Hydrotherapy for dogs in Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 15:51 30 June 2016 | UPDATED: 15:55 30 June 2016
Hydrotherapy is not just for humans - some of our waggy-tailed friends can benefit, and even the odd cat, Sandra Smith discovers
An overnight deluge topped up with morning drizzle makes the journey along the A41 north of Aylesbury more spray than speed. Flatness of this landscape facilitates the accumulation of water. Sodden fields seep onto the tarmac making my drive, like those of fellow motorists, one of dodging puddles, avoiding pools of water for which even 4x4s have to slow down (perilous conditions for my two door European classic) and all whilst attempting to stay on the correct side of the road.
It is only after turning right towards Grendon Underwood before taking the long drive to Lawn Farm Business Centre that I appreciate the irony of these unseasonal climatic conditions. For today I am plunging into the world of canine hydrotherapy.
“I’ve always wanted to work with dogs,” Lynne Hamilton smiles whilst greeting me. “I enjoy giving them a quality of life. Some people don’t believe I can help their dog, but I do.”
We’re in a small office where Lynne is already attired in her working clothes. Being in the water with each canine customer makes a wetsuit a necessity. She moved to this unit a couple of years ago, installing an 8,000 gallon pool and pump system to filter water which remains at an inviting 30 ͦC. With her own pets - Jack the German Shepherd and a Border Terrier named Titch – snoozing in an adjacent room, Lynne recalls the origins of her business.
“I considered dog grooming and training but then rang every hydro outlet in the country. Everyone said they loved it, so I did some courses. The walls, ceiling and floor here are all insulated and the pool is covered at night to retain the heat.”
We walk through to the pool area where Lynne exercises up to 40 pets per week. Mindful of how much my dog avoids water, I’m curious. Do any of her canine customers need persuading to dip their paws? “Some dogs are scared or anxious but I take it slowly and they all get in. Some hate swimming outside, yet love it in here.”
At this point her first customer of the day arrives. Alfie, a Jack Russell, may be recovering from knee surgery but a wagging tail reveals uncontainable excitement. Once Alfie has had a quick shower, Lynne attaches a harness and guides him up a ramp and into the water.
“A five minute swim is the cardiovascular equivalent of a five mile run, improving heart and lung function,” Lynne explains from the water whilst checking Alfie’s leg movements. “Muscle wastage starts within 48 hours of injury, but swimming builds muscles around the joints. Animals start off with a life jacket but progress to a non buoyant harness once they are confident.”
She laughs whilst recounting an incident with a Great Dane puppy: “She was not feeling the love for it and took me under the water several times!”
Are there ever, I wonder, summoning up the most diplomatic phraseology I can muster, any unexpected incidents? “Sometimes there’s the odd accident in the pool. We call it a code brown!” I reckon the owners appreciate Lynne’s presence as much as her canine customers. She is delightfully easy to talk to and clearly adores her role as much as her customers.
When Alfie’s workout is complete, he is showered and dried then heads for home, leaving Lynne to tell me more about the value of this form of exercise.
“There are jets for fit dogs, giving them a massive cardio work out. Building up dogs protects them from injury. I can teach puppies to swim, too, and help dogs who are overweight. I see older dogs who can hardly walk to the bottom of their garden but after a few sessions swimming they are climbing stairs and jumping into the car again. Some patients have spinal injuries from road traffic accidents which can result in paralysis, but it is crucial to keep the neuro pathways connected and after a few swims they can stand. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”
All animals require consent from their vet prior to treatment and Lynne encourages owners to return dogs to the vet after hydrotherapy to show their progression. She also provides advice concerning home exercises and feeding guidance for overweight pets.
I thought Lynne’s first customer was keen, but when Golden Retriever Molly arrives, her enthusiasm is tangible. I’m told Molly has arthritis in her knee joints but there’s no restriction or discomfort evident as she bounds into the water, endlessly swimming up and down the pool retrieving toys which Lynne repeatedly throws. If dogs could smile, this 11 year old would be grinning from ear to ear. She is having the time of her life. Lynne aims to increase the range of movements during each session, though Molly appears to be championing her own cause.
Although Lynne believes hydrotherapy can assist most dogs, including those which practise agility, she stresses the importance of hydrotherapy before health and mobility deteriorate. Animals injured by accidents, however, also improve, and not just canines.
“We had a beautiful Burmese cat called Leah who came in after fracturing her pelvis and could barely stand. I bought a special harness and lowered her into the water. She looked at me as if I was mad! But she did 10 swims, meowing all the time. Eventually she climbed into the pool herself. I also have a friend who swam a rabbit.
“I’m a hopeless swimmer,” she continues, “but I don’t mind the water. And I’m so lucky. I wake every morning and want to do my job.”
Owners tempted to explore hydrotherapy but harbouring a trickle of scepticism might be buoyed by Lynne’s generous offer. “The first swim costs £45 but the second is free because I know by then the dog won’t mind. I haven’t yet met a dog I can’t work with, nor a condition that doesn’t benefit.”
Judging by what I’ve witnessed canine hydrotherapy is a reliable way of maintaining and improving a dog’s health. And fun, too.
Conditions that can benefit from hydro-therapy are very much the doggy versions of ones for which humans are often treated. They include:
• Pain, swelling and stiffness in arthritic or veteran dogs
• Hip and elbow problems and cruciate ligament injuries
• Spinal injuries or following limb amputation as it strengthens muscles, increases range of movement, promotes overall blood circulation
• Obesity and cardio-vascular fitness
• And beyond physical health, hydrotherapy can reduce behavioural problems or be used to introduce puppies to water in a fun way
• The eating do’s and don’ts for pets - With the launch of our great dining out guide it seemed a fine time for Jan Raycroft to look at the eating do’s and don’ts of our four-legged friends
• Beagle-gate part 2: Revenge of the beagles - When our editor went to meet smart and sassy Cassie she had a surprise in her handbag – but the secret was soon out