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Water Therapy

It would be ideal to take your dog to a certified canine rehabilitation therapist for at least a couple of sessions, and have a therapist show you how to perform the correct exercises at home. If this is not an option for you, these are some suggestions. Please consult with your vet to make sure your dachshund is ready for home water therapy and which exercises are appropriate for your dog. You do not want to set the recovery back.

Confirm with vet or surgeon when it is appropriate for the post-op dog to start water therapy to avoid getting the surgery site wet and risking infection. Water therapy is not appropriate for a dog undergoing conservative treatment until all 8 weeks of crate rest have been completed.

Water helps a lot especially in obese dogs, they are really hard to rehabilitate, the weight makes it very difficult for them to make progress with such weakened muscles. All standing, weight shifting even bicycles are done in water. This allows them to have most weight off their legs. Encourage more weight with progress by lowering water level. Start with the water level at the hip joint for initial assessment and then lower or raise water level as needed. A non-slip bath mat on tub floor for traction is a must. A large storage tub may be easier on the back rather than leaning over the bathtub

Facilities: deep laundry sink, tub, child's wading pool, shower.

Water: depth can be anywhere from chest to neck and should be about 95° F for relaxation of soft tissues. The higher the water level the less weight bearing on the legs. If your dog is afraid of water, sit in empty tub with dog and slowly fill with warm water until you reach desired depth. A good video explanation on depth of water and principles to be incorporatated in home water therapy.

Time: The initial treatment can be as short as a few minutes increasing to 20 minutes a session. 3x week up to daily.

Tub: Always provide direct supervision, never take your eyes off your dog while in the tub. Use a towel, harness, or canine life vest as safety aids. Talk in a calm soothing voice reassuring the dog that everything is okay. If the water level is high (the dog's neck level) he may start to paddle by instinct as soon as you lift him a bit and he doesn't feel the bottom of the tub. Not every dog can initiate paddling particularly with severe nerve damage.

Shower: If a surgery case, wait until after the incision has healed. If this is a conservative treatment case (crate rest and meds) you may do this only after all 8 weeks of crate rest have been completed which allows for the disc to heal. Use a hand held shower massage head that can be attached to your shower as dog sits in tub or shower stall. Turn the shower head on low pressure, and with warm water, spray up and down back and legs. Increase the amount of water pressure to a medium pressure if the dog tolerates it. 

How to hold dog: The best way is to use a life preserver. That way the dog's front and hind legs are appropriately spaced and the spine is not arched or curved.

If a life vest is not an option, (1) place one hand palm up through back legs & securely hold the outside back leg. (2) Place the other hand under chest and (3) in one smooth motion keeping spine straight and horizontal bring dog up & into your chest against your body. You are now holding dog like a football with support at both ends and support with both of your forearms along the entire dog's body. The spine is straight. (4) Position one of your feet in the tub and lower dog gently into tub keeping dog's spine straight & horizontal.

Safe Water Exercises your dog may be able to do with vet approval (after sutures or staples come out & the incision is well healed, or for those dogs who haven't had surgery, ONLY after completing 8 weeks of crate rest and with vet approval.)
  1. Slowly walk your dog from one end of the tub to the other and back again using hands, towel, life vest handles to guide dog. You may use treats to stimulate the dog to walk on it's own if at this point the dog is mobile. If you do this in a small tub, at the end tub turn your dog to avoid him or her tightly twisting the back/spine  (this will hardly happen if wearing a life vest). Repeat this for approximately five to ten minutes. After you have given your dog this type of therapy several times, increase the time in the tub 5 minutes each week until you have worked up to 20 minutes. An child's 10 wading pool in warm weather is an other option for water PT, watch Jolene circle along the edge of the pool to get that carrot:  Go Jolene!
  2. Supporting dog with the life vest handles reach into the water and take the first dachsie leg and lift it gently in a bicycle motion 15-20 times for each leg.
  3. Move the foot only in a up and down motion about 15-20 times for each hind foot.
  4. Gently swishing of water in the tub, will force the dog to to try to maintain balance, thus strengthening the muscles of the core and limbs.
Advanced exercises
  1. With a low water level (elbow or wrist depth) stimulate the dog to walk in the water fetching treats or a rubber toy. The low water level will force the dog to use his muscles more due to reduced buoyancy and increased water resistance.
  2. Not recommended for home bathtub, use in a pool where there is not the risk of the dog hitting the side. Using a small surf board, place the dog on it and let him stand. Then gently swish the water a bit. This will make the dog want to balance shifting the weight from one leg to the other. This will work different muscles in his legs and increase coordination.

If at any point the dog seems to have a set back, or be sore, cut back or temporarily stop the swimming exercises and consult your vet or certified canine rehabilitation therapist. Some fatigue and soreness is normal after starting any new program. Should you need to put the swimming exercises on hold, you may need to restart his therapy from an easier level, with shorter time periods and fewer repetitions until his endurance and tolerance increases.


    This information is presented for educational purposes and as a resource for the Dachshund community. The coordinators are not veterinarians or health care professionals. Nothing herein should be interpreted as medical advice and all should contact their pet care professionals for advice. The coordinators are not responsible for the substance and content contained herein and do not advocate any particular product, item or position contained herein.
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