October 18, 2023

Hydrotherapy for Dogs: Benefits and How It Works

What is hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy uses water at a therapeutic temperature of approximately 30-32 degrees C. The warmth of the water alongside the weightlessness properties that it offers, allows exercise to be performed comfortably and safely to achieve muscle building, strengthening, and overall improvement in comfort levels.

What is canine hydrotherapy?

Canine hydrotherapy is a form of non-weight-bearing exercise, this can be seen in either a swimming pool or the use of an underwater treadmill. 

What are the signs that a dog would need hydrotherapy?

Signs that your dog may benefit from hydrotherapy include lameness when walking, difficulty getting up and down, generalised stiffness and evidence of pain or discomfort. The latter may be seen when you touch a specific area of their body. Or, some dogs, may seem more irritable than normal.

What are the benefits of hydrotherapy for dogs?

Hydrotherapy in conjunction with veterinary treatment can significantly improve the quality and rate of healing following surgery or traumatic injury. Controlled swimming helps to improve cardiovascular stamina, muscle tone, range of movement and is particularly helpful in aiding recovery from injury or surgery whilst also improving general fitness

Benefits of Hydrotherapy

  • Reduced pain.

  • Faster recovery from surgery.

  • Improved walking technique.

  • Re-education and encouragement of normal movement.

  • Allows standing in those who are unable to weight-bear out of the water – the buoyancy effect of water.

  • Improved balance and coordination.

  • Improved aerobic fitness levels.

Why does being in water reduce pain?

This is because the water supports your body, and the buoyancy relieves stress on all joints of the body. With less gravity affecting joints, swimming and other types of water exercise help the spine and limbs expand, which relieves painful pressure.

What are the different types of Hydrotherapy for dogs?

Underwater Treadmill 

​In many cases, the dog will start off on the underwater treadmill as this gives more control over the dog’s movements. Therefore, the treatment can be much more targeted. 


​Whirlpool therapy is often used on dogs post-surgery as it can reduce pain substantially. Once the dog has entered the water, a warm jet stream comes on which is essentially massaging the dog and helping ease the pain of their injury. 


​Hydrotherapy in the pool is less controlled but is still an effective way to improve mobility and strength. Especially for elbows, chest muscles, and limbs. If the dog is not comfortable in the water, some dogs may prefer the pool as it is more freeing and potentially more fun.  However, the treadmill or whirlpool may be more beneficial to them. A pet hydrotherapy specialist will be able to determine whether a treadmill, whirlpool, pool or combination will work best for your dog. 

How is a Hydrotherapy Pool used?

During hydrotherapy sessions, patients are given a life jacket and then gently introduced to the water. Often sessions begin with some passive stretching and massage, these are made much easier by the buoyancy of the animal in the water.

Is hydrotherapy good for arthritis in dogs?

Hydrotherapy can help to reduce pain and inflammation in dogs with arthritis or DJD. The buoyancy of the water helps to support a dog's weight and reduce the impact on the joints. The resistance of the water also helps to strengthen muscles, which can improve joint stability and reduce strain on the joints.

Is hydrotherapy good for weight loss in dogs?

Hydrotherapy can also help dogs who need to shed a few pounds. A great form of low-impact exercise, regular walks on the underwater treadmill or swimming in a pool can help promote weight loss and general fitness in dogs.

Hydrotherapy is generally classified as a complementary therapy - which means that it’s not traditionally carried out by your vet, though some specialist vet facilities do run their own rehabilitation services that include hydrotherapy. However, most hydrotherapy locations require a referral from your veterinarian for your dog to take part in any sessions.

If you feel your dog will benefit from hydrotherapy you need to  discuss this with your veterinary surgeon who can refer you to a qualified hydrotherapist 

Finding a canine hydrotherapist

Canine Hydrotherapy Association

The Canine Hydrotherapy Association (CHA) was established in 2000 and is a professional industry leader at the forefront of Veterinary Hydrotherapy.

CHA members hold Nationally Accredited Qualifications in Small Animal Hydrotherapy. Our centres are also inspected by a CHA representative to ensure that they meet the highest standards their patients deserve.

The CHA is the only inspection-controlled regulating small animal hydrotherapy association in the industry.

National Association of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists

Set up in 2010, NARCH  is a not-for-profit organisation which maintains the List of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists (RCHs) in the UK. NARCH ensures that all RCHs adhere to the highest professional standards and ethics and these requirements are laid out on this website and within the Guide to Professional Conduct for Registered Canine Hydrotherapists.

Whether your dog has orthopaedic, neurological, soft tissue injuries, or some other degenerative medical condition, hydrotherapy could be an important and effective part of their overall health and fitness plan. To find out whether this form of treatment is suitable for your dog and their condition, get in touch with your vet or a qualified pet physiotherapist who will be able to advise you on the next steps.


The Benefits of Hydrotherapy for Dogs - National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists

Use of canine hydrotherapy as part of a rehabilitation programme | The Veterinary Nurse

Hydrotherapy for dogs: What is it & does it help? | ManyPets

An Introduction to Hydrotherapy Fact Sheet | Davies Veterinary Specialists

Medically reviewed by:

Miss Joy Sarah Helen Howell

DipAVN(Surgical) RVN EA SQP