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A photo of a Chihuahua mix who is walking on an underwater treadmill

Health & Wellness

The benefits of hydrotherapy for pets

Have you ever heard of an underwater treadmill for pets?

Don’t look at your veterinarian sideways if they recommend hydrotherapy (which is essentially aquatic physical therapy) for your pet. It’s actually a standard recovery option to help pets regain their strength after surgery or an injury. 

“Veterinarians recommend hydrotherapy for cats and dogs following surgery, or for pets with neurologic disease or orthopedic injuries, arthritis and weight management,” Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, explains.

What is hydrotherapy?

Have you ever walked underwater or participated in a water aerobics class? If so, you probably remember how the water's resistance makes moving around more challenging than it is on land. Pets that do hydrotherapy experience that same challenge while in the water — which in return helps animals to strengthen areas in need while putting less stress on their muscles and joints. 

Water treadmill for dogs

Take our friend, a Chihuahua-mix named Reuben, for example. This Fetch-protected pup walked on an underwater treadmill to recover after a disc in his spinal cord burst. 

Benefits of hydrotherapy for pets

You may wonder, is hydrotherapy the same for cats and dogs? The answer is: yes, although cats may need a bit more time to get used to the water. Being in the water allows pets to strengthen their joints and muscles in a reduced weight-bearing environment, Dr. McCullough says. For example, when dogs or cats run outside, it can cause stress on their joints, but water allows them to exercise in a low-stress and low-impact environment. 

Hydrotherapy not only strengthens pets’ muscles and joints without causing added stress, but it also has several other benefits. Cats and dogs may experience decreased pain or swelling, improved range of motion, strength, endurance and flexibility, better circulation and enhanced quality of life, Dr. McCullough explains. Hydrotherapy can also provide mental stimulation for pets experiencing cabin fever during their recovery. 

RELATED: How to know when your pet is in pain

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How long should hydrotherapy sessions last, and how often should a pet attend them?

In Dr. McCullough’s experience, hydrotherapy sessions usually last around 30 minutes. “Most dogs and cats may have five to six sessions, but it depends on the severity of their condition and their response to hydrotherapy,” she adds.

You should also know that the initial consultation usually costs between $100 to $150 and an additional $50 to $60 per session, Dr. McCullough says. “Cost depends on the location, the pet’s size and breed and the expertise of the veterinarian or veterinary technician performing the hydrotherapy,” she shares.

Hydrotherapy for dogs at home

You should leave hydrotherapy, for both cats and dogs, to the professionals, Dr. McCullough says. Successful hydrotherapy requires specific equipment and experience, so you should always work with a licensed and trained person instead of attempting to perform it at home.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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Photo by Reuben’s pet parents

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