Go Jump in a Lake!
HYDROTHERAPY - a long word meaning using water to improve health.
Many of my clients look at me like I've suddenly started speaking German when I mention the word or ask them if their dog likes to swim. Hydrotherapy is an important weapon in the arsenal we use to fight obesity, arthritis, and limb injuries.
I have yet to visit an actual hydrotherapy pool, but we had one near to our practice in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, and there are several here on the Eastside in the Puget Sound area. Clients I have referred to them in the past have been pleased and surprised by the results of their weight loss and/or the improvement in their dogs' ability to walk.
Why do I recommend hydrotherapy? As you may have heard from human medicine/fitness gurus, swimming is excellent exercise - it increases the heart rate and aids in the burning of calories -- as important in an obese dog as it is in an obese human. The water supports the body and reduces the strain on joints, bones or muscles that are injured or arthritic. It therefore allows a dog who otherwise cannot walk far enough to sufficiently exercise to rehabilitate an injured leg, or drop a few pounds, to do so in an environment in which he is not likely to cause further injury and often with MUCH less pain than he experiences on land.
Now these dedicated hydrotherapy pools are fantastic for a couple reasons. First, they are WARM - if you've ever tried to swim in the Pacific ocean or the Thames river in winter you'll appreciate why this is important. Secondly, they often have trained therapists who can help guide you and your dog to the exercises that will be most beneficial. Third, they will often have a harness, or some other floatation device that will help dogs who are unable to keep themselves above water. Forth, some are able to use jets to produce a current to increase resistance and therefore increase the speed of calorie burning/ muscle building.
Can you get the same benefit from your own swimming pool/jacuzzi at home or a lake or the ocean? The answer is possibly - depending on what your dog needs and is willing to do in those environments. If you're simply trying to get your dog to lose some weight, certainly try the free options first. If, however, your dog has had an injury or is debilitated in any way, I would recommend going to a hydrotherapy pool first for a couple sessions. You'll learn a lot, get a lot of support from the people there, and hopefully find it worth the time and money.
I'm listing the local pools here for your convenience. They have photos so you can get an idea of how it works. I have not been to these places personally, so please do not take this as a professional recommendation -- it's up to you to talk to them and get recommendations from previous clients.
K9 Aquatics: www.k9aquatics.com
Heavenly Spa: www.heavenlyspa.info
Cottage Spa: www.cottagespa.com
USA Association of Canine Water Therapy: www.caninewatertherapy.com
UK Canine Hydrotherapy Association: www.canine-hydrotherapy.org
Finally - if you do decide to try your pet in the pool or lake, use a floatation device or keep them on a leash in the shallow water first so they can build their confidence and you can be sure they can actually swim! Don't let them out of your sight and be prepared to go in and rescue them if needed. I haven't heard of any dogs drowning, but I don't want to!
p.s. The Heavenly Spa advertises a "Canine/Feline Warm Water Pool". In all honesty - I have yet to meet a cat who would subject itself to the indignity of getting wet - even in the name of hydrotherapy. If your cat has benefited from a "dip" I'd love to hear about it!