For a canine hydrotherapy case study, we see Barti who is a German Shepherd 7-year-old male retired police dog who sustained a disabling injury whilst on duty in Feb 2013. The exact origin of his injury is unknown as he was investigating a warehouse and returned to his handler with the injury. He was treated by The Royal School of Veterinary Studies and they diagnosed a deep laceration laterocaudal metatarsus (outer-rear long bones of the foot) to the right hind leg. It was cleaned and stapled at the time to heal. Barti later developed further lameness which led to his medical retirement. He was then rehomed with his initial puppy trainer for his retirement where he lived out the next few years in good health until his owner noticed a gradual decline in his mobility and stability.

Initial assessment

He was presented to me 04/01/2018 and on examination, his right hind leg was quite lame with diminished weight bearing due to his previous injury. HIs left front leg had severe wearing to his weight bearing digits (he was unable to complete any road walks). He was also lame on this leg. On top of these 2 significant problems, he had developed muscle spasms and tightness in his lower back and shoulders. All of which was making him very uncomfortable.

Initial techniques used

I initially performed some light stretches and class IV laser treatment on his affected areas. This was well tolerated and I arranged with his owner a further 5 laser sessions over the next 3 weeks. His owner reported she could see gradual improvements and his laser sessions moved to weekly and

then every 10 days.

Laser treatment was initially chosen as it is an effective drug-free form of pain relief, that also reduces inflammation and swelling in the affected area. It is used to specifically target the joint or tissue you have opted to treat. The therapeutic light emitted from the laser improves microcirculation in the damaged tissue, delivering oxygen, vital sugars, proteins, and salts while removing wastes.

7 weeks after Bart’s initial appointment with me he had his first canine hydrotherapy session on the underwater treadmill, as after discussion with his owner we felt now his pain was under control it was time to build back his muscle mass.

Introducing canine hydrotherapy

Canine hydrotherapy was chosen to achieve the goal of increasing muscle mass as this is the most effective treatment for this. It uses the properties of the water hydrostatic pressure, resistance, buoyancy, viscosity, cohesion, and water temperature to work together to get achieve the optimal environment to promote muscle growth and strengthening.

Barti attended a canine hydrotherapy session once a week for 10 weeks, his strength improved with each session once he became familiar with the treadmill. Prior to Barti’s first session, his measurements were taken and we videoed his first session so that this could be repeated at his 10th session and then used for comparison.

Start Measurements – front left leg 27cm, front right leg 23cm, rear left leg 49cm, rear right leg 48cm, waist 65cm.

End Measurements – front left leg 29cm, front right leg 28cm, rear left leg 54cm, rear right leg 55cm, waist 69cm.

In addition, the video footage also showed considerable improvement in Barti’s walking pattern.

The results

Throughout his hydrotherapy, Barti has had laser treatment every other week, and due to the considerable improvement, we have started to move Barti to a maintenance hydrotherapy and laser programme. Starting at every other week, with the hope he will be able to progress to 4-6 weekly sessions for both.


Kelly Walmsley started her business after deciding to turn her interests into something more. She was looking into various types of rehabilitation when one of her beloved Newfoundlands got diagnosed with both elbow and hip dysplasia, and she wanted to find a preventative treatment rather than heading straight down the route of analgesia and surgical intervention. To date, they have managed to avoid any surgery with a combination of canine hydrotherapy, exercise and massage therapy.

You can contact her at Kernow Paws Rehabilitation and on Facebook.



Author: Admin

Hi, I am Helen. Not only am I a canine massage therapist and animal healer but I have created this website to help promote and support my fellow animal practitioners. Get in contact if you need any help or post on the forum. Thanks x

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