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Why is safe and effective water management in canine clinical hydrotherapy so important?

To answer this question, a great starting point is to reflect on the recent changes in current clinical hydrotherapy, which is the fastest growing sector within the canine healthcare industry.

Historically, 25 years ago, therapists used to administer treatments from outside the aquatic treadmill or hydrotherapy pool using a pole and collar, external harness lowered into the water, or simply hung a lead over the top of the treadmill whilst the dog was left to “get on with it”! At that time water management was mainly led by human pool specialists with little canine experience.

Current canine clinical hydrotherapy is now delivered by therapists specifically qualified in canine clinical hydrotherapy, where the therapist is always within the aquatic environment itself, with their hands on the dog at all times. This ensures effective and safe delivery of a range of clinical reasoned treatment techniques for each specific dog.

The focus is now on “working with the dog’s consent” rather than coercion methods, however well intentioned. This updated mindful approach is supported by canine behavioural sciences, functional anatomy and treatment techniques advancement.

Training and qualifications in both clinical skills and canine water management, have advanced significantly in the past several years. Standards are being raised to safeguard dogs and owners, with the L4 Diploma in Canine Clinical Hydrotherapy being the recommended starting point for delivering a professional service for dogs and their owners.

TOP TIP – Always choose an appropriately qualified canine hydrotherapist. In human hydrotherapy, physiotherapists often administer treatment plans. However, in canine practice – if a veterinary physiotherapist, veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse delivers hydrotherapy, they need to hold additional qualifications specifically in canine hydrotherapy. There are also a group of therapists who have expressly trained as canine hydrotherapists.

Therapists usually belong to at least one professional association like IRVAP (irvap.org.uk) – Institute of Canine Hydrotherapists (ICH), for support, guidance and mentoring and accessing free CPD (Continuing Professional Development). IRVAP accredits our certificated water management refresher course listed below.

In current canine clinical hydrotherapy, skills and techniques are delivered at different levels depending on each professional’s qualifications, individual career journey and their CPD portfolio, which is specific to each therapist. Word of mouth recommendation may be old fashioned, but is highly advised!

FACT – Effective water management is crucial for maintaining a consistently safe and hygienic environment in canine hydrotherapy facilities. This ensures that the water used in treatments is clean, sanitised and safe for both the dog and therapist, plus prevents the growth and spread of bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms, which can cause infections or diseases.

“We know maintaining appropriate water chemistry and optimising the temperature level of the water for each dog is absolutely essential. This aims to achieve the desired therapeutic benefits and best outcomes for every dog in the therapist’s professional care.”


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Key Aspects of Effective Hydrotherapy Water Management

1. Water Quality Testing – Regular testing of water quality is vital to monitor various parameters such as chlorine and pH levels, total dissolved solids (TDS) and bacterial count. Testing should be done in accordance with relevant industry standards and guidelines.

2. Disinfection + Sanitisation – Hydrotherapy facilities must have robust disinfection and sanitisation protocols in place. This involves the use of an appropriate sanitiser for the water, such as chlorine, to eliminate harmful microorganisms. Regular cleaning of equipment, surfaces, walls and floors using recommended disinfectants, plus cleaning the filtration systems is also paramount. Fresh water systems are not recognised as safe systems in the UK.

3. Filtration + Water Circulation – Hydrotherapy systems require efficient filtration and water circulation systems to remove debris, sediments and contaminants. These systems help maintain water clarity and prevent the accumulation of impurities that could affect the therapeutic properties of the water.

4. Temperature Control – Maintaining a warm water temperature following industry guidelines is crucial for hydrotherapy treatments. The temperature should be set within a safe and comfortable range, depending on the breed and specific treatment goals. Regular monitoring and adjustment of water temperature is necessary to ensure consistent canine safety and treatment efficacy is achieved. Water temperature under 28 degrees is not acceptable and deemed as poor practice.

5. Risk Assessment – Biosecurity and clinical risk assessment measures must be in place to meet professional obligations and legal requirements.

6. Water Conservation – Hydrotherapy facilities need to be sustainable and should prioritise water conservation practices. This can include using water-efficient equipment, implementing recycling systems and promoting responsible water usage.

7. Staff Training Training and certification for staff members has a critical role in good clinical hydrotherapy services and effective water management. Staff must be knowledgeable about water quality (testing and actions to take), hygiene practices, equipment maintenance, risk assessment, record keeping and emergency actions and protocols, to ensure the highest standards of safety are consistently attained.

Benefits of Effective Hydrotherapy Water Management

1. Canine Client and Therapist Safety – Good water management reduces the risk of waterborne illnesses or infections, ensuring the safety and well-being of the dogs undergoing clinical hydrotherapy treatment, as well as the attending owner(s)and the therapist delivering the service.

2. Enhanced Therapeutic Effects – Maintaining optimal temperature levels and water quality optimises the therapeutic benefits of canine clinical hydrotherapy.

3. Owner Satisfaction + Retention – When owner clients witness high-quality, clean and safe hydrotherapy treatment for their dogs, we know that they feel satisfied in the service provided. This leads to increased retention rates, positive word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations.

4. Compliance with Regulations – Adhering to water management guidelines and regulations is crucial for safe practice. Professional associations such as the Institute of Canine Hydrotherapists (ICH) – focus on raising industry standards. This commitment focuses on the health and wellbeing of the dog. Compliance ensures both professional and legal responsibilities are met by the therapist, as well as avoiding potential legal issues.

Want to update your canine hydrotherapy knowledge and skills? We offer an IRVAP accredited online refresher CPD course – Award in Canine Hydrotherapy Water Management course.

Want to explore and review your canine knowledge and techniques? The perfect place to advance your therapeutic and clinical skills is the K9 Therapy Hub. This unique membership community offers you over 54 accredited certificated CPD courses, a free Template Toolbox and Video Box.

Empower yourself and share your passion to work with each dog’s consent and deliver their optimal treatment. Want to meet your CPD requirement? Feel supported within a vibrant canine community? Advance your canine career journey?Join Us Now!


“Advance your clinical skills and optimise the canine healthcare and wellbeing services you provide to dogs and their owners.”

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