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Aquatic Therapy for Pets with Spinal Injuries

A dog receiving aquatic therapy to help with a spinal injury.

Aquatic therapy, also known as hydrotherapy, offers a highly effective and gentle rehabilitation method, especially for pets with spinal injuries. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the principles of aquatic therapy, its benefits for pets with spinal injuries, and the steps to implement an aquatic therapy program for your pet.

Understanding aquatic therapy

Aquatic therapy involves using water as a therapeutic medium for rehabilitation. The unique properties of water, like buoyancy, resistance, and hydrostatic pressure, create a supportive environment for pets with mobility challenges. It provides a safe, low-impact setting, enabling pets to participate in therapeutic exercises that might be too painful on land.

What are the benefits?

  • Buoyancy: Lessens weight-bearing stress on joints and the spine, allowing pets to move more freely and with less pain.
  • Resistance: Offers a natural resistance training form, helping build muscle strength and overall fitness without stressing their joints and spine.
  • Hydrostatic Pressure: Water’s hydrostatic pressure can decrease swelling and inflammation, promoting healing in injured tissues.
  • Pain Relief: Warm water, often used in aquatic therapy, can relax muscles and alleviate pain in pets with spinal injuries. Improved Mobility: Aquatic therapy can help pets regain mobility and improve their gait by retraining muscles and neural pathways.

Types of Aquatic Therapies:

  • Underwater Treadmill: This treadmill allows pets to walk or run in a controlled environment with adjustable water levels, providing customized support and resistance for their specific needs.
  • Swimming: A great full-body exercise, to participate in a range of motion activities while being supported by water’s buoyancy.
  • Assisted Aquatic Exercises: Guiding your pet through specific water exercises, like weight shifting, stretching, or balance training, targeting weakness or concern.

How to implement a program?

  1. Consult Your Veterinarian: Discuss your pet’s specific needs with your veterinarian and determine if aquatic therapy is an appropriate treatment option.
  2. Find a Qualified Rehabilitation Professional: Locate a certified rehabilitation professional experienced in aquatic therapy for pets with spinal injuries.
  3. Undergo a Comprehensive Evaluation: Before starting, your pet should receive a thorough evaluation to assess its physical condition, range of motion and overall fitness.
  4. Develop a Customised Therapy Plan: Collaborate with the rehabilitation professional to create a therapy plan tailored to your pet’s specific needs and goals.
  5. Monitor Progress and Adjust Accordingly: Regularly evaluate your pet’s progress and make necessary adjustments to the therapy plan to ensure optimal results.

Safety considerations

  • Water Temperature: Typically between 80°F to 92°F (27°C to 33°C), to prevent overheating or chilling.
  • Supervision: Supervise your pet during aquatic therapy sessions, ensuring their safety and correct exercise execution.
  • Proper Equipment: Such as a life vest or harness, to support your pet in the water and maintain balance.
  • Medical Clearance: If they have pre-existing medical conditions that could be worsened by the exercises.
  • Gradual Progression: Begin with shorter sessions, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of exercises as your pet’s strength improves.


Aquatic therapy is a valuable rehabilitation tool for pets with spinal injuries. By utilizing water’s unique properties, this therapy can help pets regain mobility, build strength, and alleviate pain safely and gently. If your pet has a spinal injury, consult with your veterinarian to determine if it is a suitable option. With proper guidance and a tailored therapy plan, your pet can benefit from water’s healing power and return to better health and well-being.

Dr. Sara Lam

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