Water healing: how a career in hydrotherapy benefits the dogs you love

Hydrotherapy comes from the Greek meaning 'water healing', and is enormously beneficial to dogs with a wide range of ailments from injury to degenerative conditions. If you're interested in a career working with canines that moves beyond grooming into therapy that can make a real impact on their health and wellbeing, then hydrotherapy could be the career for you.

What is hydrotherapy for dogs?

Hydrotherapy uses the properties of water to support and give gentle resistance, allowing a dog to move their joints freely through the water. Because the buoyancy of the water means an animal is not fighting gravity to stay afloat, stress on the joints is reduced and creates a safe and healing environment for post surgery recovery. 

Hydrotherapy is particularly beneficial for dogs suffering from a degenerative disease like arthritis because the warm water helps to reduce swelling of the joints. Hydrotherapy is also beneficial for animals with paralysis or who have undergone amputation.

What are the benefits of hydrotherapy?

Because of the way water relaxes, stimulates and strengthens, it has a range of benefits for injured or unwell dogs besides its ability to bring pain relief.

Hydrotherapy can improve lymphatic drainage and increase circulation and cardiovascular fitness, boosting the immune system and improving the health of the dog's skin and coat. An excellent form of low impact exercise, hydrotherapy can improve balance and coordination and help dogs to shed unwanted pounds that may be impacting on their general health and wellbeing. 

A good quality 5-minute swim with a fully qualified hydrotherapy instructor can be the equivalent of a 5-mile walk, without the painful side effects for dogs who find walking difficult.

Additionally, by boosting water confidence in domestic animals, hydrotherapy can prevent unnecessary pet deaths by drowning.

What happens in a typical hydrotherapy session?

There are several stages to the average hydrotherapy session, starting with the introduction to a life jacket if a dog is required to wear one. The dog is then gently introduced to the water, which is generally kept at a comfortably warm temperature. 

The hydrotherapist will be with the dog throughout their time in the pool, helping to keep them calm and relaxed in what may be an unfamiliar environment. A canine hydrotherapist will also know how best to support the animal to prevent the risk of further injury and the best kinds of exercises to deal with their injury or illness. They will also know the best form of water therapy, whether that's a whirlpool, an underwater treadmill or a swimming pool.

What qualities do I need to be a canine hydrotherapist?

If you're interested in working in canine hydrotherapy, then you'll need to enrol on an animal hydrotherapy course. But just knowing the techniques is not enough when working with animals. You'll need to be compassionate and empathetic, able to read canine behaviour well and to spot any signs of distress. 

You also need to be able to swim proficiently and to have an interest in science and animal physiology. Just as importantly, you'll need to be able to communicate effectively with owners to explain a proposed course of treatment and to work effectively with a team of other professionals. You must be capable of working within clear ethical boundaries and not administer treatments which can actively harm an animal.

What happens next?

Once you're qualified, you can either work in an established hydrotherapy centre or animal practice or set up your own business. There's a huge degree of flexibility in what is an extremely rewarding profession. Most importantly, you'll be using the healing power of water to bring relief from pain and stress to the dogs you love.

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