Hydrotherapy and Weight Loss in Dogs
In the UK we love our dogs, but so much so that many of us have a tendency to kill our dogs with kindness. 63% of people believe that their dog is of the correct weight, whereas 45% of dogs are actually overweight. This leaves at least 8% of people believing their overweight dog looks as he/she should, although the margin is probably a fair amount greater than this. But this also leaves the people who know that their dog is overweight, and yet they proceed to do very little/nothing at all about it!
So first off, why should my dog be a slim Jim? Well we are all aware of the health problems that being overweight can lead to in humans, and it is the same for dogs! Just to name a few: osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and the list goes on. But surely just knowing that your dog has a heightened risk of just these few examples should make you want to do something about it, let alone the myriad of other problems it can lead to. Obesity is actually a disease in itself, which can cause your dog to feel very unwell both physically and mentally without all the ‘side effects’ that come with it.
Vets consider the root causes of weight gain in dogs are due to not following feeding guidelines (at least 68%), treating with leftover food (at least 78%) and insufficient exercise (at least 44%). For today’s reading let’s focus on how to improve our dogs exercise regime with the use of hydrotherapy.
As we well know hydrotherapy is beneficial for many clinical conditions and injuries. One thing that seems to be overlooked by a lot of people is that hydrotherapy is an extremely advantageous form of exercise that can help to considerably speed up the process of weight loss.
The reason behind this is that when in the water a dog’s body is subjected to the hydrostatic pressure of the water, and the temperature of our pool which is 30°C. This means that their cardiovascular system has to work harder to supply the body with oxygen, causing them to become physically fitter. Due to this they will then also be able to exercise more vigorously on land, which will also help to speed up their weight loss.
Not only will they be losing weight but they will also be gaining muscle, due to the resistance and viscosity of water causing their muscles to work harder to move their limbs forwards and backwards. This extra muscle supports the joints and therefore can help to slow the effects and symptoms of arthritis in older dogs (or young dogs that already suffer arthritis), and help to slow the start of this in younger dogs that are still sound – prevention rather than cure.
Hydrotherapy is a non-weight bearing exercise, which means that the joints are under no pressure whilst the dog is exercising. This is also very beneficial for overweight dogs, as they are more prone to an early onset of arthritis due to the extra pressure on the joints – even while performing normal day to day activities.
On top of all this, most dogs love water! And toys! And play! So what could be better? Not only are they getting the exercise they need, but it’s extremely mentally stimulating. We even see this in the elderly dogs that have now begun to “slow down”, after a few swimming sessions (and some immediately after their first). Owners report that their dogs are much happier in themselves at home, much livelier and that they have got their spark back! Also once they know where they are going, or where they have arrived they just can’t contain themselves. Now what more can you ask for than a super happy pooch?
And for the people that are concerned as their dog had a bad experience with water once, or they’ve always been too scared to go out of their depth; we have experienced this many times before. After a few sessions of taking it slow, and calming them in the water most dogs will get to a point where they’ll think “Hey this isn’t really that bad. Actually, this is quite fun!”. They can have plenty of interaction and encouragement for you as an owner from the outside of the pool, with the comfort of a hydrotherapist in the pool with them.
So why can’t I just take my dog down to the lake/river/sea? Well as previously stated the temperature of the water plays an important role in hydrotherapy. This temperature (30°C) also prevents the dogs from becoming stiff after exercise, by helping to relax the muscles. Also all our hydrotherapists are fully qualified, which means they know how much exercise to give your dog, and can spot the signs if they are becoming too tired to prevent overworking them. We can also prevent them from “cheating” – meaning they do not use their back legs properly and will use their extra fat as a buoyancy aid to just float (as fat is less dense than water, whereas muscle and bone is not). We do this by stimulating their back legs, causing them to use them more efficiently.
Smudge, a chocolate labrador came to us to lose weight and to improve the stiffness in his legs. When he started he weighed 40kg, his chest measured 88cm and waist measured 75cm. He came for pool session’s twice a week. Each session he was weighed and he was losing 1kg a week! On his 5th session he lost 3cm off his chest and 5cm of his waist. He is less stiff through his hind limbs and much more energetic on walks. With the combination of a controlled diet Smudge will continue to lose the excess weight.
Overweight dogs can suffer from numerous problems including stiffness, arthritis and breathing difficulties. It’s not just the extra weight on the joints that is causing damage. The fat itself is active tissue that creates and releases chemicals, many of which promote inflammation. This is also why keeping older dogs lean is very important.
As we can see with Smudge both hydrotherapy and a controlled diet can be used to successfully reduce weight and increase cardiovascular fitness quickly and safely. Hydrotherapy is a non-weight bearing exercise so the dog can move with full support around the joints making it a gentle and easier form of exercise for overweight dogs.