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Apr 3 2012 9:52AM
New tricks for old dogs
HOT TO TROT: A therapist leads her patient through a workout on the canine treadmill at Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital. Picture: FACULTY OF VETERINARY SCIENCE, UP
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Mia Mcdonald

Sometimes old dogs are given the chance to learn new tricks. The latest is water therapy for dogs, which has evolved from canine aqua aerobics to the underwater treadmill.

Dogs may need rehabilitation similar to the kind that people get from physiotherapy. The underwater treadmill gives dogs the benefits of hydrotherapy. It is approximately 2m long and 1.25m high and combines treadmill walking with aqua aerobic exercise for dogs.

Just as the human body is 100% stabilised in water and aqua aerobic exercises can improve posture and condition the core through abdominal exercises, dogs can benefit from aqua aerobic underwater therapy.

Postural support for dogs can be strengthened over a period of time and with the help of underwater treadmill therapy, slow repetitive movements can help your dog to get back on top form.

Water offers gentle resistance which helps to build muscles and strength.

Professional Provident Society Insurance SA donated R70000 to the Onderstepoort Animal Rehabilitation Service at Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital (Ovah) to upgrade Ovah’s hydrotherapy facilities with an underwater treadmill. South Africa now has four such underwater treadmills available for canine rehabilitation therapy.

The benefits differ for different dog breeds. Essentially the weightlessness from the buoyancy in water assists in therapy as weight is not transferred to the joints being exercised.

The canine patient with joint problems can be rehabilitated over a period of time, walking on one spot assisted by a therapist, who leads them with a harness and a leash.

Sr Theresa Frias, the therapist who manages the hydrotherapy for dogs at Ovah, said: “Walking is highly beneficial to dogs, there is a neuropath in the brain which is enhanced as the dogs walk.”

Similar to the release of serotonin in humans, when the neuropaths in canine brain are engaged, the dog’s overall mood is enhanced.

“Bigger race dogs may suffer from arthritis after they have passed the age of four years,” said Frias.

“Sausage dogs are prone to spinal complications, because their backs are much longer than their legs.

“Spinal complications can develop over time in dogs over the age of four years. Common spinal complications can be a slipped disc, which can result in a prolapsed disc.

“Overweight dogs can shed kilos, develop agility and fitness through cardiovascular exercise.”

The treadmill at Onderstepoort has been in use since December 2011. The success of the treatment can be measured by the significantly improved health of the dogs that have been exposed to the programme.

The treadmill is used to help train future vets, while bringing balance to the dogs that use the equipment.

The dogs may be scared at first by the massaging jets but, with the gentle guidance of the handlers assuring them that all is well, they might just get into it – even without the catchy soundtrack that goes with human aqua aerobics.

Have you ever tried getting your dog into a bath and had to put up a big fight only to find that the dog will happily jump into the swimming pool? Perhaps water therapy is the gentle in-betweener.

Have you taken your dog for water therapy? Did it work? We want to hear your stories, please mail us:
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