~~*~~*~~ Pigs can swim too ~~*~~*~~
In a bid to eliminate the belly pork from Pig (chocolate lab (who's either big boned or suffers from a glandular problem but most definitely not fat (we're both somewhat in denial about our collective weight))), I've instigated the toughest fitness programme known to man and pigs. As well as normal walkies, she has obedience, agility, treadmill and now, swimming lessons. My father thinks I'm insane - why on earth do I need to pay for my dog's exercise when I could merely go to the canal? Well, papa, I intend to explain all...
~~* Why would a dog need to swim? *~~
There are many reasons, for example; recovery after surgery or an accident to build the muscles back up, to lose weight and or to increase fitness. It reduces the stress on individual joints (such as running on the treadmill would do) but the pressure of the water on the body means more effort is exerted when swimming as opposed to running. The water supports the Pig's lard ass and so her delicate little joints aren't overworked - there are many labs on the books at Pig's pool who suffer from hip dysplasia (a painful condition affecting the hips where land-based exercise can be detrimental) and before they started swimming, they walked like old biddies - within a few weeks they're walking fairly normally. Pig has very good hips and elbows but she still has a large frame so there's a lot of weight bearing down on her hooves - if I were to only run Pig as part of her fitness-regime, she would no doubt be rather stiff especially because each minute she spends swimming is supposedly one mile of running (dunno if that's true but she's already up to 15 minutes of solid swimming (though there are 2 afghans on 30 minutes non-stop which seems a lot if the rumour's correct)). As with the amount of time, the number of sessions a week varies: there's no point in having a session once a fortnight if your piglet is recovering from surgery. Pig swims twice a week to keep her lovely and trim and also to keep her muscles in tip top condition for agility but if you're in any doubt just ask your therapist.
~~* What's wrong with the sea? *~~
Well, nothing really. Whereas the sea and the canal contain untold diseases and nastiness, the hydrotherapy pool is lovely. It's clean and warm too so there's no dragging half the beach back home with her. In addition, once the pig is in the pool, she is exercised for about 30 mins, swimming for the majority of it - there's no way I could keep her swimming in the sea or canal without her getting out half the time. There's also the fact that there's a ramp in and out the pool so she doesn't have to jump into untold waters and possibly impale herself on some stick which could occur in the canal or get her hooves stuck in the quicksand at Morecambe. In addition, because the pool is heated, it's better than cold water which constricts blood vessels and consequently makes the muscles less efficient. The warm water is also better for reducing tissue swelling as it's a natural anti-inflammatory - great news if the Pig ever injures herself due to the extreme sports she undertakes.
~~* How safe is this swimming malarkey? *~~
If your dog can't swim then it may be a wee bit dangerous but saying that it's not as if your poor pooch is thrown in (well Pig was: she was fannying around, dipping her hoof in and out so I gave her a little push and hey-ho, she's never looked back). Hydro pools offer different ways for your little piglet to enter the pool - the one we go to has a ramp up to a flat resting area just hovering over the water; then there's a lovely gentle ramp into the pool. Some offer cranes/lifts to help the larger breeds get in and out but I have a small suspicion the pig would spack out if she was strapped into one of those. There's also the submerged pools whereby the pool is like a human swimming pool dug into the floor so there's no need to go up before getting in.
Now, when I say I gave Pig a push, she wasn't leaping into the abyss - Cara (the very qualified hydrotherapist and animal first aider) was in there to escort Pig on her laps. Pig is kept on a lead (some places use poles or pulleys though) and she must do the right number of laps before she's allowed a rest - Cara judges whether she's flagging legitimately or whether she's merely feigning a stitch as we all used to do on those god-awful cross country runs of our childhood nightmares. Because the water puts pressure on the chest wall, a dog's lungs have to work harder than usual so I trust Cara's judgement as she knows Pig's swimming capabilities better than I do - she keeps strict records and built her up slowly so she knows the speed and number of laps the Pig can manage and will only push her if she knows Pig can do it. Equally, because of the extra effort required in swimming, the heart has to work harder too - it improves cardio workout but any problem your dog may have had with its heart should definitely be brought to the attention of the therapist. When Pig joined the swimming club, she had to get a form signed by the vet to prove she was fit enough to start swimming (this may sound bizarre as the point in it is to rehabilitate and improve fitness but there was an 11st choc lab (you'll note that it's usually labs that have a problem with saying no to the pork-pies) that would have been too exhausted to do one lap and was forced to walk the treadmill of shame before it was allowed near the pool but once it started swimming, the weight fell off a lot quicker).
If Pig hadn't have been able to swim, there's plenty of buoyancy aids available so don't just dismiss the idea of hydrotherapy - all your dog may require is some water wings. Oh and if you're worried about your little piglet getting the water in her ears; Pig wears a snood which keeps the water out and stops her from shaking her head and distracting her from the task at hand (also it makes her look ridiculously stupid and amuses me no end).
You should also make sure that there's enough depth for your Great-Dane to be able to swim instead of walking along the floor - don't expect Olympic sized pools or you'll be sorely disappointed. Don't be afraid to ask questions such as whether there's underwater jets to increase the resistance or indeed underwater treadmills which control the speed of the dog's movements (we've no such excitement at ours but still the Pig loves it).
Finally, Pig's pool is immaculate - there's never any hairs in it and all the chemical records are kept on the wall for everyone to see as it's cleaned properly once a week.
Thus, on a safety note conclusion - check the pool for qualified attendants, easy access, good record keeping and cleanliness.
~~* To begin doggie-paddling... *~~
To find your nearest canine hydrotherapist (I don't recommend turning up at your local lido with some arm-bands and doggy speedos as this may be frowned upon) check out the CHA website - http://www.canine-hydrotherapy.org/php/members.php and this'll tell you your nearest accredited swimmer. Or ask at your vets as they'll probably know. Pools are popping up all over the place as more and more kennels/breeders/etc acknowledge the benefits and profits to be had from having one - although this means that there may be one on your doorstep, check it out first. If you're after claiming on the pooch's insurance, then check first that your hydrotherapist is registered as your insurer may only pay out with certain pools - I know that Petplan pays out for the one Pig goes to but apparently Direct Line said no to some poor old lady (thought you'd like to know that).
Prices vary as with most things: ours charges £15 for a weekday swim and £20 for the weekend - it's for a half-hour but if you bring two dogs the second is free. Or you can book a pool-party for £20 where any number of dogs are allowed in but there's only supervision and basically it's a free-for-all as all kinds of toys are thrown in - it may be chaos but the dogs have a whale of a time.
~~* Take a towel *~~
Water is wet. Pig gets towelled down afterwards because she's determined to eat the dryer whenever Cara's tried it on her but she still stays soggy for at least an hour after. If you're house-proud unlike me, I suggest a towel for the car too as the dogs are never fully dry when they leave even if they have been under the dryer. If your dog needs motivation to exercise then take their favourite toy too - Pig's not fussy so she just helps herself to a toy from the bucket at the door - spoilt cow. Some places allow you to swim with your dog - god knows why you'd want to but each to their own - so you may want to take a change of clothes (just a suggestion). I would definitely take a camera too just for comedy value.
I highly recommend swimming lessons or 'canine hydrotherapy' as the professionals call it - Pig is absolutely knackered after her lessons and we have a lovely quiet afternoon (if you ignore the snoring). She seems more supple and bouncy and she was very bouncy before hand. I've seen such improvements from other dogs that go that it's definitely something that shouldn't be dismissed as a new fad (father). In addition, the pig's coat is gorgeous - I know they use safe levels of chlorine in the pool but something else makes her feel all silky and smell less doggylike (maybe it's the Pantene). She's completely safe and I know she loves it because I just have to say 'swimming' when we get there and she pegs it towards the building at the back (it's the same place we have agility but she knows the different buildings - what a clever pig). In conclusion - what are you waiting for?
~~* Random information that most normal people will find extremely dull *~~
Muscle wastage occurs just 3 days after immobilisation.
Swimming uses 30% more oxygen than land-based exercise.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXfqZ9kdxJk - randomly there's another Labrador in the world called Pig who has swimming lessons - who'd have thought it?
Thanks for reading.
Review will most definitely appear elsewhere.
Caroline & Pig
Both training to swim the channel.
My dog has Cronic Degenerative Disc Disease and was in constant pain before his neurologist prescribed specific painkillers and recommended hydrotherapy.
I first took our dog about 10 weeks ago. He was unfit and poor posture. I can honestly say that he doesn't enjoy the swimming although he does tolerate it extremely well! His hydrotherapists are qualified in their field and are very good with him.
They have excellent facilities with a temperature controlled pool, an electric hoist for particulary immobile animals, swimming jackets in all sizes, toys for the dogs to play with in the pool and an air dryer for when they are done.
His first session only lasted about 5-6 mins because he soon got tired and they don't like to put them through too much too soon. He had a really good swim with one of the instructers in the pool with him and was tired afterwards. They let the dog take the lead when it comes to how long they swim for. If the dog is tolerating it well and not getting too tired then they'll let the dog continue to swim. My dog can now swim without a break now for about 15-20 mins.
His body condition has improved greatly. He has more muscle tone now, his posture and gait have improved and he is definately more mobile than before. He has reverted back to puppy playful mode which is lovely to see and I have managed to drop his medication down from three times daily to just once a day.
Unfortunately my dogs condition isn't cureable however it is managable. I intend to continue to take my dog to hydrotherapy sessions regulary for the rest of his life as it keeps him in a really good body condition that in turn helps his condition.
It is a cost consideration though as each session costs me £15 so over a long time span this can mount up. My dog is insured though and the insurance company re-imburse me thankfully!
Hydrotherapy is an excellent form of aerobic exercise so almost any animal would benefit from it. Obviously you need to a have Veterinary referal to take part in hydrotherapy as the centre need to be confident that your pet is in good health to take part. Hydrotherapy post operatively is particulay beneficial as the animal is often debiliated for some period of time, especially after orthopaedic operations such as Cruciate Ligament repair, Pelvic surgery or Fracture repairs. They need to have some degree of exercise as physio for the muscles to heal but they often can't weight bear on dry land for some time, hense delaying the healing process. When they get into the pool the animal doesn't bear any weight thus enabling them to exercise without painful discomfort.
I really can't recommend hydrotherapy enough, most hydrotherapists would gladly invite you for a free or reduced trial session so you can see for yourself.
I have just read the article about Hydrotherapy for pets.
Our 9 year old Great Dane X had to have her right front leg amputated (due to an osteosarcoma) a tumour of the bone,
she is currently having three weekly chemotherapy sessions (last one in three weeks time) and getting on very well. The first two weeks were awful for her and my husband and I, as the chemo upsets the appetite and I had to actually push food down her throat until she got the taste of it and then she would slowly eat not even 500grams of food, she was having 6 meals a day and each meal she had to be force fed to start with (Apparently the chemo gives them a bad taste in the mouth and that is why they do not want to eat, because they cannot taste the food until it gets into the stomach and the brain accepts that it does taste like food.
Jess is getting on reasonably well without her front leg (vets do not like to amputate front legs of dogs over 30 kgs in weight as it is very difficult for the dog to balance without a front leg but not as difficult without a back leg), she useses her left front leg as a tripod to balance and now hops along faster than she used to walk.
The vet who performed the op said that within 6 weeks she would be back to doing the same amount of walking as she had done before the leg was amputated (15 miles a week) but we find it difficult to retrain her up to this level at this time of year.
So to cut a VERY long story short we were wondering if Hydrothery would help and if anybody can suggest a means of converting a PRAM/BUGGY so that we can allow her to walk until she is tired, she can hop into the her "Transport" while we continue walking and when she is rested enough she can hop out and carry on walking.
We have seen quite a few Double buggies at our local TIP so this would not be difficult to obtain but need ideas to convert it, the carry basket underneath will carry her water and bowl.
Hope to hear from anyone with any ideas or if you have already done something like this, and of any Hydrotherapy centres near Stratford-upon-Avon.
By this technique i assume they also mean things like taking your dog to a beach or a walk along the river to swim also, hydrotherapy is a very general term.
I think swimming is a great way for both animals and humans to keep their weight and health up shape and to be rehabilitated.
However i think the road some American dog owners have gone down is a bit obsessive, i am not quite sure that renting or buying an indoor swimming pool simply for dogs which have no problems is a bit strange.
Pets may be members of the family but they arent human or children, i think buying clothes for dogs is quite strange too they have no use for them and you are just over indulging the animal and trying to fill the gap of parent hood.
So spend the money on something else the only time when a dog needs the proper in door harness indoor aquatic exercise is if it is a rescued dog from pound or an animal sanctuary and it is too timid or mentally disturbed or stressed or injured to go into public.
I still think it is a bit expensive however but it does build up confidence and muscle strength.
Otherwise just take your dog to the coast or something of that nature, dogs are still animals after all and should enjoy wide spaces and wilder countryside environments where they can have fun if the dog is simply obese.