Arthritis is a condition involving the chronic degeneration of cartilage and fluid around the joint surfaces resulting in joint inflammation. It can also involve the formation of new bone around the joint surfaces. Arthritis is a slowly progressive disease which starts with almost undetectable discomfort and may progress to the point where the animal is in such pain that is reluctant to walk, get up from a resting position and may even refuse to eat. It is extremely distressing for the owner to see the animal in such discomfort. Conventional treatment for arthritis involves painkilling and anti-inflammatory medication and injections to help restore the joint fluid. In addition, it is believed that regular but moderate exercise is beneficial, particularly swimming.
Hydrotherapy is a non-weight bearing form of exercise that encourages full extension of the limbs. The soothing effect of the warm water encourages more fluid movement of the joints, leading to decreased levels of pain, increased range of movement and often a reduced need for painkilling medication.
Cardiovascular fitness (heart & lungs)
Hydrotherapy is an excellent form of non weight-bearing exercise that improves cardiovascular fitness steadily and quickly. Whether the dog has suffered injury, endured surgery or is just generally unfit for a variety of reasons, hydrotherapy can be of great benefit. When exercise has been restricted, hydrotherapy is ideal as a gently way to increase fitness quickly and safely.
Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy (CDRM)
CDRM is best described as a progressive wasting disease of the hind limbs, usually (but not exclusively) affecting the German Shepherd breed. The classic symptoms are a painless, slowly progressive rear limb weakness or paralysis caused by neurological degeneration. There may also be discomfort due to arthritis in the hip or lower back area but this usually improves with moderate non-weight bearing exercise such as swimming. Over a period of time a dog suffering with CDRM will become progressively weaker. The rear limbs begin to lack co-ordination and may start to shuffle along. Classic early symptoms are wear on the claws of either or both hind paws and knuckling of the paws. In the final stages full paralysis is likely to occur coupled with incontinence.
In recent years, there have been advances in the treatment and care of dogs with CDRM and as a result they are living longer and more comfortable lives. Regular exercise is extremely important in maintaining the well-being of the affected dog, maximising muscle tone and maintaining good circulation. This is best achieved by regular exercise on alternate days, in conjunction with days of rest. Consistent, controlled building of muscle tone through exercise can help delay the progression of CDRM.
Hydrotherapy is an ideal form of non weight-bearing exercise which helps to maintain muscle bulk for as long as possible and to improve general fitness and enhance quality of life. Dogs that need to be carried or supported on land really enjoy the freedom of a large pool. Movement of all four limbs in water and the ability to play are vital ingredients for maintaining co-ordination and balance. Owners and dogs cheer up and feel great after a visit to our pool.
Cruciate ligament injuries
Ruptures of the cranial cruciate ligament are one of the most common orthopaedic injuries in dogs. There is disagreement among experts about whether arthritis is the cause or result of failure of the cruciate ligament.
The strength of the cruciate ligament depends on the age of the dog as it deteriorates with age. Dogs with cruciate ligament ruptures are also frequently overweight as obesity places additional stress on the ligament. Often the rupture occurs during normal activity by twisting the knee joint during running or jumping. At this point the dog may cry out and and hold up the injured leg. In other cases the rupture may not start with a single traumatic event. The dog may just have occasional periods of lameness that worsen with vigorous exercise. Rupture of the ligament results in instability in the knee. This causes pain, lameness and will produce progressive arthritis or degenerative joint disease due to the instability of the joint. Whatever the type of surgery required, all procedures rely on careful post-operative nursing to protect the joint until it is healed. After 10-14 days of cage rest, most surgeons recommend very restricted short lead walks only for at least six weeks after surgery. However non-weight bearing exercise such as hydrotherapy can be extremely beneficial in enabling the dog to put the affected leg to the ground during this period. Many dogs refrain from using the affected leg on land, but will freely extend it in the water. The gentle stretching of the muscles and ligaments in the water encourages increased mobility of the joint. Here at Mascotts we find that many dogs are very hesitant about using their affected leg after surgery for fear of pain. However once they have started swimming, they often reach the ramp at the end of the pool and walk out on all four legs.
Canine hip dysplasia is a degenerative, painful condition where the hip joints have developed abnormally. The head of the thigh bone (femur) does not fit properly into the hip socket (acetabulum). These “ball and socket” joints become malformed and unstable, causing inflammation and weakness.
Depending upon the severity of the problem, hip dysplasia can lead to painful and sometimes crippling arthritis. Older dogs with mild hip dysplasia may be treated successfully with pain relieving medication and a gentle, structured exercise programme.
Younger dogs with hip dysplasia have a much greater risk of developing debilitating arthritis. It is difficult to restrict exercise for very young dogs and swimming can allow safe fun and socialisation without the risk of damage to the hips. Following a structured exercise program and lead walking only, together with hydrotherapy, can prevent the dysplasia worsening due to laxity in the supporting ligaments and muscles. Veterinary surgeons are using hydrotherapy to keep puppies fit and well muscled while they wait for the dogs to reach 18 months to two years old. This supportive approach, together with the natural tightening process that maturity brings, can sometimes remove the need for surgery.
Hydrotherapy is an excellent way to encourage joint mobility and stabilise the joint through building up muscle mass quickly and safely. Consistent, regular, gentle exercise such as swimming is the key to effective management of hip dysplasia in conjunction with regular medication and supplements.
Mental well being
Many of the dogs that we see at Mascotts have been through the trauma of an accident, injury or complicated surgery. Having endured such an ordeal, anaesthetics, pain relieving medication and tedious days or even weeks on cage rest, they often become very depressed and miserable. We aim to improve their mental well-being with a relaxed, friendly and caring atmosphere as we feel it is vital for their successful recovery. When they realise that hydrotherapy can be quite an enjoyable experience and they see other dogs swimming about having fun it seems to spur them on to become brighter in themselves. It is a well known fact in humans and animals that a positive mental attitude is an important factor for a speedy recovery. A depressed person or dog is more likely to give up mentally and physically. We notice great improvements with our clients during their first few sessions with us. We all work as a team to try and boost their state of mind which, together with appropriate post operative care, helps them on to their road to recovery.
We also have a number of dogs that initially came for hydrotherapy and now just come for fun and fitness. Time after time we hear how they become excited as soon as the swimming bag appears and that they seem to have an increased zest for life. At Mascotts we truly believe that hydrotherapy is an ideal way of ensuring that the quality of life of every one of our clients is as good as it possibly can be, given their individual circumstances
Muscle strengthening, maintenance and restoration
Hydrotherapy is now viewed by the veterinary profession as being an ideal form of non-weight bearing exercise to increase muscle mass and maintain cardiovascular fitness. Dogs recovering from a variety of surgical procedures benefit from the warm soothing effect of the water and the ability to exercise freely without putting undue stress and pressure on the joints. Regular swimming restores and maintains fitness levels in dogs that have been on restricted exercise for a variety of reasons.
Many dogs that are overweight suffer from numerous problems including, stiffness, arthritis and breathing difficulties. In conjunction with a healthy low calorie diet, hydrotherapy can be very successful in reducing weight and increasing cardiovascular fitness quickly and safely. The dogs begin to enjoy exercise again and this will lead to improved general mobility and further weight reduction and good health. If your dog is overweight please do something now before it is too late. Go to your vet, get good dietary advice and make sure there is no underlying medical condition resulting in weight gain. It is not advisable to make sudden drastic reductions in the amount of food given.
The dogs’ metabolic rate changes as they reach middle age and they require far less food. It is easy to carry on feeding too much and we see dogs that are a quarter to half over their ideal body weight. When they lose weight it is like taking years off them and they stop behaving like old dogs.
Pain relief, swelling and stiffness
Hydrotherapy is renowned for being a gentle, non-weight bearing form of exercise that can help to reduce pain and swelling following injury or surgery. It enables the dog to move freely in the water boosting circulation and reducing stiffness. It is particularly beneficial for dogs that have been on cage rest or who are suffering from arthritis as a result of injury or simply old age.
Elderly dogs that have become stiff and arthritic also appear to get a new lease of life as they realise that they can have a bit of fun and exercise without being in so much pain and it tends to rejuvenate them.
Pre and post operative conditioning
It is beneficial for a dog to be as fit as possible prior to orthopaedic surgery.
Swimming is an ideal way to increase cardiovascular and general fitness ¬ especially if a dog is otherwise on restricted exercise due to its condition.
When hydrotherapy is intended to be part of the post-operative recovery program, benefits are gained more quickly if the dog is already accustomed to the water. Not all dogs can swim and many are not relaxed in the water initially - so it helps if they have already been introduced to the pool and are familiar with the staff and routine.
Hydrotherapy is an excellent way to reduce inflammation and regain mobility, without putting unnecessary stress on the joints, following surgery. Fitness can be regained quickly and safely.
Recovery from injuries - including fractures and neurological damage
When a dog has suffered multiple injuries, fractures or neurological damage, post-operative care is of utmost importance. These injuries are often sustained in road traffic accidents and post-operative recovery can be long and fraught with set backs. Swimming can significantly reduce pain and increase mobility and often badly damaged limbs have, with the aid of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy techniques, begun to function normally again.
Combined with the shock of the accident and the subsequent surgery and hospitalisation required, the dogs can be severely depressed. A visit to our hydrotherapy pool can give them a more positive attitude. Meeting other owners, who are further on in the recovery process, can be particularly helpful and encouraging.
Following multiple fractures, it is vitally important that the limbs and muscles are gently encouraged to move again as early as possible. This is to prevent changes in soft tissues (such as muscle contracture) resulting in permanent disability. We gradually introduce the dogs to the water and spend time just floating in the water to help them to relax after such an ordeal. The warm soothing water helps them to loosen up and over a period of time start to move their limbs again. Nerve damage is notoriously difficult to treat but however a combination of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy exercises and massage help to improve responses and can help to build up muscle around the affected areas.
Relaxation of muscle spasms
Following surgery, many dogs suffer muscular spasms as they may be temporarily paralysed in certain areas. The soothing effect of the warm water in conjunction with gentle massage and stretching can reduce muscle spasms and will encourage more fluid movement of the joints and limbs. Hydrotherapy and physiotherapy exercises in the water can increase mobility and improved circulation reducing the frequency of spasming.
When a dog has suffered spinal injury or had surgery due to degenerative joint disease, it is advisable to restore movement gently and steadily. Hydrotherapy is an ideal form of exercise as the warm soothing water encourages gradual movement and gentle massage and stretching of the limbs in the water will encourage efficient circulation. Following spinal surgery it is vital that exercise is carefully controlled and that the dogs movements are restricted and supported. Swimming is an excellent way to improve circulation and encourage mobility within these restrictions, without putting any undue pressure on the spine and joints. Muscle can again be built up successfully to support the affected less stable areas. This kind of exercise in water is one of the ways of maintaining fitness whilst waiting for inflammation to decrease and nerve repair to take place. Teamwork and communication between all of a dogs carers is vitally important. We believe that the key to successful post-operative recovery is regular hydrotherapy as soon as possible after spinal surgery.
Some dogs need to swim for a short time every day for perhaps a couple of weeks followed by longer sessions perhaps three times per week. They often do well quickly. Other cases have improved significantly, but very gradually over a period of months. We have still others who continue to make improvements over a year after surgery. Dogs whose prognosis was poor have often made amazing progress and an important element in this is their own will to succeed.