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Aqua therapy: a trend for dogs

Updated on October 17, 2011
Gunnie ready for a swim
Gunnie ready for a swim
There are toys in this pool
There are toys in this pool


It started with arthritis. Gunnie, our  8and a half year old rescued purebred  Rottweiler who was so over bred  he was closer to the size of a mastiff than a Rottweiler, started to slow down.

He started to ignore his younger sisters when they played. He seemed less patient and active. Our daily walks became daily drags as he moved more slowly and enjoyed it less.

So off to the vet we went. And she prescribed a NSAID – Previcox, an anti-inflamatory, which did the trick almost instantly.  Within 24 hours he was move active, enjoying the yard and playing with the girls.

But four days later as he decided to play with his sister, a 50 pound lab mix, and disaster struck.  While in the yard, Gun rose up on his hind feet to smack his sister with his front feet.  She responded by swatting him back.  In that instance he landed on his butt, and screamed.  A trip to the vet confirmed what we knew almost immediately: he had ripped his anterior crusciate ligament. 

Surgery was scheduled 10 days later and he flew through with flying colors.  And I went on a quest to find a place to allow a 140 dog with a limp to swim weekly in February in Chicago.

ACL tears are a rather common injury for some large dogs, especially those bred to be overly large, and those who are overweight. Three strikes against Gunther.  Additionally, owners are told that dogs that undergo surgery will recover mobility but must spend approximately 2 months with limited movement, limited access to stairs, and no off leash walking.  As one vet tech explained to my daughter and me during post-operative instructions, “We get a lot of squirrel-related re-injuries.”

However, as Fido stays off his leg, he increases his likelihood of losing muscle tone and strength in the bad leg, as well as developing an aversion to putting weight on it, even once pain has stopped.  And a majority of dogs who undergo surgery on one leg require surgery on the other within a year as they shift their weight and damage the other.

However, the doggy paddle in a warm pool activates Fido’s natural instinct to move all four legs while carrying no weight.  A perfect solution.

Referring back to Recycled Rotts, the rescue from which Gunnie came eight  years earlier, I was directed to Kountry Kennels in Naperville.

So here we were in mid-February driving 30 minutes with a large achy, prone to carsickness dog, headed to a swim and hoping for the best.

When we arrived Gun was welcomed by staff who walked him into the pool area. Jean La Pietra, the kennel owner and a certified canine aqua therapist met us will open arms.  I’m not sure who was more apprehensive,   the dog or I.


Jean started by fitting Gunnie with an extra-large life jacket with two clasps under his body and one around his neck.  Another doughnut floating was Velcro-fastened around his neck to keep water out of his ears and face.

Examining what he decided were steps that were too narrow, 140 pounds of dog froze on the pool edge. We encouraged. He dug in. We cajoled. He looked put upon.  Finally, we shoved. And while Jean stood in the 4-foot deep spa in a neoprene wet suit, I, in my sweat shirt, jeans and gym shoes, found myself grateful for the 80 degree room temperature as I attempted to dry off.

Gunther, who was used to being showered, not bathed, had never been immersed in water before. He stopped; he paddled hard with his front feet briefly, soaking me in the few areas he’d missed first time around.  And then he realized the pool’s 92-degree water felt good. And for the first time in almost 4 weeks post-op, he was moving his left leg with fervor.

And the restlessness frustrated dog who hated the leash and missed his long walks and yard runs, was burning off energy pent up for weeks.

Based on a signed veterinarian’s referral which noted he had no heart, breathing or ear problems and approving a 1-month trial, Gunnie was allowed 15 minutes of swim the first time.

With Jean’s assistance and encouragement, he made slow lazy laps around the pool, periodically stopping at the whirlpool jets to enjoy the blast of warm water on his sore muscles.  At the 15 minute time limit, we began to encourage Gunny to rejoin me on semi-dry land. However, he’d now gotten the hang of this paddle-paddle stop at the jets and get a blast on the leg, rest on the rest-bench arrangement.  As with his entrance to the pool, he now refused to exit.  But unlike his entrance, a push wasn’t an option. The straps which allowed Jean to direct him around the pool with ease, were not strong enough with which to lift him.

Once again I found myself cajoling, begging and crooning. With Jean “strongly encouraging” Gunther’s back end, while remaining cognitive of his recent leg surgery, I grabbed a collar and pulled. Suddenly he was out of the water.  Now that he was done, he had figured out this was a fun excursion.  He could play. His sense of humor came out.  Now was the time to shake and saturate the few remaining inches of my dry clothes before I could throw towels over all of him. And he did so.

Now out the pool, Jean dried him down with towels, then blow dried him with a grooming dryer. Meanwhile as I held his head, he wiggled and moved and readjusted, until the moment I realized he had maneuvered me to within centimeters of the pool edge. Clearly if he was wet, I should be.

Tuckered and out and blow dried dry, the drive home was far more peaceful than the trip there.  Once home, Gun spent the remainder of the day in his favorite sleeping spot in the family room.

For those seeking a way to exercise an overweight or injured dog, with a doctor’s permission, aqua therapy is the way to go.





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    • Winter Maclen profile image

      Chris 6 years ago from Illinois

      I never thought of the whirl pool. We have one but I can't image how I'd get the 150 pounder into and out of it. Though he does really enjoy showers in a walk in shower, when I use the detachable shower head and set the stream to massage.

    • profile image

      michelle 6 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this story. I have a senior pet and when his legs started bothering him I started using my portable whirlpool for the bathtub that my husband gave me many years back and our pitbull loves it at first he was nervous but now when i get it out to place in the tub he follows me like hes getting a treat. He's so relaxed he snores when he gets on his bed and takes his nap afterwards.

    • profile image

      ForYourInfo 6 years ago

      Hey that's a unique topic.

      I found it very interesting and loved reading it.

    • profile image

      kburton 6 years ago

      Love the story about Gunnie and his therapy! The pictures add to the story so people can really see him in the pool.

    • Winter Maclen profile image

      Chris 6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate the feedback.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a lovely hub, and useful too! I'm glad that Gunnie enjoys his water therapy. I'm also glad that I've learned about aqua therapy for dogs in case my dogs should ever have an injury that might benefit from this type of treatment.