Dogs and Swimming

In the recent years, more and more pet owners are looking for new activities for their pet and one of them is swimming. With a hot and humid weather in Singapore, many pets will benefit from regular dips in water, especially among bigger breed of dogs such as Golden Retrievers, Labs and Huskies. Swimming is a great bonding experience for both you and your pet.

It can also keep both you and your pet in a great shape and provide relief from Singapore’s hot summer sun. But before taking the plunge, make sure you take note of the safety rules and know the limitations of your pet. With the increasing numbers of dog friendly pools in Singapore, it is important to know the Do’s and Don’ts of swimming your dog.

Training your dog to swim can be rewarding and fun but there are very important considerations, and these considerations are often overlooked by pet owners and even professionals working in the animal industry.

The Differences | Canine Swimming or Hydrotherapy

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Swimming provides social and many benefits. Aerobic exercise can reduce depression in dogs that have exercise restrictions. Of course, you’ll need approval from your veterinarian before starting a swimming exercise program. Swimming can also boost confidence and it encourages dogs to learn from other dogs.

But fun swimming and hydrotherapy IS NOT the same. At most faciilities, recreational swimming is for healthy dogs that enjoy water and have no physical issues that require supervision and assistance. Unfortunately, many pet owners are not aware of the true medical conditions of their dogs. Just because a dog is not whimping in pain, it does not mean that they DO NOT have a medical condition, that might be a contraindication to swimming or hydrotherapy.

In the past years, many healthy puppies and senior dogs, have attempted fun swimming without knowing their medical background. Many of these dogs have already developed hip dysplasia and they do require a proper routine of hydrotherapy and not swimming. Just imagine this, if your pet is suffering from IVDD and not showing signs of pain, and swimming is part of their daily routine, this can only cause more injuries by swimming.

Canine Hydrotherapy is utilized on the rehabilitation side to help dogs that have physical issues and, for their safety, require supervision by a rehabilitation therapist. Trained therapists are hydrotherapist, rehabilitation certified veterinarians, physical therapists and certified veterinary technicians.

Rehabilitating a dog with water has many benefits. One is decreased weight bearing and non-weight bearing exercise, which reduces pain. In the water, gentle range of motion of all four limbs is accomplished and strengthening is provided by the water resistance. The therapy water is heated to around 30 degrees Celsius which helps to relax the muscles and increase circulation. Hydrotherapy is also used for neurological re-education. There seems to be psychological benefits for the dogs that occurs because they are able to exercise without pain.

Hydrotherapy is used for a variety of reasons including recovery from surgery, chronic conditions such as arthritis, degenerative myelopathy or hip dysplasia, obesity or weight management, or sports conditioning. The benefits of recreational swimming and hydrotherapy are both phenomenal. The important difference between the two is the state of your dog’s physical health. If your dog is generally healthy (and make sure a proper diagnosis is done by your vet), by all means, get swimming!

However, if your dog is injured or otherwise compromised, swimming may not be appropriate and hydrotherapy is necessary for them to get back into the game (or pool). If your dog has been diagnosed as having any of these health conditions, swimming may not be an appropriate form of exercise:

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Myth 1 : All Dogs Can Swim

A common myth that most dog caretakers believe is that all dogs can swim. Although most dogs like golden retrievers and Labradors can swim without much instruction, many others should be monitored while they are enjoying the water.

Dogs with short legs — basset hounds, French and English bulldogs and dachshunds, for example — cannot move quickly enough to keep them afloat.

Brachycephalic dog breeds such as boxers, bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Apple Head Chihuahua, Pekingese, Pug and Shih Tzu needs to be supervise during their swim, especially if they are older and have developed heart conditions such as heart murmurs.

Dogs that have a low body fat percentage — greyhounds, boxers, dobermans — have a greater chance of sinking when they try to swim.

It’s important to remember that all dogs can drown, and hypothermia is a risk for any breed.

Forcing a dog into a pool or sea can scar the dog mental emotions very badly.

Myth 3 : Swimming is good for dogs with all medical conditions and ages.

This is the most dangerous myth that can cause more harm to the dog. Firstly, because aquatics aerobics is considered a safe sport for humans, does not mean swimming is safe for dogs, especially dogs with predisposed medical conditions or senior dogs.

Understand this, for humans, we are standing upright in the pool during aquatic activities but your injured dog is not.

Injured dogs required trained hydrotherapist in the water to help the dog cope. And every condition/s are unique and need to be carefully studied by the trained hydrotherapist prior to hydrotherapy in the pool

A very common misconception if a dog has a spinal injury or neck injury, swimming is the safest activity. This is totally untrue. A dog in water have a tendency to arch their back. This will cause more pressure on their injured spine instead of helping them get better.

Case Study 1 : 6 months old German Shepherd

Owner insisted that he wants to enrol his six months old German Shepherd to swim. He was informed  by his Veterinarian that his puppy is extremely healthy and swimming is a relatively safe activity.


On his first visit, a trained physiotherapist noticed the puppy walking with a funny gait. She decided to run a basic check on the dog and perform stretching on the dog hind limps and found crepitus and pain in the hips. The puppy was placed on a stance analyzer immediately and it was discovered that the pet was weight shifting, and showing chances of degeneration of his hips, even at the age of 6 months.


Such detailed observations can only be performed by trained physiotherapists and centres that are specialized in canine rehabilitation.


A regular boarding centre or pet store or hotel with swimming facilities would not be able to provide such sound medical advices to pet owners.

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