From its roots amongst the elite horse racing fraternity, the business of animal hydrotherapy has grown year on year as Jan Hurst reports…
Now a widely accepted practice, exercise for animals in water was once considered an eccentric indulgence reserved for top flight horse racing bloodstock, nurtured by the world’s elite training stables and stud farms. Racehorse trainers, awash with oil-rich owners, invested in specially-adapted swimming pools, transforming the healing process for over-worked or injured, priceless horses. From those exclusive roots, knowledge of the multiple benefits of hydrotherapy has spread, helping to create a multi-million pound business around the UK’s estimated eight million dogs. Even cats and smaller animals are getting in on the aquatherapy act not to mention the rehabilitation of protected species such as, in one high profile case, an injured lion cub. As with human beings, exercising in water is particularly beneficial for animals because it supports joints, muscles and limbs in a way that exercising in normal circumstances cannot. A course of hydrotherapy is now also a routine recommendation made by many vets for dogs that have undergone surgery and need to rebuild muscle and joint strength, and for animals that have suffered a stroke, have arthritic joints, or are overweight. For conditions like these exercise in water offers the resistance which can rebuild muscle, increase fitness and aid a speedy recovery, without the stress and strain caused by impacting on hard surfaces, as with routine exercise. But recent reports indicate that animal hydrotherapy is now fulfilling an additional function.
Aside from post-injury rehabilitation and medical referrals, animal hydrotherapy pools are being put to use for purely practical, non medical, owner-based reasons, such as routine animal health and fitness, and it is within this area that business is booming. Phil Housley was already the owner of a thriving kennels and cattery in Stockport, Cheshire when he became aware, from discussions with vets and physiotherapists, that there was no facility for animal hydrotherapy in the area. Blossoms Animal Hydrotherapy Centre finally got off the ground in March 2012 after a great deal of careful planning.
“At first we trialled the pool with family and friends’ dogs and then we took on a qualified physiotherapist and got CHA (Canine Hydrotherapy Association) accreditation,” says Phil. “In the early days we were getting around eight to 10 bookings per week but that has recently increased to over 50 bookings. We are constantly busy and it’s going from strength to strength.” Phil attributes the success of the business to the extended use he is able to make of his hydrotherapy pool. Vets now routinely refer animals that are post operative, recovering from illness, or suffering from cruciate-ligament injuries. Dog trainers are increasingly seeking out non-impact exercise for agility and competition dogs. Phil also offers a complete spa service for dog owners: “Busy people who may not have the time to walk their pets after work, or have got into bad habits, which have caused their dogs to become overweight, can bring them for a complete fitness programme.” Says Phil: “Because we also have the kennels, dog owners can leave their pets with us when they go away and we will gradually introduce them to a sensible and safe eating and exercise routine, which often shows marked results by the time the owner returns.”
Phil says one of the most enjoyable parts of the job is to see a dog, which comes to us in a lethargic stage, because it spends most of its time lying around at home, getting back to health and fitness and really enjoying life. “About four weeks ago we took on a labrador that weighed around 60 kg and he’s now down to 55 kg and already happier – chasing a ball for the first time in years,” he says. “We offer a fat club for dogs, as well as a spa treatment, where owners without the time to give their dogs the exercise they need, can leave their pet for a session in the pool with our qualified handler and we will also shampoo and dry the dog by the time the owner returns. “This is especially popular when the weather is bad and it’s dark by the time they finish work!”
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