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Swim Therapy

One of the best exercises available to dogs is swim therapy. I recently did an arthroplasty on a small maltese cross who had Legg Perthes disease- ischemic necrosis of the femoral head. This disease necessitates either a total hip replacement (quite costly) or surgery to remove the ball joint of the femur. Most dogs will start walking once this occurs because the source of pain is gone. However, Bailey’s problem started in February, but the surgery only ended up occurring in May. During that time, as little dogs are able to do, he learned to manage on 3 legs. In fact, the atrophy was so severe (one leg measured 12 cm, then other 6 cm diameter) that I warned them that he may not decide to walk on that leg again.
Six weeks after the surgery, Bailey was not weight bearing. So I went over basic physio- isometrics, range of motion, swim therapy. But it was obviously not going to be something she was comfortable with. There are clinics that specialize in physio, but the cost can be overwhelming to owners, as well as the time needed to go back and forth, so I offered to take Bailey home to do therapy at my place.

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On my days off, Baileys owner would drop him off at the clinic the night before, and I would then do exercises- either in my spa (much to my husband’s dismay), trying to get him to weight bear. I am not as familiar with small dogs, but soon realized that Bailey enjoyed being with the large dogs, and he would accompany us on walks, and I was able to get him to swim at Sandy Beach (before the ban- this will be another story that needs addressing!). I was convinced that he was not in pain, and my mother, a retired physio, gave me some tips. Soon enough, I started to see the leg come down when he was walking slowly. Fortunately, the heat wave hit – and another friend Diane offered me the use of her pool. I am not sure what her husband thought when I brought 3 dogs-one as a rescue, one for physio, and Porter to play with their dog! So for a period of 2 weeks, I went daily.Suddenly, his muscle started to be more noticeable. He began to enjoy his weekends and weeks at our place, so much so that his owner began to lament that he was no longer excited to see her! Finally, I returned Bailey with further instructions, and he continues to improve.

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Another case for hydrotherapy is for senior dogs with arthritis or degenerative back disease. Max is a 14 year old flatcoated cross whom I see once or twice a year when the owner comes from Toronto to visit family. When I noticed that he sinks down while walking, we discussed swimming. I was not sure what she could do except for the underwater treadmills at specialty clinics. But sure enough, she found an indoor pool which allows one to go in with their dogs! She pays for 15 or 30 minutes in the water, twice per week. The next time I saw Max, I could not believe the improvement. I measured his leg diameter, and it went from 30 cm to 35 cm! Plus his owner had noticed increased mobility.
There are these swim centers popping up all over the place- I know of one in Ottawa, but none on the West Island just yet.
The important take home message for our senior dogs is- control pain, use chiro and acupuncture as needed, keep them active, and if possible – get them in the water. Adding on good grippee socks and using yoga mats on floors will provide secure walking areas for your canine friend. All of these modalities will ensure a nice slow transition into their senior years.

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Please contact barbarar@ville.hudson.qc.ca to give your input about banning dogs at our parks, off leash walking and having access at certain times of the day and or year for swim therapy. We want something cohesive so that we can enjoy the privilege of having our canine companions, yet respecting non dog owners.

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