Pool therapy for pets: Tips to get dog swimming to go swimmingly

Opal (Opie) and Dixie, once my little 3-month old puppies, are now 14! And, I must say, they’re in pretty darn good health, considering their age. Because they both have long backs and short legs, which often leads to vertebrae problems, the girls have been going for light, regular chiro alignments for the past several years. Opal gets acupuncture as well. Besides these treatments, healthy organic diets along with vitamins and supplements, having their weight kept in check and regular vet visits help keep them healthy.                                                       

Dixie is still a bundle of energy, but Opal began slowing down a few years ago. Recently, her balance has begun to suffer and her legs have been somewhat unstable, causing occasional trips and falls. My good friend Nathan, whose 14-year-old pit Ulysses has had two ACL surgeries, told me about how much swimming has helped “Uly” maintain his strength and balance. So, I decided to bring Miss Opal in for a little swim therapy. I knew this would be hit-or-miss after seeing her reaction to water as a puppy. Back then, we’d rented a Sonoma house with a big, beautiful swimming pool. At 90 degrees, I thought Opal would enjoy cooling off with a dip in the pool. Not so much. She panicked and struggled to get out of the water, all the while making some serious “get me out of here” noises.

With age comes wisdom -- or maybe just a newfound love of swimming pools -- because Opie loves exercising in the water now! And, best of all, working those muscles seems to be building her strength and confidence. She was a bit achy the first week after her first session, somewhat like you or I would be if we were to dive into squats and lunges without having used those leg and butt muscles in 14 years, but little-by-little, I can see her balance improving! Dixie has just started lessons as well, as a preventive measure. She isn’t yet loving the water it like Opal does, but she’s gone from “I don’t like this” to, “This ain’t so bad,” to, “Hmmm, I can do this!” 

If your dog is getting up in age or is also prone to leg or back issues, here are tips to help improve on his or her health.

Swimming therapy: Water4Dogs compares a 15- to 20-minute session of swimming therapy to a fast run outdoors without the impact. On top of that, instead of having to worry about outdoor debris, a swimming pool is all the workout without the litter, street traffic, people and bark battles with mail carriers. It also releases endorphins and relaxes tight muscles. Endorphins, a group of endogenous peptides, relieve pain. With pain relief comes happiness, especially in older dogs with arthritis. Whether choosing the underwater treadmill, which is better for fitness, or controlled swim therapy, it helps keep the dog in shape and is therapeutic for the brain.

Chiropractic adjustments: If your dog experiences the following symptoms, chiro adjustments may be helpful, according to Organic Pet Digest:

  • Being in pain or biting when touched in the chest area
  • Dry eyes
  • Muscle spasms
  • Hip pain
  • Trouble jumping, standing or lying down on chest

Gaining popularity in the 1970s, the Canine Health Foundation confirms canine massages and chiropractic as legitimate treatments to improve health for “disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.” Spine misalignment does not just affect a dog’s back and agility. It can also travel to your pet’s bodily functions, nervous system and organs.

Short-legged dogs experience a unique agility issue due to their physiques. A variety of terriers, basset hounds, spaniels, dachshunds and a few others from this list can become especially susceptible to intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). Keeping dogs like these at a healthy, lower weight from fitness and a strict food diet can help them avoid backbone and neck issues, too.

Dog vitamins: While Pets WebMD does confirm that some vitamins may be dangerous, there are others that veterinarians do recommend. Speak with a licensed veterinarian first before giving a dog any vitamins. If a dog already has a balanced diet, too much calcium or Vitamin A can lead to skeletal issues, joint pain, harm blood vessels or lead to dehydration. Pet WebMD also confirms that muscles may be negatively affected by too much Vitamin D, along with loss of appetite.

On the upside, glucosamine-chondroitin supplements may help dogs with osteoarthritis. Fish oil supplements help reduce inflammation. Vitamins C and E may help dogs with memory problems. But because every dog is different, and some may already be getting the necessary amount of each vitamin in their everyday foods, there is no exact prescription for all. It’s best to always check with your vet before starting your dog a new regime of any type, be it exercise or food-related.