Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a series of questions which address the most common enquiries about Canine Hydrotherapy.

Simply click on the question that is most relevant to you to reveal the text.



The benefits of hydrotherapy depend very much on how the hydrotherapy treatment is carried out. For some dogs simply floating or swimming gently in water can relieve pain and inflammation. For others more vigorous exercise is used to increase the use of limbs, increase muscle bulk and tone, and strengthen support for joints. Especially after surgery or injury this can allow earlier return to normal use.

Water can also be used as a means of supporting dogs in a non weight bearing or partially weight bearing environment to allow movements that would not be possible on land, perhaps because of weakness or injury. This is particularly useful for dogs that have spinal problems.

Hydrotherapy can also increase cardiovascular fitness and help with weight loss.


The hydrotherapy pool allows the animal to exercise in a non weight bearing environment which relieves pressure on joints, reducing pain and encouraging movement. In the underwater treadmill the water height can be adjusted to precisely control the amount of weight bearing allowing increases as the animal strengthens or recovers.

It is difficult to move quickly within water (because of the viscosity or 'stickiness' of water) so the water has a cushioning or protective quality reducing the risk of injury. This same quality means that the dog has to work hard to move forward when swimming and in turn this helps to increase muscle strength and bulk. This is a very useful property for young dogs that are on restricted exercise, as they can exercise hard in the water with little risk and use up some of their excess energy.

Within water animals are also subject to hydrostatic pressure and this has the effect of a gentle pressure bandage on limbs. This can help to reduce swelling and then pain especially in the lower limbs - very useful for dogs with elbow, stifle, carpal and tarsal injuries or arthritis.


Many vets will refer a dog for hydrotherapy as a matter of routine following certain surgeries or for particular conditions. You are free to contact a hydrotherapy centre yourself and the centre will then contact your vet for permission for hydrotherapy treatment. The vet will need to confirm that your animal is fit enough and well enough for hydrotherapy and provide any additional medical history that is relevant.

Registered Canine Hydrotherapists will never swim an animal without a vet's permission. This protects you, your dog and other animals visiting hydrotherapy centre, and ensures that the treatment plan is appropriate for your dog. Expect to be asked for a lot of information about your dog or cat, particularly on your first visit.


Costs vary widely depending on the type of centre, its facilities, and where the centre is situated. All centres should publish their charges and these should be clear and easy to understand. As a general guide you can expect to pay between £20.00 and £50.00 per session with an RCH. Dogs that need more assistance or who have behaviour problems may cost more to be treated.

Many factors influence the length of time your dog will spend in the hydrotherapy pool or underwater treadmill. These may include the particular injury and/or surgery carried out, the medical condition, breed, age and level of fitness of the dog. For example a heart condition or obesity will limit the amount of exercise a dog can manage when it begins a hydrotherapy program.


This depends on the reason for hydrotherapy.

As a guide post cruciate surgery recovery would normally be 8 to 12 weeks.

A young dog with hip dysplasia may need to swim for 6 months to 1 year until skeletally mature. An elderly dog with chronic arthritis may need hydrotherapy twice a week for 8 weeks, to gain a good improvement, and may then benefit from weekly or bi-weekly hydrotherapy for the rest of its life.


It depends on the terms of your insurance policy and how the insurance company defines hydrotherapy. Some insurance companies limit the number of hydrotherapy sessions per condition; others will pay up to your insurance limit. Some companies include hydrotherapy under 'complementary' treatment whilst others have a hydrotherapy section in the policy.

Call your insurer and ask for clarification of your particular policy. In case of dispute it is prudent to note the name of the person you spoke to, the date and time of the call as well as any information given to you.

Do check if you need to get pre-authorisation for hydrotherapy treatment and, if so, get the insurance company to send you the form immediately.

Check if the insurance company will require a letter of referral for hydrotherapy from your vet.


Medical conditions and hydrotherapy


  • Arthritis
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Cruciate ligament rupture
  • Patella luxation
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Intervertebral disc rupture slipped disc)
  • Spondylosis
  • Mobility problems related to age or obesity
  • Young active dogs on restricted exercise


This really depends on your vet's instructions. Usually hydrotherapy can start a few days after stitches or staples have been removed.

After some surgeries, fractures and spinal problems it may be 4-8 weeks before hydrotherapy can commence.


A Registered Canine Hydrotherapist is trained to take all past and present health and medical issues into account when treating with hydrotherapy. The hydrotherapist will liaise closely with both you and all veterinary surgeons involved in your dog or cats care.

There are occasions when it will not be possible for an animal to receive hydrotherapy treatment because certain medical conditions or injuries could be worsened by hydrotherapy.


If a dog is receiving chemotherapy the hydrotherapist will make appointments for your dog that fit with the safe periods between chemotherapy treatments. The hydrotherapist will take advice from the vet giving treatment about when chemicals are being excreted by your dog; a time when hydrotherapy would not be permitted.

Hydrotherapy can be a very useful palliative treatment for dogs with cancer. It allows for valuable one to one time between the client and dog and relaxation in warm water can help with pain relief and a promote a feeling of well being due to the release of endorphins.




If you are lucky enough to have a choice of centres in your area telephone and speak to 2 or 3 different centres. You should get a welcoming and interested reception.

Check if the centre is run by or employs Registered Canine Hydrotherapists - then you can be sure of the training and standards at the hydrotherapy centre. It is possible to check the therapists are RCH's by searching the NARCH List.

Why not visit the centre? All NARCH members will be pleased that you are being careful about choosing the right care for your dog. The centre should be clean and tidy and have a pleasant atmosphere and the staff should be happy to show you all of the facilities.

Ask your vet if they can recommend a centre. Your vet can also provide guidance on any specialist hydrotherapy requirements of your dog. For instance you may have a large or giant breed and not all centres are geared up to deal with such breeds. Your dog may benefit from treatment using an underwater treadmill, again, not all centre can provide this facility.

The nearest centre to your home may not be the most suitable centre to treat your dog so do consider centres further afield.


Check the NARCH List of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists. You can search by post code, area or hydrotherapists name.

You can also search by hydrotherapy centre name and see a list of Registered Canine Hydrotherapists that practice at that centre.

The training undertaken by an RCH will be listed under each of their entries on the list. All RCH's have agreed to meet and maintain the training standards required by NARCH.


The hydrotherapy pool allows the animal to exercise in a non weight bearing environment which relieves pressure on joints reducing pain and encouraging movement. The pool is very useful for encouraging natural movement and motivating dogs by retrieving or play.

In the underwater treadmill the water height can be adjusted to precisely control the amount of weight bearing. The degree of weight bearing can be increased as the animal strengthens or recovers. The speed of the underwater treadmill can also be changed to achieve the best possible movement of the limbs. The dog can be viewed from all angles and this is very useful for assessing how it is moving and to make adjustments to get better quality movement. Re-educating gait or correct limb use is very important for dogs learning to walk again after spinal problems.


All Registered Canine Hydrotherapists are trained in Pool Water Management. The pool or underwater treadmill chemical levels are tested several times a day to ensure that the water is safe and always has sufficient disinfectant properties to protect both the animals and humans from any risk of infection. Detailed records are kept of measurements and treatments. Most hydrotherapy pools use chlorine as the disinfectant chemical, although other chemicals and methods are acceptable. You should expect to see a spotlessly clean pool with sparkling clear water though possibly with an amount of fur floating on the top if the last client was a Newfoundland or large German Shepherd!


This will depend on the individual hydrotherapy centre's rules. Some centres with larger pools allow clients to swim their own dogs for fitness or to be in the water to help motivate and encourage the dog.

In centres where clients are allowed in the water the swimmer must be over 18 years old.


Dogs, cats and hydrotherapy


No! Some breeds such as Labradors, Retrievers, Spaniels and Newfoundlands are bred to be natural swimmers but even so some can be nervous or can take time to get used to the idea of swimming in a pool. It is important that the first introduction to swimming is a positive experience.

There are some dogs that have no idea how to swim and these dogs may require close supervision in the water.

Dogs that are very muscular, such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, tend not to float as well as other breeds and have to work much harder to stay on top of the water however, once they learn to swim they tend to love the experience.

Bracycephalic breeds (those with shortened muzzles such as Boxers, Pugs, Old English Bulldogs and some Cavalier Spaniels) can struggle to get enough breath when working hard. These breeds need particular care when they swim or attend hydrotherapy.


With sensitive and gentle handling most pets can get over any dislike of water (though not always). Your hydrotherapist will allow extra time and it could take a few hydrotherapy sessions for your dog to relax. Some dogs that appear to hate water, and will walk round puddles and refuse baths and showers, can take to swimming surprisingly well, especially with praise and reassurance and the hydrotherapist in the water with them.


Many cats can swim. Some breeds such as Burmese, Siamese and Persians seem to particularly enjoy swimming. Hydrotherapy can be a very successful treatment for cats that have suffered injury. Some hydrotherapists specialise in swimming cats and other small animals such as rabbits. It is always worth trying and many people have been surprised that the cat that avoids puddles and the rain will tolerate hydrotherapy well.


You should check that the hydrotherapy centre facilities are suitable for large or giant breeds. This would normally mean a larger size hydrotherapy pool or full size underwater treadmill.

Also check that the hydrotherapists are experienced at handling your breed and there will be enough people to present to handle your dog safely.



If you have any concerns or need further advice, please contact NARCH.

Check the List/Register or find a Hydrotherapy Centre

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