Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Firstly - don't get me wrong, hydrotherapy is an incredibly useful tool for rehabilitation and the management of long term health conditions. BUT, (and what prompted me to write this post) is that all too often it is the ONLY thing a vet recommends, usually saying something like "could probably benefit from hydrotherapy at some point". Probably? - Defintitely!
The problem is that for the majority of surgical rehabilitation cases the dog can't set foot near a treadmill for some time - certainly not whilst there is an open wound, and usually not for a minimum of 3-4 weeks if a bone has been fractured (for example in common cranial cruciate ligament surgeries). More complex cases may even have to wait around 3 months before hydrotherapy can start. During this time muscle mass, flexibility, joint health, proprioception and wellbeing is all compromised, giving the hydrotherapist a mountain to climb when they finally meet their patient. More importantly, the most critical stage of recovery has been missed - the first 2 to 3 weeks, when the dog is in pain, there's a huge amount of swelling and inflammation, and the body is laying down scar tissue just as quickly as it possibly can.
The graphic below might give you a better idea....
Lastly (and you've probably already spotted it) in the early stages of rehabilitation hydrotherapy is really only recommended once a week - and don't even think about getting a dog near a swimming pool before week 12 (when the bone is likely to have formed a hard callus), so you need to use a centre with an underwater treadmill. Hydrotherapy IS fantastic for building muscle, cardiovascular fitness, and range of motion, all whilst reducing weight and stress on the musculoskeletal system - BUT, the correct, early physiotherapy is so much more important, and should ultimately lead to a much quicker recovery, with less pain, less stress and much less loss of functionality.
Scott Blake MVetPhys is a Masters qualified Veterinary Physiotherapist and biomechanical analyst at Vetruvian Physiotherapy & Biomechanics.