Interview with Hydrotherapy Expert Natalie Lindberg
Some dogs love water.
Others think that crazy water stuff is trying to kill them.
Most of us don’t really get beyond those thoughts about water and our pets: they either like bath time or they don’t. They love the beach or they hate the beach. But there’s more benefit that our dogs can get from water than drinking and keeping clean.
Hydrotherapy—which essentially uses water therapeutically—can come in handy for a variety of conditions, including to help with pain relief, muscle strengthening, improving joint range of motion and maintaining overall body condition. Hydrotherapy includes activities like swimming, water exercises and Watsu, which combines floating in water with massage.
Natalie Lindberg, Registered Veterinary Technician and owner of The Total Dog Canine Swim & Fitness Center in Oceanside, California, talked to us about how hydrotherapy can help dogs.
The Honest Kitchen: What temperature is the water kept at and why?
Natalie Lindberg: The water is kept at 84-88 degrees—the warmth of the water allows muscles to relax.
THK: Is it saltwater?
Natalie Lindberg: Our swimming pool is a saltwater system; the chlorine is generated via electrolysis (freeing the chloride from the sodium as free chlorine). The underwater treadmill uses a chlorine sanitizer.
THK: What kinds of exercises can be performed in water?
Natalie Lindberg: The correct equipment and specific exercise is chosen for a strategic goal, such as isolated muscle strengthening vs. generalized muscle strengthening and/or balance and coordination. The underwater or land treadmill for strength, coordination, muscle memory; physio balls for specific muscle leg strengthening and core strength; agility equipment for targeted muscle strengthening and coordination; swimming for cardio/pulmonary, metabolism/burning calories, muscle flexibility and strengthening, and joint range of motion.…The underwater treadmill is typically utilized for post-surgical/post-injury cases where control is important. We can control the amount of exercise, degree of difficulty, and closely monitor gait and cardio performance.
THK: Can they benefit other animals as well?
Natalie Lindberg: Yes, horses tolerate and benefit from hydrotherapy as well.
THK: How can water therapy improve general health and physical performance?
Natalie Lindberg: [It] improves cardio/pulmonary function, improves muscle strength and flexibility, help[s] with joint range of motion and balances brain chemicals.
THK: How can it help for cardiovascular fitness?
Natalie Lindberg: It is an enhanced aerobic workout in a short period of time.
THK: How can it help with recovery from surgery?
Natalie Lindberg: Orthopedic and/or neurological surgery [recovery] can benefit as [hydrotherapy] promotes healing [at] a cellular level, enhances motor function, muscle strength, and neurologic coordination.
THK: How can it help with recovery from sprains and strains?
Natalie Lindberg: [It] helps to loosen scar tissue, fibrous tissue becomes more pliable and enhanced circulation helps to flush toxins as well as improve range of motion.
THK: How can it help with pain?
Natalie Lindberg: By stimulating endorphin release, which can help control pain and relieve tension.
THK: How can it help with weight management and obesity prevention?
Natalie Lindberg: By increasing metabolism, more calories will be used more efficiently.
THK: How can it have positive effects on the mind?
Natalie Lindberg: We have dog trainers utilizing swimming as a part of their recommended training program. The non-weight bearing/aerobic activity stimulates endorphin release, with the release of positive/euphoria chemicals in the brain, it can relax the mind and improve behavioral responses to stress/stimuli.
THK: Are there any situations when you don’t recommend a dog partake in water therapy?
Natalie Lindberg: Dogs with known heart or lung disease are not good candidates for any type of strenuous activity. Dog[s] with fecal incontinence are not good candidates. Dogs with open wounds are not recommended or with skin/ear infections are not good candidates.
THK: If a pet owner is considering water therapy, what actions should she take?
Natalie Lindberg: We review medical records and discuss each medical case with the referring veterinarian to make a plan to meet their specific goals for rehabilitation, weight management, etc. We require vet confirmation to ensure that there are no contraindications.
If your dog suffers from pain, is recovering from a strain or just needs some extra fitness, consider hydrotherapy.