Canine Water Therapy

Would your dog enjoy a day at the spa? Really, who wouldn’t? But, in this case, lounging in the pool actually has medical benefits.

What is canine water therapy?

Quite simply, your dog is treated to some time in a heated pool, allowing the dog to experience weightlessness. For a dog with joint problems, this time can be heaven on earth. By removing the dog’s weight from the joint, you have allowed the dog to move around without pain for perhaps the first time in a long time.

Other important modalities are sometimes combined with water therapy to ease your dog’s aching muscles. Many times when a dog has a joint problem, he or she begins to limp. This awkward gait can strain other muscles, making the ancillary treatments an important addition to the spa routine.

Chihuahua dog enjoying a luxury bath

Additional treatments for your dog

One of the most common additions to water therapy is massage. At its most basic, massage simply involves giving your dog a rub-down over all or portions of his or her body. This can help to relax a dog with behavior problems, as well as loosening stiff muscles.

T-touch, a method developed by Linda Tellington-Jones, is a specialized kind of massage used first on horses, then adapted for dogs and other companion animals. The therapist makes small clockwise circles with his fingertips to help your dog relax. Helping your dog learn to relax in the pool can translate to a dog who is more relaxed all the time.

Reiki (pronounced ray-key) is one of the ancient Eastern traditions, which balances your dog’s energy by creating a natural flow of chi. It is thought to strengthen the immune system and relieve pain.

Aromatherapy and acupressure are other ancient holistic treatments which can relax your dog and ease pain.

Finally, working out on a treadmill underwater can build muscle mass without the joint stress that can result from land workouts.

What are the benefits of canine water therapy?

If your dog is in pain, the chance of him or her wanting to get proper exercise is minimal. Paradoxically, the less he or she exercises, the more likely it is that the pain will not be resolved. However, if you allow the animal to exercise under the zero gravity conditions provided by a pool, the work-out can be carried out pain-free. And as the muscles are strengthened, the pain goes away.

Non-weight bearing exercise can loosen tight muscles, reduce swelling, build confidence, and allow your dog to relax. In addition, swimming will improve circulation, build endurance, and improve flexibility, range of motion, balance, and coordination. Finally, exercising underwater forces your dog’s muscles to work against the force of the water which can quickly build muscle mass and strength.

Water therapy can help dogs who have recently had a joint or spinal injury or surgery. In addition, swimming helps older dogs and those who suffer from chronic pain or obesity.

German Shepherd Dog enjoying a relaxing bath

The role of fascia

Fascia, also called connective tissue, connects all of the body’s organs while separating them from each other. This elastic covering gives structural support to the muscles, tendons, and organs, but when the dog is injured, the fascia may stiffen or turn into scar tissue. After the original injury heals, the connective tissue may remain hardened.

By putting the dog in warm water and massaging the hardened fascia, the scar tissue may be broken down to allow more freedom of movement.

Because fascia runs all through the body, an injury in one area of the body may cause pain in another area. And if you never saw the original injury, it may be hard to direct your vet to treat the right place. However, if you take your dog to a spa, they can massage the fascia to provide relief for both the original injury and the pain that has been referred to other parts of the body.

How do I pick a spa for my dog?

The first step to choosing a spa is to decide what you hope to get out of the experience for your dog. Are you looking for a place where your dog can simply swim to have fun? Is your dog scheduled for surgery and you want his muscles toned before to make recovery easier after? Do you want to swim with your dog or will you send him or her in alone? Do you want just water therapy or will your dog benefit from other services such as massage, acupressure, reiki, aromatherapy, or time on an underwater treadmill?

Next, you may want to confer with your veterinarian or do some research on your own to determine the laws in your state regarding canine massage. In some states, only a vet can perform canine massage, but in other states, there is no regulation or the law allows a person supervised by a vet to perform the hands-on treatments. In other cases, massage can only be performed upon referral from a licensed vet.

Dog getting a massage in the bath

Assuming you have a choice of facilities and therapists in your area, you will want to check on the training the massage therapist has received, the licenses and certifications he or she holds, whether or not training included pool first aid for pets, and the amount of evaluation that is done before starting to work on your pet.

As far as the pool itself, you are looking for a heated pool between 80 and 100 degrees for therapy; slightly cooler for losing weight or building up muscles. Check to make sure the pool looks clean, and ask how often it is cleaned and whether or not pet-safe chemicals are used for cleaning.

Ask about whether or not the facility is insured and how long they have been in business. Make sure you can have a tour of the facility and can meet the therapist who will be working with your dog before you commit to a long-term contract.

If you or your dog is made uncomfortable by the staff as you ask these questions, run, don’t walk out of the spa. A good facility will understand that you need to totally trust the care you and your pet will receive there.

For more help in choosing a spa, check out the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork.

For more information on canine massage, go to National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage.

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