Canine Hydrotherapy

Today’s featured alternative healing modality is canine hydrotherapy (a.k.a. canine water therapy). Different forms of hydrotherapy for humans have been around for thousands of years – ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used it to improve their health, spirits and general well-being.

Equine hydrotherapy, in particular using cold sea water on leg injuries, has been practiced for centuries, then it was picked up by the greyhound racing community, and now, hydrotherapy for all kinds of dogs (working, show, pets, etc.) is becoming more and more popular.

What Is Canine Hydrotherapy?

Canine Hydrotherapy is swimming, or using an underwater treadmill, for dogs, often combined with other therapies such as massage, stretching and balance exercises. Some pools have jets to provide different levels of resistance, and the therapist can adjust the strength of the jets to fit each dog. Dog owners are usually not allowed to get in the pool, but the therapist will be there with your dog (who may or may not wear a life vest) and assist while he/she swims.

How Does Swimming Help?

The buoyancy of the water allows the patient to move freely and use his/her full range of motion without putting stress on joints and bones. This, combined with the resistance of the water, helps Canine Hydrotherapy Jacobrestore mobility and build muscle mass in dogs who have undergone surgery, been injured, are disabled, or are suffering from arthritis and other age related mobility issues.

The pressure of the water also increases lymphatic drainage and can help reduce pain, swelling and inflammation.

Other conditions that benefit from hydrotherapy include:

  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
  • Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)
  • Neurological problems and spinal injuries
  • Circulatory problems
  • Pre-op
  • Obesity

And just as for us humans, swimming is a relaxing way for your dog to get some exercise and have fun in a warm, soothing environment.

To find a practitioner in the US, visit The Association of Canine Water Therapy’s website. In the UK, check out the Canine Hydrotherapy Association.

Meet Terri Steely

Canine Hydrotherapy - Mikfu and CaponeTerri Steely is the founder and owner of Paddling Paws in Summerville, South Carolina. Terri, a registered nurse, became interested in canine hydrotherapy when her 16-week old pug Molly became lame. She knew how beneficial swimming in warm water was for humans and decided to give it a try with Molly.

After seeing the success she had with Molly, Terri started dreaming about opening her own canine hydrotherapy facility. She began studying human aquatic therapy, canine behavior, canine massage and canine water therapy, and in February of 2007 she opened the doors to Paddling Paws.

Today’s case study features Sophie, a Weimaraner with Degenerative Myelopathy (DM). Thanks to a combination of several alternative therapies (including hydrotherapy), she has not only survived way past the 6 months dogs diagnosed with DM are projected to live, but has maintained a wonderful quality of life. This is a great example of how important it is to never give up and keep looking for different solutions when faced with a devastating diagnosis by your vet.

Sophie’s Story
told by her owner

Sophie is a 14 1/2 year old Weimaraner. She has been a part of our family since she was 4 weeks old. During her first 13 or so years she had regular vet checkups and had no unusual health problems – except normal breed behavior doing such things as eating half a roll of tissue or eating a full bottle of vitamins (and then receiving a half cup of hydrogen peroxide to purge the pills).

Canine Hydrotherapy - Sophie

In January 2008 at a wellness check up at our vet, we were told that Sophie had Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), a degenerative nerve disease described to us as similar to MS in people. Five months later her back legs gave out and her hind quarters had to be held up with a towel or lift to walk. She was put on Prednisone for a short quick fix. Dogs usually have a life expectancy of 6 months with DM. We didn’t settle for the prognosis.

We did research on the DM website and found that Dr. R. M. Clemmons, a veterinary neurological researcher at University of Florida had done studies on DM dogs and had identified several meds to give dogs with DM to stall or delay neurological deterioration. We asked our vet about this course of treatment. He said the research was not accepted by many conventional vets (limited to no control studies) but it was worth a try. Through our vet we were able to order Dr. Clemmons meds by Rx through Westlab Pharmacy, an online compounding pharmacy in Florida. The meds Sophie was given included Acetylcysteine, Aminocaproic acid, and Antiox-Q. (We later changed from Antiox-Q to Basic Nutrients by Thorne.)

Sophie’s legs were weak from the DM and she had difficulty walking. We read that swimming is a stress free exercise to build up the leg muscles. She had never swum before. After some research we found Paddling Paws in Summerville, S.C., owned by Terri Steely, now Sophie’s swim instructor and good friend. We gave the water therapy a try and were amazed by the results. We now travel three hours two times a week for swimming and it has made a big difference in her strength, walking, muscle mass, and coordination, and she loves it. She would not be walking today without it.

At the time we started the water therapy we tried acupuncture, having found evidence in our research that this could stimulate nerve health. After more research we found Dr. Holley Cone of Bees Ferry Vet Hospital in Charleston, S.C. Dr. Cone does acupuncture, acupressure massage, supplements, and herbs. Our experience has been that acupuncture has increased the impact of water therapy and the collective increased energy level and mobility gained. It is not unusual now for Sophie to trot around the back yard, jump on the couch, and at times act like a one year old puppy running through the house like a rabbit – a characteristic of the breed any owner would recognize.

Shortly after starting the meds, acupuncture, and water therapy, Sophie bloated and had to have emergency surgery. Sophie has benefited from having excellent conventional vet care complimented with awesome holistic vet care, the combined coordinated impact is greater than the sum of the individual parts. She has bloated twice since the first time but the vets were able to decompress her without surgery since her stomach was attached during the first bloat surgery. During recovery from bloat her meds are changed to heal her stomach and gastrointestinal system. Dogs with DM appear to be prone to bloat.

Sophie had her tail amputated because of a cancerous growth and she was later bitten by a Copperhead snake. She has been able to endure and recover from each of these life episodes we believe because of the contribution of episode treatment, and accumulative benefit of meds, acupuncture, and water therapy – coupled with a healthy diet with no junk food.

Sophie has bouts of colitis every few months which we are told is not uncommon in older dogs with her history, and we treat with Metronidazole and Pro Pectalin. If we catch it early enough we start on Sulfasalazine to treat the inflammation.

Sophie also has arthritis of the spine and neck – issues that affect her legs. She takes Trixsyn, a diet supplement, and Adequan injections for joint health. She is fed Mila (chia seed mix) as a pure (no mercury) source of omega 3 for her joints.

Sophie is walking better today than she was two years ago. She takes short walks almost every day along with her swimming. We’re convinced that had we not started the combined treatment of water therapy, holistic vet care with acupuncture, and diet management with supplements, Sophie would have lived no longer than the original projected 6 months and her health and quality of life would have been terrible. Instead, Sophie has experienced two quality years of life and we have had two years (going on three) of enjoyment and companionship knowing we have been responsible caretakers.

What’s important to us is that she is happy, her health and physical function very good, and her overall quality of life is unbelievable – as she remains a very special best friend and companion.

This is a list of some of the meds and supplements that she is taking:
Mila (chia)
Aminocaproic acid
Hemp seed
Basic Nutrients by Thorne (instead of Antiox-Q )
Chinese herbs as needed
Gastriplex by Thorne
Gas X when needed
Probiotic from Mercola
Milk Thistle
Glucosamine, Chondrointin, MSM
Karbo Essentials
Armour (natural thyroid)
Banana flakes for diarrhea
Proin (PPA)
Adequan injections every 2 weeks
Cranberry 475 mg

Slippery elm, L -Glutamen, marshmallow root and bentonite clay to heal and rid toxins after colitis

Cattie Coyle

Cattie Coyle

Founder and Editor at Animal Wellness Guide
Cattie is the founder and editor of Animal Wellness Guide. She is a freelance photographer, graduate of Bancroft School of Massage Therapy’s small animal program, and has studied Applied Zoopharmacognosy. Learn more about Cattie
Cattie Coyle
Happy Midsummer (lots of celebrating going on in Sweden today) and Happy Anniversary… - 3 days ago


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