Hydrotherapy for Forelimbs and Shoulders

Hydrotherapy in an underwater treadmill is used for forelimb and shoulder rehabilitation post-surgery or when treating an injury conservatively.

Research Authors


Hydrotherapy in an underwater treadmill is used for forelimb and shoulder rehabilitation post-surgery or when treating an injury conservatively. Goals are to increase limb use, range of motion, strength, posture, and functional activity. Frequency and initiation of therapy depend on the dog’s condition and are determined after an initial assessment. We aim for a gradual introduction to the underwater treadmill and an enjoyable experience for the dog.


Your dog loads around 60-70% of their weight on their forelimbs during standing, walking, or running and up to 100% during functional activities like getting out of the car, off the couch or walking down stairs.  The forelimbs and shoulders are essential in providing stability, mobility, propulsion and stopping so it’s essential they are strong and stable.

Hydrotherapy in the underwater treadmill (UWT) allows us to provide controlled, rehabilitative exercise after a forelimb injury or following surgery.


Within the underwater treadmill we can:

  • Use buoyancy to reduce joint loading and ground reactive forces in the initial phase of recovery
  • Use dynamic and static exercises to improve strength and range of motion of the forelimb and shoulder
  • Encourage postural balance and reduce compensatory patterns
  • Control speed to ensure the dog walks purposefully to increase limb use and comfort while building strength, stamina, and muscle tone as they progress through their recovery
  • Provide passive stretching that may be hard to achieve on land
  • Use soft tissue massage to reduce muscle tension
  • Provide mental and physical stimulation while they are on exercise restrictions

When can my dog start hydrotherapy?

Your specialist or veterinarian will advise when your dog can begin rehabilitation.  If your dog has had surgery they can usually start 2 weeks after surgery, once the sutures have been removed.  Nonsurgical patients may be able to start straight away.

Your dog’s hydrotherapy programme is customised specifically for them. The recommended frequency will depend on the presenting condition and be discussed at your first appointment.

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What if my dog doesn't like the water?

During the first session we will discuss your dog’s history and goals of treatment while they relax and get to know us, followed by a physical, postural and gait assessment, before introducing them to the underwater treadmill.

Underwater treadmill therapy is walking in water, not swimming.  We take things nice and slow with positive introductions to ease them into their initial session, plus we have tasty treats on hand as needed.  With proper introductions we find even those that are water shy usually enjoy and relax into their therapy.  Our hydrotherapist will always be hands-on in the underwater treadmill with your dog.