after serious injuries or major operations. And there are some very old animals who are just unable to manage normal exercise on land. Finally, hydrotherapy is useful as an extra type of exercise for obese pets that are trying to lose weight.
Hydrotherapy for dogs allows exercise in a controlled way, letting the muscles work whilst the body weight is supported by water, which is an excellent way of building muscle strength and endurance. There are a range of beneficial effects, including pain relief and improved range of movement of the joints. The exercise also improves cardiovascular fitness, just as it does for humans.