Pet Talk: Canine hydrotherapy

The healing power of water — even for furry friends

The use of hydroelectricity to produce energy for human needs and agriculture’s development of irrigation to harvest mass amounts of produce demonstrates the incredible power of water in our lives.

Water is used for cleanliness and cooling and is essential to our survival. H2O has long served the needs of mankind, but what about those of our pets?

Designed to heal man’s best friend, hydrotherapy is a treatment that uses the power of water to aid the rehabilitation process.

“Hydrotherapy is the practice of using water to treat patient conditions or diseases,” explains David Sessum, a rehabilitation veterinary technician at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“For most purposes, canine hydrotherapy is referred to as the use of the aquatic treadmill, but can also reference swimming or using a water hose to spray a limb to aid in the removal of edema, the abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin, and to provide massage.”

The use of water as therapy can provide treatment for many ailments that can develop in our furry companions.

“Hydrotherapy can be used to treat orthopedic conditions such as hip dysplasia or after-fracture repair,” says Sessum. “It can also be used to aid in the treatment of many neurological diseases such as inter-vertebral disc disease. In addition to healing rehabilitating canines, hydrotherapy can be used in the healthy pet for conditioning or to aid in weight loss or weight management.”

With so many rehabilitative methods to choose from, what makes hydrotherapy an ideal solution? The answer lies within three beneficial properties.

“The first beneficial property of hydrotherapy is buoyancy. This helps by allowing a patient to exercise without overloading a painful or diseased limb,” describes Sessum. “By adding water to a patient’s hip, 60 percent of his body weight is removed, allowing him to exercise without putting strain on his body.”

While buoyancy focuses on the reduction of strain and pain, the remaining properties of hydrotherapy center on healing and strengthening after impairment.

“Hydrostatic pressure helps with the removal of edema following injury,” continues Sessum. “The third property, the resistance of water, aids in strengthening and conditioning. All three of these properties make hydrotherapy the ideal modality of choice for patients that may have an injury and need to exercise for weight loss and recovery.”

But hydrotherapy is not just for our canine friends. It has been proven to treat ailments in exotic and other domestic animals, as well.

In fact, the staff at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences has used hydrotherapy in the treatment of many animal species.

“Rehabilitation is available for a lot of other animals, including exotics and horses. The small animal rehabilitation service here at Texas A&M has worked with many species from macaws to lions,” boasts Sessum.

“Rehabilitation is beneficial for multiple species and for pet owners who want to provide the best care available for their pet.”

If a pet owner believes that hydrotherapy might be an appropriate treatment solution for their animal, they must first make several considerations prior to driving their pet to a rehabilitation center.

“To find out if your pet needs hydrotherapy, it will need to be seen by a veterinarian,” notes Sessum. “Its regular veterinarian will help determine if your pet will benefit from hydrotherapy and can provide a referral to Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine or to another rehabilitation center. A board certified specialist can assess your pet, but this also requires a referral from your companion animal’s regular veterinarian.”

Hydrotherapy is an excellent tool to help strengthen and condition your pet’s body, while easing the pain and stress of the rehabilitation process. This special form of treatment also shows the incredible healing power of water and the extraordinary impact it has in the lives of our furry friends.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at

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