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Hydrotherapy – swimming for health

As any dog owner knows, many canine friends love the water. And while many cats may seem a little less willing to dive in at the deep end, taking a dip in the pool can be really beneficial to your pet’s health. As with humans, feline and canine hydrotherapy is a low-strain, low-impact activity that can help heal injured joints and tissues, and even if your pet doesn’t naturally take to water, this therapeutic form of exercise can also be a lot of fun.

Why hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy in humans has been recorded since the time of the Egyptians, ancient Greeks, and Romans, but was only formalized as a therapeutic and medical practice in the 18th century. It remains a recognized and widely recommended practice today. The secret of the treatment’s benefit lies in the qualities of water itself, allowing free movement of joints and muscles in a low-gravity environment that minimizes impact and pressure.

More recently, the practice has been adapted to help animals, and millions of people now take their pets to specially tailored classes that seek to help them to recover from injury, from surgical procedures, or to improve general health and wellbeing. Hydrotherapy can also be used as a substitute form of exercise for animals who are unable to walk and run due to injury or old age.

Key benefits of hydrotherapy for pets

Some of the main advantages of hydrotherapy include: 

  • Improved muscle strength and maintenance 
  • Increased blood circulation, to speed tissue healing 
  • Relief of swelling and stiffness from injury 
  • Greater general cardiovascular fitness and stamina 
  • Reduction of pain while in the water 
  • Slowing of symptoms of degenerative diseases  

The growth of rehabilitation in animals

Physical rehabilitation in animals came about in the 1960s with the growth in popularity of equine sports. By the 1980s it was common practice throughout Europe, and interest grew in the US by the 1990s. 

Among a range of practices offered under the umbrella term of physical rehabilitation, hydrotherapy is one of the most popular, and one of the most widely recognized as beneficial to pets. With many facilities now offering specially-designed therapeutic pools and even aquatic treadmills, the treatment is becoming more accessible and affordable for pet owners. Under the Trupanion Recovery and Complementary Care Rider, hydrotherapy is included if recommended by your veterinarian and provided by or under the supervision of a qualified professional. 

The weightless workout

The primary benefit of aquatic exercise, for both animals and humans, is that water creates a low-weight environment where stress on joints, bones and muscle tissues is minimized. Similar to the way you can float in the swimming pool, hydrotherapy makes use of water’s buoyancy to allow all the cardiovascular and restorative benefit of physical exercise without the strain and impact suffered on dry land.

As well as buoyancy, the viscosity and resistance of water can help your pet to build strength and stamina. It is harder to move through water than through air, and treadmill tanks are used by some hydrotherapy facilities to take advantage of this aspect of water exercise. Aside from the aerobic benefits, water can also improve skin and fur health, improve digestion, enhance blood circulation, and help in training for better balance and coordination.

Types of treatment

Pet hydrotherapy may take a variety of different forms, and there are various sorts of facilities available in the US and Canada. These include:

  • Float-assisted swimming in large swimming pools, allowing animals the benefit of movement and exercise in a low-weight environment without touching the bottom. 
  • Submerged treadmills that allow your pet to run with their body underwater, reducing impact on the legs and feet.
  • Variable current pools, long narrow pools with a flowing current that allow pets to swim against moving water to build strength and rehabilitate deteriorated joints or tissues. 


The first rule of hydrotherapy is don’t try this at home. While it may just look like swimming, properly administered hydrotherapy is a precise veterinary practice and requires the supervision of an expert. Encouraging an injured or unwell animal to swim—be it in the sea, a public pond or a home bath—could be dangerous and harmful. It goes without saying that bacteria in open water can be dangerous to an injured or sick pet, but unpredictable temperatures and currents could also cause serious problems. Even just swimming at home could exacerbate a strain or injury. Always seek professionally-supervised hydrotherapy for your pet so you know they are in safe hands.

Upgrade your pet's policy

On top of our standard medical insurance coverage, we offer a special Recovery and Complementary Care Rider at an additional cost, which covers you and your pet for a whole range of extra treatments and procedures to make sure your animal stays as healthy as can be. As well as hydrotherapy, this package includes veterinary recommended acupuncture, behavioral modification, chiropractic treatment, homeopathy, naturopathy, and rehabilitative therapy.

The use of these additional treatments in conjunction with more traditional practices can help to nurse your feline or canine friend back to health and comfort more quickly. From effective pain relief to promoting healing and recovery, the therapies under the Recovery and Complementary Care Rider aim to bring your pet back to health as rapidly, safely and effectively as possible. 

Hydrotherapy is included in our Recovery and Complementary Care Rider.

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