Hartpury College

Canine Hydrotherapy

Specialist canine hydrotherapy centres (either independent or within a veterinary practice) have increased in number in the UK in recent years (Holding, 2011). Hydrotherapy can be a beneficial therapy for dogs with a large number of injuries and conditions and is usually used as part of a multi-modal approach alongside veterinary treatment and/or physiotherapy, acupuncture and chiropractic.

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Hydrotherapy can be delivered in either a swimming pool or using a water treadmill. To a certain extent, the injury dictates whether the dog would be best using a pool or a treadmill, but the individual case must be considered as a whole before deciding on the mode of treatment. When swimming, the majority of the dog’s weight is supported by the water and so this is ideal for arthritic conditions and in the early stages of rehabilitation post surgery. In the treadmill there is a 38-85% reduction in bodyweight depending on the depth of water used (Millis et al., 2004). Water treadmill exercise is ideal for performance dogs, those with gait abnormalities and water phobic dogs. Treadmill treatment allows the therapist to very closely control the speed, duration and intensity of the exercise and reproduce these as required in subsequent sessions.

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In both the pool and the treadmill the water is heated to 28-30°C and sanitised using either chorine or bromine. The water is continually filtered so the water should remain clean and clear at all times. For current Canine Hydrotherapy Association and National Association of Registered Canine Hydrotherapy standards the water must be tested 3 times a day for sanitiser, pH and temperature, and externally tested by Kingfisher Environmental Services Ltd. monthly for bacteria. This is to stop cross contamination between the dogs, and zoonotic diseases from the dogs to therapists.

Hydrotherapy may be used within the rehabilitation of orthopaedic and/or neurological conditions. Conditions commonly seen include hip and elbow dysplasia, cruciate disease, arthritis and spinal conditions. Hydrotherapy is used to help treat conditions either as part of a conservative management programme or post operatively.


‘Cara’ is a 2 year old yellow Labrador who presented with bi-lateral cruciate repair due to cruciate disease. The owner client took the dog to the vet on noticing lameness as a puppy. The first opinion vet took x-rays and diagnosed partial cruciate rupture, they then referred the owner to a second opinion referral centre who undertook bilateral Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery (see x-ray) to stabilise the stifles (Fitzpatrick Referrals, 2015). Post operatively the physiotherapist, Grace Fairburn of Fairburn Vetphysio, treated the patient and gave a home exercise programme. Once good wound and bone healing was established the physiotherapist recommended hydrotherapy to continue the rehabilitation. The patient was initially treated in the pool, once a week for 6 weeks, to aid range of movement through the joints and increase hip extension after the period of restricted exercise. On reassessment by the physiotherapist it was noted the dog was adducting her right pelvic limb in walk and trot and so the treadmill was introduced, once a week for a further 5 weeks, to retrain the gait. On reassessment by the physiotherapist the patient was noted as having good muscle mass bilaterally and no compensation issues in her spine. Cara now enjoys a good quality of life as a companion pet loving off lead walks.


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Extra reference Fitzpatrick Referrals (accessed on 29/06/2015) http://www.fitzpatrickreferrals.co.uk/orthopaedic/cranial-cruciate-ligament-injury/


1. What are the minimum training standards of a canine hydrotherapist?

2. What are the therapeutic properties of water?

3. Describe cruciate disease and what surgical options are commonplace.

4. Glossary – look up the following words and give examples of;

a. Contra-indications

b. Neurological disorders

c. Orthopaedic disorders

d. Zoonotic diseases