Improving Your Senior Dog’s Quality of Life With Hydrotherapy

Author: Christie Solomon | Photographer:


Do you have a senior dog who has limited mobility? Hydrotherapy for your canine companions provides a low-impact form of physical therapy for dogs that are suffering from chronic degenerative diseases or neurological issues, recovering from an injury or fighting weight gain as they slow down with age.

This water-based form of therapy is performed with the purpose of rehabilitating dogs either post-surgery or those that are suffering from debilitating diseases, such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. According to Sherri Cappabianca, the former owner of the Canine Fitness Institute and the original author of the CanauticsTM certification manual, “the natural buoyancy of the water reduces weight-bearing stress, allowing the dog greater ease of movement with less strain on his/her bones, joints and muscles.” Canine hydrotherapy has two main forms: underwater treadmills and pool-based swimming.

When performed correctly by a certified professional, hydrotherapy can dramatically improve the health and wellbeing of your pet. Hydrotherapy is not something that you should perform on your dog without a professional. There are four main categories of physical conditions that can be treated with aqua therapy: post-operative, pre-operative, chronic conditions and fitness. 

Diane Kenney, Certified Canine Hydrotherapist and Owner of Beach Dog Aqua Therapy, describes multiple therapeutic benefits of hydrotherapy, such as:

  • Relief from pain, stiffness and inflammation;
  • Improved recovery rate post-surgery;
  • Increased range of motion, muscle strength and joint flexibility;
  • Reduced impact of chronic degenerative diseases;
  • Improved cardiovascular system and circulation;
  • Weight loss through low-impact exercise;
  • Increased mental well-being and quality of life; and
  • Reduced stress and improved confidence.

In addition to the health benefits associated with hydrotherapy, your senior dog may also learn to swim on his/her own in different situations with less fear over time. Beach Dog Aqua Therapy utilizes a positive approach when working with all dogs, especially those that are already uncomfortable in the water. Ms. Kenney tailors the entry of the dog into the water according to size, weight and level of comfort. She does not use swim flotation devices, because it restricts the dog’s range of motion in the water. The canine hydrotherapist plays the role of the flotation device and keeps the dog afloat while he/she swims in a controlled, monitored way.

For senior dogs, warm water hydrotherapy is ideal. According to the former owner of the Canine Fitness Institute, Sherri Cappabianca, “the warm water temperature plus the buoyancy of the water gives these dogs an ability to move in ways they cannot on land or even in a regular swimming pool (due to temperature variations in most backyard pools).” In some cases, hydrotherapy for senior dogs also combines swimming and massage. 

Beach Dog Aqua Therapy uniquely integrates its canine client’s swim sessions with red light therapy and applications of custom blends of Young Living® essential oils to provide additional relief from ailments impacting the dog. Similar to aqua therapy, red light therapy and topical essential oil treatments can relieve muscle and joint pain and stiffness, as well as improve recovery rates post-surgery. 

If your veterinarian does not provide canine hydrotherapy, ask for a referral to a locally recommended, certified canine hydrotherapist. Canine hydrotherapy will improve the quality of life for your senior dog, and, hopefully, give you many more happy days together.

Redd Bird

Redd, a beloved and determined Australian Shepherd, started his hydrotherapy sessions with Beach Dog Aqua Therapy in June 2019 at the age of 8. While playing the month before, Redd suffered a spinal injury that left him without the use of his back legs – he was a paraplegic. After many veterinarian and specialist appointments, all of which confirmed Redd’s paralysis was permanent, sources recommended hydrotherapy to Redd’s parents. Originally not too sure of the water, Redd started seeing immediate improvements in mobility. After only three sessions at Beach Dog Aqua Therapy, he was actually walking on his own! Redd continues visiting Beach Dog Aqua Therapy regularly for maintaining muscle strength and memory.