Catherine Douglas was searching for ways she could help her cat who had a brain injury when she started learning about the benefits of hydrotherapy. Her interest grew and went deep down the rabbit hole, bringing long-time friend and fellow animal lover friend Allison Gaynor with her!

 Overwhelming evidence shows how beneficial animal hydrotherapy is for a range of conditions and is widely used by veterinarians and rehabilitation providers across the world. Catherine and Allison noticed the lack of animal hydrotherapy facilities in the Illawarra and decided there was a need for it.

Fast forward several years and the two women have become qualified hydrotherapists as well as establishing the Illawarra’s first designated canine hydrotherapy centre, Water Walkies.

Located in Port Kembla, Water Walkies offers a custom-built, heated, animal hydrotherapy pool as well as an underwater treadmill. Every client’s program is customised to suit their individual needs, which could range from surgical rehabilitation to arthritis management or weight loss. Some dogs visit Water Walkies for nothing more than a good dose of fun and fitness as five minutes of swimming equals around 5km of walking!

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Water Walkies have dogs of all breeds and ages through their doors. They work closely with Illawarra Veterinary Rehabilitation experts to assist dogs recovering from a range of musculoskeletal injuries as well as receiving referrals from other vets as far away as Sydney. The buoyancy of the water allows dogs to safely regain range of motion before maximum weight bearing after an injury and the warm water helps to ease stiffness and pain. The underwater treadmill is fitted with 360 degree cameras which allow a dogs gait to be assessed, so can be a useful tool in diagnosing and treating an injury.

Catherine emphasises the importance of a controlled environment when it comes to injury rehabilitation for dogs;

“We see a lot of dogs who have ACL or other joint injuries and their owners think they’re doing the right thing by getting them down to the beach to get in the water. The trouble is that they often end up reinjuring themselves on the soft sand. The same goes for well meaning owners who take their dogs outdoor swimming to take the load off their joints when there’s pain and stiffness from arthritis. Unfortunately, cold water can actually make the condition feel worse, so while it’s with the best of intentions, these owners could actually be doing more harm to their dog than good.”

Swimming is a really effective weight loss tool for dogs. Because it doesn’t place load on the joints, an overweight dog can safely exercise without risking injury or exacerbating any pre-existing joint problems. Every dog is fitted with a floatation jacket and accompanied by a trained staff member, which is especially important for dogs who aren’t competent swimmers or who are scared of water.

Arthritis and chronic pain management is another common reason for dogs to visit Water Walkies. It’s estimated that around 20% of all adult dogs suffer from osteoarthritis and up to as many as 80% of geriatric dogs. 

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The number one piece of advice offered by vets treating a dog with osteoarthritis is to keep the joints moving! Regular hydrotherapy can greatly reduce pain symptoms and joint mobility, making day to day movement easier as well. Greater activity levels will also help to maintain a healthy weight, which is especially important for managing arthritis.

Allison and Catherine hold Certificates in Canine Hydrotherapy and have completed work placement with the Dogs in Motion Canine Rehabilitation Clinic in Melbourne as well as an internship with world renowned Greyfriars Veterinary Rehabilitation in the United Kingdom. The staff complete continuing professional development on a monthly basis through an international online learning platform for Veterinary Rehabilitation Professionals.

Do all dogs need a vet referral to start hydrotherapy?

At Water Walkies, all clients (dogs) require a vet’s approval before commencing hydrotherapy.  A program is then tailored to their individual needs. Some dogs may only require a series of sessions for a short period of their lives to assist with strengthening or recovery from an injury, while others may benefit from ongoing visits to manage chronic conditions or just because they love it so much! The team at Water Walkies have also cared for some elderly dogs as part of a palliative approach, keeping their final months or weeks as comfortable (and enjoyable) as possible.

Finding out more about the Illawarra’s only designated Canine Hydrotherapy Centre is as easy as visiting Water Walkies website.