How does Hydrotherapy work?

Warm water increases the circulation of blood to the muscles, increasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients and flushing away waste products, leading to muscle relaxation and a reduction in pain and stiffness. Improved circulation reduces swelling around an injured area and enhances healing.

The buoyancy effect of water reduces the load on weight bearing joints which helps to reduce pain and allows easier movement and exercise. Hydrostatic pressure applied to the body in water can assist in reducing swelling, and as the pressure increases with depth this encourages fluid swelling (oedema) in the limbs to move away from affected areas, immersed lower in the water back towards the body. This is assisted by exercising the limb to enhance circulation. Buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure also help to support the body during exercise; this can aid the re-education of gait patterns in neurological conditions and reloading of a limb post-surgery.

A decreased range of motion can often be due to pain, swelling, or stiffness. Buoyancy can help to gently encourage stiff joints into an improved range of movement with minimal additional pain; increasing flexion and extension when in the water allows further range of movement generally when back on dry land.

Hydrotherapy tones most of the major muscle groups and improves the general overall fitness of the dog. Movement in water is more difficult due to the resistance of the water. Water based exercise uses 30% more oxygen than similar land based exercise. By encouraging pain free limb movement against the resistance of water, muscle bulk will increase and thus muscle wastage will be reversed.


In water the heart needs to work harder in order to meet the increased demand for nutrients by all the muscles which are being worked, this sounds like hard work - it is - and that's the idea! For most dogs a short hydrotherapy session is an extremely challenging workout. However the buoyancy of the water and the fact that sudden twists, stops and falls are impossible, makes hydrotherapy a safe and effective form of exercise and it's also very enjoyable for most animals. Whilst immersed in water the chest is subjected to the effects of hydrostatic pressure; this means that every breath requires more effort. In particular muscles used for breathing in have to work much harder and as muscles strengthens with exercise this improves the whole respiratory system.



Extensive work in human physiotherapy has demonstrated that a suitably monitored course of hydrotherapy acts by encouraging a full range of joint motion in reduced weight bearing conditions, thus improving muscle tone and promoting tissue repair, without imposing undue stress on damaged tissues.

Controlled swimming helps to improve cardiovascular stamina, muscle tone, range of movement and is particularly helpful in aiding recovery from injury or surgery whilst also improving general fitness, especially in the management of obesity.

Muscle wastage begins within 3 days of any immobilisation so to prevent further weakness or injury it is important to rebuild, through safe exercise, any muscles that have deteriorated.

It is better to treat dogs in heated water since cold water causes constriction of the blood vessels near the skin and to the superficial muscles (those just under the skin) which restricts the flow of blood making the muscles less efficient.

Hydrotherapy is also considered to be a natural anti-inflammatory through its ability to reduce tissue swelling.

Hydrotherapy can be performed in either a pool or aquatic treadmill..

Hydrotherapy in conjunction with veterinary treatment can significantly improve the quality and rate of healing following surgery or traumatic injury. Post surgery the careful use of hydrotherapy can help with rehabilitation and increase the chance of a successful return to full fitness.

Enhancing general health and fitness can aid convalescence and speed up recovery. Hydrotherapy has specific therapeutic effects on body tissue.

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© Sally Taphouse