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Hydrotherapy for the osteoarthritic dog: why might it help and is there any evidence?

02 December 2015
11 mins read
Volume 6 · Issue 10
Figure 3. Dog on an underwater treadmill.
Figure 3. Dog on an underwater treadmill.


There are many potential factors that can play a role in the initial development of osteoarthritis, however, irrespective of cause, the progression of osteoarthritis is similar in all cases. Pathological changes within the joint are often self-perpetuating; degeneration of articular cartilage initiates an inflammatory response which results in further degeneration of the cartilage. Pain and discomfort and subsequent reduced activity follows, leading to reduced aerobic ability and further changes within the musculoskeletal tissues. With no cure available, treatment often centres on management strategies to ease discomfort and progression of clinical signs. Hydrotherapy could be beneficial for osteoarthritic patients as it allows exercise to be conducted in a reduced weight bearing environment. This allows aerobic ability, muscle strength and range of motion to be improved/maintained while reducing the impact on painful joints. Available evidence suggests that treatment with hydrotherapy is beneficial in the management of osteoarthritis, however, further evidence is required in the comparison of aquatic and land-based therapy.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is seen commonly in dogs with a suggested 20% of the population suffering from the condition (Marshall et al, 2009). There is no cure for OA and patients will commonly be suffering from discomfort, limited range of motion, muscle atrophy and reduced mobility (Bockstahler et al, 2004). Current management strategies include the use of analgesics, nutraceuticals, physiotherapy, and alternative therapies such as acupuncture. Hydrotherapy is a branch of physiotherapy which utilises the properties of water, such as buoyancy, resistance, and hydrostatic pressure, to aid in the rehabilitation of patients and is commonly advocated in the long-term management of OA (Millis and Levine, 1997). Currently, little research is available for the use of hydrotherapy in the treatment of canine OA; however, despite this lack of evidence a survey conducted by Waining et al (2011) found it to be the third most common condition seen in UK hydrotherapy centres. This article will discuss the aetiology and pathogenesis of OA, why hydrotherapy could be beneficial, and the current evidence that is available to support its use.

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