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Maryland Dog Magazine

Healing with Hydrotherapy

Feb 11, 2015 09:05PM
Dogs have always loved to swim just for the fun of it in a lake, river, and maybe even the family pool.  So veterinarians and specialists saw that natural inclination as a way to rehabilitate dogs and improve their quality of life in the form of hydrotherapy. The use of hydrotherapy has expanded the rehabilitation options for veterinarians and specialists working to rehabilitate and extend the quality of life for dogs.

Hydrotherapy includes swimming in a pool and using an underwater treadmill. For post-surgery recovery, orthopedic rehabilitation, arthritis, and geriatric therapy, veterinarians prefer using the underwater treadmill.  Both methods are popular for weight control and athletics. The underwater treadmill uses buoyancy and water resistance to increase range of motion in a controlled environment, said Dr. Evans, DVM, CCRT, and Diplomate ACVS at Chesapeake Veterinary Surgical Specialists (CVSS). The water buoyancy can decrease the load on the joints by 40-50% by decreasing body weight when the water level is above the stifle.  Regular swimming can also be beneficial, but a dog needs to use the affected limb or limbs that are being rehabilitated, Dr. Evans said. She explained that a dog could learn to “cheat” by swimming with only three legs and not using the limb that needs rehabilitation. Careful monitoring during treatment by a trained rehabilitation specialist can ensure that the patient does not overuse the recovering limb or limbs, which can increase soreness or cause secondary injuries.

Dr. Evans, Diane Huey, a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT), and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant (CCRA), and Technician Mike Leddy of CVSS perform therapy at Canine Fitness Center in Crownsville a few days a week. Patients have experienced wonderful results in recovery and quality of life through the use of hydrotherapy, said Diane Huey.  Janice Freeman has been bringing Magic, her 12-year old Golden Retriever, for hydrotherapy treatment with Dr. Evans and her team for a cervical disc injury. The success of the therapy has helped Magic to walk better at home and enjoy a better quality of life.

Hydrotheraphy for dogsHydrotherapy has also proven successful for Maya, a 1½-year-old Husky, who needed surgery after severing her tendon on a broken glass bottle. The underwater treadmill has been crucial to her fast recovery. After six weeks of therapy, Maya is bearing weight on the injured joint and has her range of motion back.

Dr. Evans also works with longer-term geriatric patients.  Destiny and owner Barbara Hammond have been coming to underwater treadmill therapy for three years to help with Destiny’s osteoarthritis in many of her joints. Barbara adopted Destiny when she was around 5 years old and said therapy has improved Destiny’s quality of life as she ages.

Dr. Cheryl Burke, DVM, CCRP at Paradise Animal Hospital in Catonsville was the first to offer hydrotherapy in this area. When the hospital was being built, Dr. Burke was committed to having hydrotherapy included in the design.  “My parents’ dog, Max, was badly injured as an 8-monthold puppy and was essentially unable to use his back leg. He had nerve and orthopedic damage. In order to save the function in his leg, my mom drove him 60 miles round-trip to swim him at the only available location through the winter.

It was not an ideal situation, but it was all that was available at the time.  We learned a lot about the limitations of swimming, but were able to begin the process of encouraging leg movement in a de weighted environment. Max’s name is on the side of our pool! With what we know now, we would have used some swimming work with a dog like Max but we would have primarily focused on underwater treadmill work,” Dr. Burke said.

At Paradise Animal Hospital, the hydrotherapy system is a combination of an underwater treadmill situated on a boat lift in a heated indoor pool. Dr. Burke works along with Chris Rico, who are both CCRP certified, and say that their job is to get the patients walking again.   “The underwater treadmill is useful for all gait rehabilitation work in a de-weighted environment. The buoyancy reduces impact on weight and weak or painful areas, and the patient can ‘work’ on the normal walking movements in a protected environment. There is a sensory input benefit as well as resistance to movement, which hastens muscle activation,” Dr. Burke said.

A personal story similar to the one for Paradise Animal Hospital brought the Canine Fitness Center to reality. The concept for the Canine Fitness Center in Crownsville, Maryland came from a personal need. “Our dog Shadow tore her meniscus in February 2000. Our veterinarian recommended an exercise regimen including swimming in an attempt to stave off surgery. After an exhaustive search, we could not find a facility that provided aqua-exercise for dogs within 50 miles of our home so we decided to build one,” said Maury and Lynne Chauput, owners of the Canine Fitness Center in Crownsville, MD.

Mt. Carmel Animal Hospital, in Sparks, Maryland began offering hydrotherapy in its rehabilitation program in 2009.  Mt. Carmel has also seen tremendous success with the underwater treadmill in the recovery of patients.  Buster has an Intervertebral Disk Disease he could not use his back legs. Thanks to the therapy, he is now walking again. Holly, another patient who had hip surgery, was not using her left leg after surgery. About four months later with rehabilitation therapy that included hydrotherapy, she is now walking again.  In addition to geriatric and surgical rehabilitations, Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine (VOSM), in Annapolis Junction, Maryland uses hydrotherapy as a training tool to help keep canine athletes in great condition, particularly during the off-season.

VOSM has two underwater treadmills and a pool.  “The pool tends to be used for our more advanced patients: our surgical patients who are close to being healed but need to build strength and stamina, and our canine athletes who are working on maintaining strength and cardiovascular endurance,” said

Dr. Debra Canapp, a Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation, and Co-owner and Medical Director at VOSM. “Our underwater treadmill is very beneficial for post-surgical and neurological animals. The biggest Healing with Hydrotherapy benefit is that it allows us to watch an animal’s gait, to see if an animal is off-loading a certain leg, short striding in its step, or altering their natural gait.  We can then retrain the animal to use proper gait by controlling treadmill speed.”

At Reisterstown Boarding Center guests are able to take advantage of hydro-sessions in the heated Endless Pool. The pool is great for guests needing exercise, older dogs, post-surgery, or arthritic guests.

Veterinarians and owners agree that hydrotherapy is an effective and soothing way to use dogs’ natural abilities to help them recover from surgeries and injuries, or just to help them age with ease.

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