the origins and history of canine hydrotherapy dogs cats animals

The Origins of Hydrotherapy

First documented by Hippocrates at around 500 B.C, and with references to its use throughout the Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman Civilisations, hydrotherapy has long been known as widely beneficial for a variety of health and medical problems. Over 2500 years it has been developed and refined for use in other species as well as humans and has become widely recognised by doctors and veterinarians for its medicinal properties.

One of the most commonly known civilisations in history to use hydrotherapy were the Romans. With public spas used daily to improve health and wellbeing, a more formal use of bathing in spring water was developed to help ‘cure’ conditions such as osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and restricted mobility in elderly patients. Although these were commonly passive bathing therapies in thermal and mineral waters (balneotherapy), the reduced loading and pain relief provided by the immersion would have allowed bathers to move around more readily, indirectly increasing strength and mobility.

Hydrotherapy – The BEGINNING

During the 18th Century, the use of and term, hydrotherapy (sometimes also known as aquatic therapy, aquatic exercise and water therapy) began to be formalised and usually involved an active therapy where a patient’s body was emerged to a depth of total submersion (complete non-load bearing) and encouraged to move and swim.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, hydrotherapy as a complimentary therapy became more widely known and since then, more positive human trials have taken place, particularly in patients who experience pain, arthritis and mobility difficulties. It is stated that the benefits are possibly due to the buoyancy reducing the load bearing effect of gravity, and therefore decreased compression on compromised limbs and joints. Hydrotherapy in humans continues to be a widely recognised and useful tool in active therapeutic rehabilitation as well as an enjoyable and emotionally beneficial exercise.


Canine Hydrotherapy Dogs


As a therapeutic exercise for small animals including canines, hydrotherapy was originally used in greyhound racing after they recognised the benefits to racehorses, however it was not long before the industry saw the potential medical benefits and extended its use to dogs in general.  The natural environment was originally used including lakes and rivers. However, as a dog is generally smaller, it has a higher surface area to mass ratio, as a result it can find it more difficult to maintain a sufficient body temperature in cool waters; as body temperature lowers, blood moves away from the limbs towards the essential internal organs, therefore leaving the limbs with insufficient circulation. This can result in an increased propensity to injury.  Because of this, dogs are usually swum in water heated to 26-30  ̊. Hydrotherapy can allow some movements in dogs which would otherwise be impossible due to injury or disease.  While relieving the pressure on the muscular-skeletal system, it also provides constant stimulation to the extrasensory system forcing the animal to use its body just to maintain its position in the water. Combined with the relaxing and pain relieving heat and the resistant properties of the water, both swimming and underwater treadmill work are proving themselves invaluable in the therapeutic rehabilitation of canines. Undoubtedly as the hydrotherapy industry progresses, research will uncover more benefits and uses, both in the species listed here but also in extending its use to an increasing range of other species of animals.

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