Have You Thought About Swim Therapy For Your Arthritic Pet?

by Kari Trotsky, DVM
Peaceful Endings for Pets

When dogs age, they often develop arthritis that limits their mobility. Many times, I am called out for an at-home euthanasia appointment because a pet simply cannot get up or walk anymore. Lack of mobility is a huge quality of life issue for dogs, especially large breeds. This week, I’d like to expand on one therapy that, along with medications, can really help pets early on, before they get to a point where they can no longer ambulate.

Swimming can be great for pets of all ages, but really works well for senior, arthritic pets. By swimming, I mean a certified swim pool designed for dogs with an experienced swim coach. The coach is in the pool with the dog to make sure the swim is therapeutic and enjoyable. The pet wears a doggy life jacket which keeps her afloat and the coach guides her while in the pool and works on the goals of the swim.

For an arthritic senior dog, the goals can be strengthening the leg muscles, improving flexibility, exercise, and retaining range of motion of the joints. In addition, the life jacket provides suspension of body weight in water, which can feel very good to arthritic pets. Some dogs like to just slowly kick and paddle while being lead around the pool since it’s not something they can easily do on land. While some like to swim from one end of the pool to another swimming after a thrown tennis ball, or a squeaky toy.

The length of the session depends on how much the coach thinks a pet can handle. Typically, it’s anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Afterwards, the pet’s legs may be a little shaky from the activity, so longer times aren’t always the most beneficial. Also, since the water is usually kept at a comfortable 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the muscles relax more easily. Once the swim is finished, the pet is dried off and sent home to take a nap. Sessions are usually 2-3 times per week. Swimming is a great exercise because of the minimal stress on the joints.

If you are local, I recommend K-9 Swim and Trim with K-9 Koach Dr. Barb Fuglsang (630-306-0990 k9SwimAndTrim.com ). She not only owns the business, but she also is the coach for the dogs in the pool. The benefit to swimming your dogs with her is that she’s a veterinarian, which many pool owners and swim coaches are not, and has a much more thorough knowledge of the whole process and can make medical decisions and handle emergencies. My dog sees Dr. Barb and loves swimming with her!

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