Could physiotherapy or hydrotherapy be right for your dog?

Could physiotherapy or hydrotherapy be right for your dog?

Interview with Laura Hackett, founder of Ramsgate based Apollo Animal Physiotherapy.

Recently Apollo Physio were the latest practice to start stocking Pawable, so we sat down with Laura to find out more about canine physio and hydrotherapy and how it might be of help for your dog.


Hello Laura, can you tell us, what is dog hydrotherapy?

Canine hydrotherapy is a rehabilitative treatment involving exercises performed by dogs in water. This therapy can take place in specially designed pools or underwater treadmills, supervised by trained professionals who tailor exercises to each dog's specific needs.


What are the benefits of hydrotherapy for dogs?

Hydrotherapy utilizes the buoyancy of water to reduce the stressor of body weight on sore and recovering joints, whilst supporting the dog to exercise in a safe and comfortable environment, promoting overall fitness and enhancing quality of life for canine patients. The resistance properties of water to strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and aid in rehabilitation from injury or surgery.

What conditions can hydrotherapy assist with?

Dog hydrotherapy is commonly used for conditions such as arthritis, joint dysplasia, and post-operative recovery for conditions such as spinal surgery, as well as conservative management for conditions such as patella luxation and cruciate disease. We know that exercise is essential for dogs suffering with degenerative arthritis, and is just as effective for pain management as NSAIDs, so hydrotherapy can be a fantastic adjunct to traditional veterinary intervention.


How does physiotherapy differ from hydrotherapy?

Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy are both forms of rehabilitative treatment aimed at improving physical health and function, but they differ in their methods and focus. Physiotherapy encompasses a broader range of techniques, including exercises, manual therapy, and modalities such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation, tailored to address specific musculoskeletal or neurological conditions. It typically takes place on land and may involve activities to improve strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. Hydrotherapy, on the other hand, specifically utilizes water as a medium for therapy. It involves exercises performed in a pool or underwater treadmill, leveraging the properties of water such as buoyancy and resistance to support and enhance movement, particularly beneficial for conditions like arthritis or post-operative recovery. While both physiotherapy and hydrotherapy aim to improve physical well-being, hydrotherapy offers unique advantages due to the supportive nature of water, making it particularly effective for certain conditions or stages of rehabilitation.


How often does a dog need physio?

Each case is determined on an individual basis, however we recommend at least once weekly therapy sessions for at least the first 6 weeks to provide manual therapies such as massage and stretching, electrotherapies such as laser and ultrasound, alongside targeted advanced therapeutic exercise delivery. Therapy can be more frequent for more complex cases such as those recovering from a neurological disease or injury. Progressive alterations to the home management plan are provided, and it is expected that owners are able to deliver home exercises as set by your therapist either daily or bi-daily depending on the case and the complexity.


I know that many of our customers have senior dogs suffering from advanced conditions. Are there any scenarios where therapy might not be suitable?

 While hydrotherapy and physiotherapy are generally safe and beneficial for many dogs, there are certain situations where they may not be suitable or may require careful consideration:

  1. Acute injuries: In cases of acute injuries, such as fractures or severe soft tissue trauma, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy may not be appropriate until the initial healing process has occurred. Immediate medical attention and rest may be necessary before starting rehabilitation.


  1. Cardiac conditions: Dogs with severe cardiac issues or heart failure may not tolerate the physical exertion involved in hydrotherapy or physiotherapy. These conditions require careful monitoring and may necessitate alternative forms of exercise or rehabilitation.


  1. Respiratory conditions: Dogs with respiratory problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or severe respiratory infections, may struggle with the increased exertion associated with hydrotherapy. In such cases, therapy should be approached cautiously and under veterinary supervision.


  1. Skin conditions: Dogs with open wounds, severe skin infections, or skin conditions exacerbated by water exposure may not be suitable candidates for hydrotherapy until their skin has healed sufficiently. Additionally, chlorinated water in pools may irritate sensitive skin.


  1. Behavioural issues: Dogs with significant behavioural issues, such as fear or anxiety related to water or handling, may not tolerate hydrotherapy sessions well. In such cases, behaviour modification techniques or alternative therapies may be necessary.

It's essential for veterinarians and rehabilitation professionals to assess each dog's individual health status, medical history, and temperament to determine the suitability of hydrotherapy or physiotherapy. Additionally, ongoing monitoring and adjustments to the therapy plan may be necessary based on the dog's progress and response to treatment.


Are physio or hydrotherapy usually covered by pet insurance?

The coverage of physiotherapy or hydrotherapy for dogs under pet insurance can vary depending on the insurance provider, the specific policy, and the reason for the therapy. Some pet insurance policies may include coverage for rehabilitative therapies like physiotherapy or hydrotherapy as part of their comprehensive plans, while others may offer it as an optional add-on or rider for an additional premium.

However, it's important to note that not all pet insurance plans cover these therapies, and coverage may be subject to certain limitations, such as annual maximums, waiting periods, or pre-existing condition exclusions. Additionally, coverage may vary based on the reason for therapy, with some policies providing coverage for rehabilitation following surgery or injury but not for general fitness or wellness purposes.

Before purchasing a pet insurance policy, it's crucial to carefully review the terms, conditions, and coverage options to understand what rehabilitative therapies are included and any limitations or exclusions that may apply. Additionally, discussing coverage options with the insurance provider and consulting with a veterinarian can help ensure that the chosen policy meets the specific needs of the pet.


How do I get a referral for my dog to see a physio?

Most rehabilitation professionals will have a consent form that will need to be signed by your vet. Here at Apollo Animal Physiotherapy + Hydrotherapy, we ask dog owners to complete an online registration form on our website. We then communicate with your vet to get the referral completed, along with any relevant history required such as notes, medications, concurrent conditions and diagnostic information such as scans.


What do you suggest people should look for in choosing a good physiotherapist for their dog?

The first and most important consideration is choosing a therapist with the appropriate qualifications and credentials. There are professional bodies within the UK that ensure their members meet the appropriate levels of qualification, alongside adherence to a Code of Conduct - these are inclusive of IRVAP, NAVP and ACPAT. There is also a regulatory body called RAMP. All of their websites will list their registered professionals and can usually be located by region.

Other considerations can include the therapists’ experience levels: look for case studies and online reviews. Also discuss with your vet as they will know of therapists that they work with in your area - it is important that your therapist works collaboratively with your vet for accurate diagnosis, treatment planning and monitoring of patient progress.

By carefully considering these factors and conducting thorough research, pet owners can select a skilled and compassionate physiotherapist who can effectively support their dog's rehabilitation journey