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The Magic of Canine Water Therapy

September 07, 20226 min read

Have you ever seen a water aerobics class at your local YMCA pool? Did you ever wonder why so many people flock to a pool for exercise? The answer: because a pool allows a person to get a great amount of exercise in a non-impact environment. 

Canine water therapy is a similar method of treatment that allows dogs to exercise in a controlled pool environment. The concept of water therapy for humans has been around for hundreds of years, but it has just recently been widely accepted for canines. 

Canine water therapy can be used to strengthen core muscles and get aerobic exercise for dogs with injuries or debilitating diseases. It can be used as a form of recovery and rehabilitation after a surgery, and it can even be used as a safe form of non-impact exercise.

canine water therapy

Physical Benefits of Water Therapy

Water therapy is often touted as the best form of exercise for a canine. This is a result of the non-impact nature of the exercise. Many water therapy pools have a skilled trainer that will get into the pool with the dog and assist them as they exercise. Other pools may have a harness that will secure your dog in place as it exercises. Both methods allow for excellent exercise, without any impact on joints or muscles. 

Many breeds of dogs have genetic problems which pre-dispose them to symptoms such as hip dysplasia, or osteochrondritis dissecans. Dogs suffering from either of these diseases will be unable to exercise normally. Many dogs with severe hip dysplasia for example, will be unable to stand from a lying position, and might be unable to maintain a walk for more than a few seconds. However, through canine water therapy, these same dogs are able to exercise, and strengthen their core muscles without any stress or pain on their joints. 

Many dogs also suffer from obesity and develop joint pain and stress as a result. Water therapy allows obese dogs to enjoy strenuous exercise and lose weight without putting stress on their joints. 

Emotional Benefits of Water Therapy

The physical benefits of water therapy are easy to see and often tangible. However, the emotional benefits, for the dog and the owner, are also just as real. 

A dog that goes through intense exercise will be a happy dog. Especially a larger working breed of dogs such as golden retrievers, labradors, and german shepards. When these dogs are exercised, their internal nature is expressed. They have gotten back to their core function, and they are elated. 

A dog that has proper exercise will be more obedient, will eat better, will sleep better, and will be more joyful. As a dog owner, you will see this difference very quickly as your dog goes through canine water therapy. 

Cost of Water Therapy

The Association of Canine Water Therapy maintains a list of all of the water therapy pools in your area and across the country. After a thorough review of the per-hour pricing for these spas, I found that the average price for a 60 minute canine water therapy session was $80. 

What you get for that $80 is a personal session with the trainer. The water therapy trainer will work one on one with your dog as they exercise. All of the pools have easy access ramps so that dogs with health problems can still access the pool. 

Future Savings Through Water Therapy

When you first read that canine water therapy costs $80 per hour, you might be taken aback and call me a liar for writing this article. However, let me give you a personal story of how water therapy can be very cost effective in the long term. 

Two years ago, my wife and I brought home a ball of fur, also known as a golden retriever puppy, we called Lucy. Lucy has changed our lives for the better as she has shown us what it means to have joy, to be loyal, and to constantly crave attention!

About 4 months into her life however, we noticed that Lucy was favoring one of her legs and that her hip seemed to “pop” when she would walk. We took her back to the vet, and braced for the news. 

Our 4 month old golden retriever puppy had severe hip dysplasia. 

We were heartbroken. We had spent the extra money to buy our puppy from a reputable AKC registered breeder to avoid a problem like this! However, there was absolutely no way we were going to exchange our puppy for one without hip dysplasia; as all good puppy parents know, those little buggers steal your heart very quickly. 

So, with the option of exchanging our puppy off the table, we began to search for other alternatives to deal with hip dysplasia without breaking the bank.

Surgery Options

We spoke with our vet at length about the different surgery options that we could explore to treat Lucy’s severe hip dysplasia. He gave us two options:

  1. Total Hip Replacement. This option will completely replace both of a dog’s hips with cemented joints that would act as new hip joints. The procedure has roughly a 90% - 95% success rate. However, the cost to perform this surgery is roughly $3000 per hip.

Femoral Heal Ostectomy (FHO). The FHO option is considered a “salvage” procedure which should only be explored after all other options have been exhausted. The surgeon shaves off the end of the femur without replacing the ball joint. Then, scar tissue will build around the shaved femur to create a joint. This avoids bone rubbing on bone, and therefore eliminates the pain for many dogs suffering from hip dysplasia. The FHO surgery option would cost about $2000.

After speaking with our vet, we also realized that both of these surgery options would require our dog to go through intensive rehab sessions after the surgery. These rehab sessions would cost roughly $75 - $100 per hour.

With dollar signs spinning around in our head, we went back home to consider our choices. 

Our Epiphany

That is when we discovered canine water therapy, through an online search of hip dysplasia treatment options. We saw that the cost was high, but it was easy to see that if it helped us avoid surgery, then it would save us a lot of money. 

We decided to take the plunge

Our first session was magical. Our trainer worked with our dog personally and helped her into and out of the exercise pool. While in the pool, our dog swam for approximately 60 minutes. She had not been able to get that much exercise at one time in her entire life

We spoke at length with the trainer, and she informed us that the exercise our dog was doing would strengthen the muscles around her hip, and hold the hip in place. This would decrease the pain caused by hip dysplasia and likely hold off surgery. 

We decided to go once every two weeks, and monitor our dog’s progress. Within 2 sessions, we noticed a dramatic difference. Our dog’s limp seemed to fade away, she was able to stand up easier, and she was able to get off of her pain meds. 

We totalled 10 sessions with our canine water therapy trainer. By this time, our dog Lucy did not show any signs of hip dysplasia. 

So, our total cost for the water therapy was $800. This caused us to save roughly $1200, with the FHO surgery option, and $5400 with the hip replacement option. Not to mention the added costs of rehab and special diet after surgery. 

I can highly recommend canine water therapy on a personal level, but the cost savings do not lie.

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