Not Just a Swim in the Pool!

Hydrotherapy – a therapeutic option for dogs

Kloof Physiotherapy – operating for the past 10 years as a referral practice for vets in KZN – offers a unique opportunity to animal owners who are looking for ways to assist their pets in the recovery stage after surgery or injury. Hydrotherapy by a qualified practitioner speeds up the post-surgical rehabilitation and recovery process and brings relief from pain.

Research has shown that animals benefit in the same way as humans from physiotherapy and other related rehabilitation treatments that accelerate the healing process, relieve pain, restore function and generally improve health. Hydrotherapy is an evidence-based treatment and is used world-wide as a component of animal rehabilitation programmes. The water provides a wonderfully therapeutic medium to promote and assist recovery after injury or surgery, giving relief from arthritic pain and can be used to assist in weight loss and general conditioning.


Due to specific properties of water such as density, buoyancy, hydrostatic pressure, surface tension, relative density and viscosity, exercises performed in water and their effect on the body differs greatly from exercises performed on land. It is because of these differences that hydrotherapy is such a useful medium to assist in rehabilitation.

An animal in pain will be able to relax in the heated water environment. This allows the physiotherapist to assess joint range, to palpate soft tissue and to perform specific passive movements and stretches to an affected limb. In the early stages of recovery, buoyancy enables the animal to use the limb in a reduced weight bearing environment and encourages early function which would otherwise be difficult to perform on land. Hydrostatic pressure reduces pooling of blood in the body extremities which are deeper in the water and assists in the reduction of oedema. In later stages of recovery the viscosity of the water is utilized in strengthening exercises.

Kloof Physiotherapy has a heated pool with a gradually inclined entrance ramp designed for easy access for injured, post operative or elderly canine patients. Practice owner, Julia Hewitson – a registered physiotherapist with extensive clinical experience in the treatment of people and animals – individually assesses each patient for suitability to hydrotherapy. For example, a history of underlying cardiac or respiratory conditions depending on their severity could be contraindicated. Julia goes into the pool with the patient to provide the treatment and exercises and this also enables her to monitor for any undue stress mentally or physically during the session.

Any vets who do not currently refer patients for physiotherapy are welcome to contact Julia to find out more details of the various treatment options offered either at the practice, vet premises or home visits.


Neurological rehabilitation – I used Bobath, Rood, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) as examples of treatment methodologies and looked at the sensory integration, proprioception and postural rehabilitation techniques.

This section was supported by slides and videos demonstrating different treatment techniques.
I also included the treatment of respiratory and cardiac conditions for consideration for veterinary practioners to refer animals for physiotherapy. This category of conditions commonly treated in the human field by physiotherapists is not well documented or established as a treatment option in the field of veterinary medicine yet.

In concluding, I discussed general home management and physiotherapy advice for owners with elderly pets – including support before and after euthanasia of a pet – and the various orthotics, ramps and mobility aids that are available and can be assessed for and recommended by a physiotherapist.

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