Aquatic Therapy decreases muscle atrophy and recovery time and provides psychological benefits to your pet. It is an excellent method of encouraging active muscle contraction and joint movement with limited weight bearing. This is especially useful for arthritic patients and as part of an obesity management program. 

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This type of physical rehabilitation of small animals following surgical procedures is becoming the standard of care for many practices.  Because of the heightened awareness in the rehabilitation of humans, many pet owners have asked about proper rehabilitation for their dogs undergoing treatment for similar conditions.  There are many conditions for which aquatic therapy may be beneficial, including rehabilitation of postoperative fractures, TPLO, CCL stabilization, FHO, neurologic conditions, tendinitis, osteoarthritis, conditioning, obesity, and other disorders in which a dog is reluctant to use the limb or there is a lack of strength, ROM, proprioceptive ability, or weight-bearing status. The potential benefits such as strengthening, cardiovascular endurance, and improved function have been documented in humans, and aquatic therapy is now becoming more common in veterinary medicine.

Rehabilitation of dogs in an underwater treadmill is an excellent method of encouraging active muscle contraction and joint movement with limited weight bearing and it may provide additional benefits regarding joint kinetics.  Under-water treadmills allow active use of muscles, appropriate gait patterning, and enhanced cardiovascular fitness, while taking advantage of the buoyancy of water to reduce weight-bearing stresses. The relative degree of buoyancy and resistance to walking in water can be adjusted by changing the water level.

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ADVANTAGES OF UNDERWATER TREDMILLS

  • Allow active use of muscles
  • Achieve appropriate gait patterning
  • Enhance cardiovascular fitness
  • Reduce weight-bearing stresses
  • Aid in weight loss

Incorporating underwater treadmill aquatic therapy with appropriate surgery, medications, weight control, and analgesic modalities often results in a quicker return to function with greater levels of performance than could otherwise be achieved.

PRINCIPLES OF AQUATIC THERAPY

Relative Density – the ratio of the weight of the object to the weight of an equal volume of water.  It depends on the composition of an object and is identified by the specific gravity value.  (A lean body will have a higher specific gravity than obese so that lean animal will have a tendency to sink faster.)

Buoyancy – the upward thrust of water acting on a body that creates an apparent decrease in the weight of a body while immersed.  The amount of water displaced depends on the density of the body immersed relative to the density of water.  Buoyancy aids in the rehabilitation of weak muscles and painful joints by minimizing the amount of weight bearing on joints, called “unloading joints.”  The amount of body weight borne when immersed in water at the level of the greater trochanter of the femur is 38%.

Hydrostatic Pressure – The deeper a body is immersed in water the greater the pressure exerted equally on all surfaces.  This provides constant pressure to a body or limb immersed in water, and therefore it may yield a better environment for working with swollen joints or edematous tissues.  Hydrostatic pressure opposes the tendency of blood and edema to pool in the lower portions of the body and can therefore aid in reducing swelling.  Hydrostatic pressure may also decrease pain during exercise.  The theory is that hydrostatic pressure provides phasic stimuli to the skin afferents (sensory receptors) that cause a decrease in nociceptor hypersensitivity, decreasing pain perception.

Viscosity and Resistance – Viscosity is a measure of the frictional resistance caused by cohesive or attractive forces between the molecules of a liquid. This is greater in water than in air, making it harder to move through water. Water can therefore provide resistance that may strengthen canine muscles and improve cardiovascular fitness. Viscosity may increase sensory awareness and assist in stabilizing unstable joints. The combination of buoyancy and viscosity supports the dog and allows for a longer reaction time (without the fall), which may also reduce anxiety for the dog.

Surface Tension – is the force of attraction between surface molecules of a fluid.  Resistance to movement is slightly greater on the surface of water because of the greater cohesion factor there.  Therapeutically, if a patient is extremely weak, movements may be performed more easily in the water just beneath the surface rather than at or on the surface.