warm water therapy for dogs

Warm water therapy relies on the healing properties of water to help with the rehabilitation process.

My friend Yvonne Garst always wanted a Bernese mountain dog because the breed reminded her of a cherished dog from her childhood. Her dream came true when she brought home a “Berner” puppy named Morgan back in 2001.

Several weeks later, Yvonne noticed Morgan had started to limp. The problem seemed to alternate between her two elbows. A veterinarian, and later a canine orthopedist, diagnosed elbow dysplasia, a disease prevalent in large breeds such as Berners. She was just eight months old.

What is elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia, or ununited anconeal process, occurs when a small bony projection called the anconeal process fails to unite and fuse with the ulna, the smaller of the two bones that comprise a dog’s foreleg. The anconeal process is vital for the correct formation of the elbow joint because it provides stability, especially when the foreleg is extended.

Elbow dysplasia is an inherited disease that primarily affects intermediate and large dog breeds, such as the Bernese mountain dog. It is characterized by varying degrees of elbow issues including lameness, bone chips and severe arthritis.

Morgan has surgery

Morgan’s orthopedist recommended the arthroscopic removal of bone fragments as well as an ulnar osteotomy, a procedure that cuts two inches out of the ulna bone to relieve stress in the joint, allowing the anconeal process to fuse with the ulna in a normal fashion.

After careful consideration and in-depth research, Yvonne decided to proceed with the suggested surgery. One of the decisive factors was Morgan’s age. She was still a puppy, which made her a highly suitable surgical candidate. Another key consideration was Morgan’s grim prognosis without the surgery — she would suffer a lot of pain that would require ongoing medications and result in restricted mobility and a low quality of life.

Morgan underwent an operation on her right elbow, and five weeks later had her left elbow done. Unfortunately, when her hips were x-rayed during the second surgery, this genetic condition was found there too. So ten days later, Morgan’s surgeon performed a bilateral triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) on her hips. A TPO preserves the natural hip joint, eliminates laxity and prevents the progression of arthritis.

Long road to rehabilitation

Following her surgeries, Morgan had to be crated for over four months to keep her inactive. During this prolonged recovery period, her bones went soft. As a certified personal trainer and licensed human massage therapist focused on post-injury rehabilitation, Yvonne started researching rehab possibilities for dogs. She knew she had to get Morgan moving to build her muscle and bone strength, and help her maintain a healthy weight.

During her research, Yvonne came upon a book that talked about the curative benefits of warm water therapy for dogs. The book also mentioned a canine warm water therapist located six hours from Yvonne’s home. She immediately made the necessary arrangements, and Morgan was in the water for therapy every day for a full week.

Morgan is transformed

Yvonne marveled as she watched Morgan’s water-induced transformation. She saw significant physical improvement: the healing effects of the warm water resulted in better range of motion and mobility each time the dog left the pool. Morgan’s confidence in the pool increased with every session. The therapy also helped her release some of the toxins absorbed by her body during her surgeries and recuperation. In addition, her spirit was rejuvenated. Morgan had looked and acted very drained and tired after her surgeries, but after just one week of warm water therapy, she was a different dog.

Maintaining her mobility with water therapy

Yvonne tried to locate water therapists closer to home, without success. So she continued Morgan’s rehab in other ways by applying information gathered from various holistic vets. She took Morgan for acupuncture treatments, changed her diet, and added supplements, massage, stretching and range-of-motion exercises to her healing regimen.

A few years later, when Morgan started to limp again, Yvonne took her to a physical therapist for ten sessions during which the therapist applied strength and stretching exercises, cold therapy and more swimming.

After this, Yvonne decided to begin working with Morgan in a local pool. It felt natural for Yvonne to get into the water with her dog and handle her ongoing physical therapy herself. Not only was Yvonne educated and experienced in human anatomy, rehabilitation and massage training, but she had also learned a lot about canine anatomy, therapy and massage techniques throughout Morgan’s illness and surgical recovery period.

Yvonne says that Morgan’s rehabilitation not only changed her dog’s life, it also changed her own. Inspired by their experiences, Yvonne went on to become certified in canine massage treatment and warm water therapy. Thanks to her dedication, Morgan’s wellness program included a warm water therapy session once or twice a week, with Yvonne as her therapist, for the rest of her nearly ten years of life.