By Ann Evans
Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
Swimming is possibly one of the best exercises anyone can take. So water healing – or hydrotherapy is hugely beneficial not just for people, but animals too.
Hydrotherapy is controlled aquatic exercise in heated sanitized water. The hydrotherapy pool creates a zero impact method of exercising which is perfect for all manner of health problems – muscular, skeletal and neurological; it helps to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone; it’s helpful in aiding recovery from injury and surgery as well as helping with pre-operative conditioning, obesity and general good health in your pet.
It is vitally important however that pet owners take care in choosing the correct hydrotherapy centre for their pet. Pet owners can check out the National Association of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists (NARCH) who maintain a list of the registered canine hydrotherapists in the UK, and ensure that hydrotherapists registered with them adhere to the highest professional standards and ethics. Also the Canine Hydrotherapists Association (CHA) whose members hold National Accredited Qualifications in Small Animal Hydrotherapy, and whose centres are regularly inspected by CHA representatives to ensure they meet the highest standards.
A leading light in canine hydrotherapy is Sue Hawkins who runs the Hawksmoor Hydrotherapy Referral and Training Centre and boarding kennels in Warwickshire. Around 20 years ago, concerned by the lack of qualifications and training that was needed for anyone to perform hydrotherapy treatment, Sue, a former Businesswoman of the Year, set up the Hawksmoor Hydrotherapy Referral Centre. It opened in 2001 and was the first training centre to be accredited by ABC Awards for training in hydrotherapy. It is renowned for its high standard of hydrotherapy training throughout the UK and worldwide; and its training courses are fully endorsed by the CHA.
As principal at Hawksmoor, one of the things Sue always stresses is that before any animal commences hydrotherapy treatment, they must have a veterinary referral. She says: “This is so trained hydrotherapists get to know the whole medical history of the dog and whether there are any other underlying problems. Staff need to have a full understanding of the condition the animal is being referred for and any medication the patient is receiving. A full clinical history should be obtained to identify any underlying problems such as heart murmur, epilepsy, diabetes, ear problems and so on to enable them to design the correct rehabilitation programme prior to the commencement of treatment.”
Pool and treadmill maintenance is a top priority and staff need to be fully trained in water management. Water quality readings should be available for clients to see. At Hawksmoor water quality is tested three times daily, readings are recorded and levels amended accordingly. Swimming programmes and techniques are designed to suit each dog; and all pets swim with a life-jacket. In almost all cases the hydrotherapist goes in the water with the pet.
Only one animal is treated in the hydrotherapy pool or aquatic treadmill at any one time. The practice of ‘multi dog therapy’ is banned by CHA members, irrespective of whether the animal is attending for rehabilitation treatment or fun and fitness. The time spent in the pool or aquatic treadmill is carefully worked out for each individual animal for each session. Dogs are also showered before and after swimming, and thoroughly dried afterwards.
Sue summed up: “We have quadraplegic, tetraplegic and paraplegic dogs and we are getting them back on their feet. We get dogs with cruciate leg injuries, pre and post op surgery, hip dysplasia, patella, joint arthritis and obesity, and results are absolutely magic. To see these dogs eventually bounding in here after being unable to walk is the most rewarding thing imaginable.”
BENEFITS OF CANINE HYDROTHERAPY
- Pre operative conditioning, to allow muscle build up prior to surgery without further damage to the affected joint.
- Post operative rehabilitation for a multitude of conditions, for example cruciate repair, hip and elbow dysplasia, spinal surgery and hip replacement and many other conditions.
- Sufferers of arthritis, spondylosis, nerve damage, muscle, tendon and ligament injuries.
- Performance and fitness can also be improved through this gentle non-weight bearing, non-impact way of exercising; and it is often a suitable exercise for older dogs.
- Obesity can be tackled with hydrotherapy as it assist with weight reduction with no added pressure on the joints.
HOW HYDROTHERAPY WORKS
Hydrotherapy increases circulation in the body. The combination of warmth hydrostatic pressure and buoyancy helps to promote circulation and decrease the pressure on weight bearing joints which in turn aids healing.
The drawing of blood to and through targeted areas of the body stimulates the immune system, detoxifies the body, heals injured tissues and re-energises the body.
Additionally the pressure of the water can have an anti-inflammatory effect, relieving pain and reducing swelling.
THE AQUATIC TREADMILL
The Aquatic Treadmill is another method to benefit animals from heated water treatment. It helps when gradually introducing weight bearing to a pet’s affected limb and to re-educate gait patterns as well as stimulating damaged nervous pathways.
Varying water levels and the speed of the treadmill enables a rehabilitation programme to be tailored to the individual needs of each patient. This allows specific joints to be targeted so accurate assessment of the flexion and extension of each limb can be observed by the hydrotherapist through the glass sides of the treadmill.
HYDROTHERPY CENTRE CHECK LIST
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR:
- The centre should ask you for a veterinary referral – even if your dog is there just for fun and fitness.
- Look for certificates on the wall. Do staff hold Nationally Accredited Qualifications in Small Animal Hydrotherapy?
- Is the centre a member of either of the hydrotherapy industry organisations – CHA or NARCH?
- Does the centre have public liability, liability to animals and professional indemnity insurance?
- Are water management records kept and available to view?
- Your dog should be given a health check when it comes in for each session/appointment.
- A programme of treatment should be worked out for your pet and an initial assessment carried out to ensure needs are being met.
- Your pet should be showered before being put in the pool or treadmill.
- Your pet should be wearing a life jacket or restraining aid.
- Only one animal at a time in the pool or treadmill – no exceptions. The patients should also be continuously monitored throughout the session.
- The use of a pole attached to a collar, restraint harness or floating device is banned by the otganisations.
- A hydrotherapist should supervise every session.
- Time in the pool should gradually be built up. In general, 5 minutes but this can vary.
- Afterwards the dog should be showered and thoroughly dried off.
- A record of the pet, its treatment and progress should be kept. The referring vet should receive regular feedback and updates on the patients progress.