Underwater Treadmill for sugicial dogs | Dodgerslist, the premier website for Dog Back Disease (IVDD)


PT – Surgery dog  — Water Therapy

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Post-op Underwater Treadmill and at home water therapy

The surgical procedure removed the offending disc material away from the spinal cord area. One of the benefits of surgery is that active PT can be started as soon as the surgeon directs.

Also for graduates of Conservative Treatment upon completion of 8 weeks of STRICT rest to heal the disc.

At-home water therapy options

Check with your veterinarian or specialist to see when and which of these exercises are appropriate for your dog. Any sign of pain, discontinue. It would be ideal to take your dog to a certified canine rehabilitation therapist for at least a couple of sessions, and have a therapist show you how to perform the correct exercises at home. If this is not an option for you, these are some suggestions. Please consult with your vet to make sure your dog is ready for home water therapy and which exercises are appropriate for your dog.

Confirm with vet or surgeon when it is appropriate for the post-op dog to start water therapy to avoid getting the surgery site wet and risking infection. Water therapy is not appropriate for a dog undergoing conservative treatment until all 8 weeks of crate rest have been completed.

Basic at-home water therapy

At home water therapy can use some of  the same principals of water height, etc. as the rehab clinic’s underwater treadmill uses. The movement of the hip joints and muscles and the changes in pressure on the paws from the underwater treadmill triggers spinal cord communication with the brain. Water bouyancy makes it easier than leg movements against gravity. There is not only the potential to regrow damaged nerve pathways but also for nerve to muscle re-education to learn the art of walking again.

What to use at home

deep laundry sink, tub, child’s wading pool, shower.
  1. Tub: Always provide direct supervision, never take your eyes off your dog while in the tub. Use a towel, harness, or canine life vest as safety aids. Talk in a calm soothing voice reassuring the dog that everything is okay. If the water level is high (the dog’s neck level) he may start to paddle by instinct as soon as you lift him a bit and he doesn’t feel the bottom of the tub. Not every dog can initiate paddling particularly with severe nerve damage.
  2. Shower: If a surgery case, wait until after the incision has healed. If this is a conservative treatment case (crate rest and meds) you may do this only after all 8 weeks of crate rest have been completed which allows for the disc to heal. Use a hand held shower massage head that can be attached to your shower as dog sits in tub or shower stall. Turn the shower head on low pressure, and with warm water, spray up and down back and legs. Increase the amount of water pressure to a medium pressure if the dog tolerates it.
Non-slip bath mat:  Place mat on shower or tub floor for traction is a must.

Time: The initial treatment can be as short as a few minutes increasing to 20 minutes a session. 3x week up to daily.

How to hold dog: The safest and best way is to use a life preserver vest. That way the dog’s front and hind legs are appropriately spaced and the spine is not arched or curved.

Water depth: Depth can be anywhere from chest to neck and should be about 95° F for relaxation of soft tissues. The higher the water level the less weight bearing on the legs. If your dog is afraid of water, sit in the empty tub with your dog and slowly fill with warm water. Add water until the  desired depth is reached. Below is a good video explanation on depth of water and those principles to be incorporated in home water therapy.

Basic exercises

1. Supporting dog with the life vest handles reach into the water and take the first leg and lift it gently in a bicycle motion 15-20 times for each leg. Water helps a lot especially in obese dogs, they are really hard to rehabilitate, the weight makes it very difficult for them to make progress with such weakened muscles. All standing, weight shifting even bicycles are done in water. This allows them to have most weight off their legs. Encourage more weight with progress by lowering water level. Start with the water level at the hip joint for initial assessment and then lower or raise water level as needed. A large storage tub may be easier on the back rather than leaning over the bathtub.
  • Move the foot only in an up and down motion about 15-20 times for each hind foot.
  • Gently swishing the water in the tub, will force the dog to maintain balance, thus strengthening the muscles of the core and limbs.

  • 2. Slowly walk your dog from one end of the tub to the other and back again using hands, towel, life vest handles to guide dog. You may use treats to stimulate the dog to walk on its own if at this point the dog is mobile. If you do this in a small tub, at the end of the tub turn your dog to avoid tightly twisting the back/spine. Wearing a life vest for safety also keeps the back from doing those tight turns. Repeat this for approximately five to ten minutes. After you have given your dog this type of therapy several times, increase the time in the tub 5 minutes each week until you have worked up to 20 minutes. A child’s $10 wading pool in warm weather is an other option for water PT. Watch Jolene circle along the edge of the pool to get that carrot: Go Jolene!

    Advanced water exercise

    1. With a low water level (elbow or wrist depth) stimulate the dog to walk in the water fetching treats or a rubber toy. The low water level will force the dog to use his muscles more due to reduced buoyancy and increased water resistance.
    2. Not recommended for home bathtub.  Use in a pool where there is not the risk of the dog hitting the side. Using a small surf board, place the dog on it and let him stand. Then gently swish the water a bit. This will make the dog want to balance shifting the weight from one leg to the other. This will work different muscles in his legs and increase coordination.
    If at any point the dog seems to have a set back, or be sore, cut back or temporarily stop the exercises and consult your vet or certified canine rehabilitation therapist. Some fatigue and soreness is normal after starting any new program. Should you need to put the exercises on hold, you may need to restart his therapy from an easier level, with shorter time periods and fewer repetitions until his endurance and tolerance increases.
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