Hydrotherapy for dogs: how does it work?

August 25, 2023 - 4 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
overhead shot of corgi dog doing hydrotherapy on a water treadmill

Dog hydrotherapy can be a wonderful way to help your pup recover from an injury, strengthen muscles without straining joints, and more. So how does it work, exactly? Let's get into it.

What is Hydrotherapy for Dogs?

Canine hydrotherapy uses water resistance to support your dog’s weight while they work through exercises with an animal hydrotherapist.

It’s one of a range of complementary therapies available for dogs and is a form of physiotherapy.

Hydrotherapy can help your dog recover from injuries and relieve pain.

What Can Canine Hydrotherapy Help With?

Animal hydrotherapy can help with:

Dog Hydrotherapy Options

There are three main types of hydrotherapy that could help your dog with their recovery or fitness:

Underwater Treadmill Session

This uses a dog hydrotherapy treadmill that is submerged in water inside a glass box. The height of the water comes up to the top of your dog’s legs. (Or a little higher, for the shorties.)

Dog rehabilitation on a water treadmill

It gives your dog a low-impact workout by having them walk against the resistance of the water but without stress or weight on their joints.

This helps build up muscle strength, while the warm water helps with pain and stiffness.

Pool Session

For pool sessions, your dog will work with a trained hydrotherapist in the pool. The water is kept at a comfortable temperature of about 86 degrees to help ease any pain and stiffness.

purebred rottweiler walking down ramp with help of human aid swimming pool for hydrotherapy

Your dog may need to wear a buoyancy aid, and the therapist will guide them through exercises in the water.

The therapist will tailor the session to your dog's needs and can adjust the exercises to suit. Canine hydrotherapy sessions are usually about 20–40 minutes long.

Swimming Session

You shouldn’t need a referral for a swimming session, as it doesn’t involve any physiotherapy. For this, your dog just gets to have a good workout in a heated pool.

Miniature golden doodle swimming in salt water pool

Some pools will even let you get in with your dog.

Swim sessions are typically a lot cheaper than hydrotherapy sessions because you don’t need a qualified canine hydrotherapist there. You also don’t need a referral from your vet, as your pet isn’t receiving treatment.

How Much Does Dog Hydrotherapy Cost?

This one's tricky to answer, as it's largely based on where you live. We've seen costs ranging from a low of $30 all the way up to $200 per session.

You can also expect to pay an up-front fee for an introductory session, which is an in-depth assessment before you start your dog's treatment plan.

Lots of rehabilitation facilities also offer a discount if you book a dog hydrotherapy course of several sessions—for example, 10% off a course of 10 sessions. Shop around and do your research to find a facility that fits your budget!

How to Find Hydrotherapy for Your Dog Near You

To access hydrotherapy that helps your dog recover from an illness or injury, you need to go through your vet.

Hydrotherapy is classified as a form of musculoskeletal therapy, which means it doesn’t need to be carried out by a vet, but your vet does need to have diagnosed your dog and referred them for hydrotherapy sessions.

If you contact the hydrotherapy center yourself, they should give you a referral form that your vet will need to fill out before your dog can have treatment. You should also check that the center is accredited by the Canine Hydrotherapy Association (CHA).

A veterinary referral isn’t usually needed for exercise and training sessions or "fitness swims" in the pool that aren’t to treat an illness or injury.

Are There any Other Charges?

You should take your dog for a walk before their hydrotherapy session and encourage them to empty their bowels. If they poop in the pool, there’s usually a hefty cleaning charge!

Not a fan of that damp dog smell? Some centers offer some optional extras, like having your dog shampooed and blow-dried afterwards. Fees vary.

One Last Thing: Can Cats Have Hydrotherapy?

Although hydrotherapy is more commonly recommended for dogs, cats can also benefit.

Again, you’ll need a referral from your vet before you take your cat to a pool.

Keep in mind that cats may receive more stress than benefit from being in water. Not only that, cats will need to wear buoyancy aids for hydrotherapy, and some will accept them more readily than others.

You and your vet will need to weigh how your cat reacts and whether the benefits outweigh any stress.

Can Pet Insurance Help?

At ManyPets, hydrotherapy for your dog may qualify for reimbursement, but only if it is administered by a veterinarian and is due to an accident or illness. NOTE: this is not a guarantee of coverage — see your plan for details and get in touch if you have any questions.

Derri Dunn
Content marketer

Derri is a personal finance and insurance writer and editor. After seven years covering all things motoring and banking at GoCompare, Derri joined ManyPets in 2021 to focus on pet health. She has fostered cats and kittens for Blue Cross and Cats Protection and is owned by tabby cat Diggory and two badly behaved dogs.