If your dog becomes paralyzed, or is experiencing neurological deficits as a result of IVDD, they are likely to have a long road to recovery ahead of them. I’m sure you’re wondering what you can do to give them the best possible chance at gaining back their mobility. It can take anywhere from weeks to years to recover from paralysis, if they can. Luckily, many dogs do recover, especially with the help of physical therapy.
In my post ‘Conservative Treatment‘, I lightly touched on the different therapies that are available. Things like cold laser therapy, electro-acupuncture, hydrotherapy, stretching and exercises are all things that can aide in your dogs recovery. Today I am going to be taking a closer look at what hydrotherapy is and how it can help your paralyzed dog with IVDD.
What is Hydrotherapy?
Hydrotherapy is a water therapy that utilizes buoyancy, resistance, and hydrostatic pressure. The most common type of hydrotherapy for paralyzed dogs is the underwater treadmill. A treadmill is encased by a large tank with an open top. The dog is placed inside the tank, which then fills with warm water up to about shoulder height. Then the dog walks on the treadmill, coaxed by praise and lots of treats. If your dog can’t move or place their feet correctly, someone will be in the tank with them moving their feet in the proper walking motion. Your rehab vet may also do some physical exercises while your dog is in the water. The length of the session usually starts out small, since your dog has probably been on crate rest for some time, and gradually increases with each session. It may be recommended that you take your dog to hydrotherapy weekly, or even more, and consistently to experience the full benefits that this treatment has to offer.
How Does Hydrotherapy Help With Paralysis?
Neurological problems stemming from a ruptured disc can range from having a limp or dragging foot, to not being able to move their legs at all. Some may move their legs, but be uncoordinated or unable to carry their own weight. Some might have that wobbly ‘drunk walk’ that is common with IVDD. All this means is the neural pathways between their brains and their feel are having trouble connecting. This is because of some damage to the spinal cord from the disc rupture.
10 Benefits of the Underwater Treadmill
1. Being in the water creates buoyancy, which allows your dog to walk without having to support their weight.
2. Walking underwater creates resistance which allows them to get the strengthening and exercise that they need while being extremely low impact.
3. Warmth and pressure from the water helps to increase their circulation and get the blood flowing in their legs and body.
4. The walking motion combined with the warm water keeps their limbs and joints nice and flexible, which is extremely important to the dogs recovery. Without use or movement, their legs will start to become stiff over time.
5. Exercising regularly will help prevent muscle atrophy during the dog’s recovery, as well as improve their cardio respiratory endurance.
6. The walking motion of the affected legs, aided by the hands of the rehab technician, helps to restore and reconnect those damaged neural pathways. This basically re-trains the brain to learn how to walk again.
7. The regular exercise helps keep your dog at a healthy weight while their activity level is reduced during their recovery. The less your dog weighs, the easier it will be for them to stand up and start walking!
8. Helps prevent soreness in other parts of the dog’s body that are now having to overcompensate for the paralyzed legs, like their front legs and shoulders, and keeps the rest of the body strong.
9. Provides the opportunity to perform standing exercises that the dog is not yet able to do while bearing all of their weight.
10. Provides your dog with stimulation and builds confidence. It is something for them to look forward to and focus on, and obviously get tons of praise and treats the whole time to make it a fun experience.