As part of water therapy, a dog’s gait pattern can be improved and its muscles strengthened in a way that is easy on the joints. Options include the underwater treadmill and swim therapy for dogs. Here we would like to take a closer look at swimming therapy for dogs. What are the positive effects of swimming? Which dogs are allowed to practice this form of therapy and how does controlled swimming work? Also very important: What are the costs to be expected? Will the insurance possibly also cover the costs or maybe part of them?
Benefits and Mode of Action of Swimming Therapy for Dogs
In swimming therapy, the dog is guided in the water by a canine physiotherapist. So the owner usually stays outside the pool while the therapist is in the water with the dog. Swimming in the heated pool already relaxes the dog’s muscles due to the warm temperature. Due to the water resistance, swimming is much more strenuous for the animal than jogging, for example, and builds muscles more effectively. However, since the dog exerts a lot of effort, the training sequences should not be too long. The dog takes small rest breaks in between on a kind of footbridge.
Optionally, a buoyant life jacket can be worn for the duration of the therapy session. With the help of this life jacket, the physiotherapist can guide the dog better in the water. In addition, the forehand is relieved. The buoyancy of the vest puts the animal in a better position in the water so that the muscles are evenly stressed. In the case of very experienced swimmers, the canine physiotherapist can also attach thera bands (resistance bands) to the life jacket in addition to the water resistance, which will challenge the muscles even more. This makes it possible to train the muscles on only one side more if a one-sided injury (such as a cruciate ligament tear) makes it necessary postoperatively. Controlled swimming increases the range of motion of the joints and the endurance of the cardiovascular system. In dogs with musculoskeletal pain, regular hydrotherapy can reduce pain. Also very positive is the improved body awareness, mobility, and actually the strengthening of the dog’s self-confidence. Since swimming relieves the joints enormously, training is also recommended for overweight dogs.
Which Dogs Can Practice This Hydrotherapy?
There are dogs that are naturally avid swimmers and those that tend to avoid water or are poor swimmers because of their build. The latter includes dogs with a stocky build or, for example, a flat nose.
A big advantage of water therapy is that swimming can be implemented in a very controlled manner. Due to the buoyant and stabilizing life jacket, dogs that are disadvantaged in swimming due to their physique or dogs that have weaker muscles, such as older four-legged friends or those who have lost muscles after an operation, can swim safely.
There are also special air cushions that can be placed under the animal’s head. Insecure dogs in particular can be given security in this way, as they do not have to have any negative experiences, such as getting water in their ears.
Puppies can also practice therapeutic swimming, although the intention here is usually not the same as with adult dogs, for which there is usually a medical indication. The main advantage for puppies is that they can be introduced to swimming in a very positive way due to the controlled conditions. You will not be distracted or deterred, such as by very cold water temperatures, swans, or scrubs near the shore. Instead, everything is made very comfortable for the puppy, so that the first contact with water becomes an all-around great experience.
How Does Swimming Therapy for Dogs Work?
When the dog starts water therapy, he is introduced to swimming very slowly. Especially water-shy and anxious dogs are familiarized with the situation at their own pace and are given security by the therapist. Even a dog that loves to swim in nature should swim calmly and under control in the pool and of course, have a consistently positive experience. Therefore, a toy is used as an incentive, and a ten-minute training session is started. Depending on your condition and state of health, the time can be increased accordingly. If the dog finds toys rather boring, you can also work with liver sausage from the tube, for example. However, there should be no risk of choking during training, which is why treat tubes are a good alternative to rope or dummies.
A life jacket and, if necessary, a buoyant neck brace are provided by the physiotherapy practice, only towels, and perhaps a much-loved (buoyant) toy and, if necessary, the treat tube should be brought along.
Normally, swimming therapy is practiced twice a week in the beginning, then once a week, and finally reduced to monthly training for muscle maintenance.
How Much Does Swimming Therapy for Dogs Cost?
The cost for a 30-minute session in the pool is around €30.00. Prices vary greatly for this form of water therapy. In addition, the costs of the initial consultation and getting used to the water should not be forgotten. Expect to pay around €100.00 here.
Due to the necessary regularity of swimming, the question arises as to whether the dog’s insurance will cover these costs. Fortunately, there are dog health insurance policies that cover all or part of the cost of a dog physiotherapy application if it is necessary and there is a medical indication. It is therefore worth contacting your insurance company and asking for the information or paying attention to this point when signing a new contract.
In principle, however, any dog that does not have a medical reason can do swimming therapy. The costs in this case would then have to be borne by the owner himself.
Swimming therapy is usually offered less than therapy with the underwater treadmill, which is mainly due to the space and cost reasons for a special swimming pool.
It is best to look around for a reputable canine physiotherapist in your area who offers hydrotherapy and who transparently lists information about his further education and training on his website. Currently, the profession is the canine physiotherapist