Dive Deeper with Hydrotherapy at Fitzpatrick Referrals

Dive Deeper with Hydrotherapy at Fitzpatrick Referrals

Hydrotherapy is more than just a leisurely swim.  It’s a key tool in the rehabilitation of dogs and cats following orthopaedic or neurological surgery, as well as promoting good well-being in all companion animals to improve mobility or as part of a weight loss programme. 

Fitzpatrick Referrals recognise that animals have evolved to naturally draw to moving in water, and have built upon this to provide a wide range of both physical and psychological benefits for patients. For instance, large dogs who have lost a limb are enriched by swimming which allows them to return to their previous full strength once supported by the water.

Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, Managing Director of Fitzpatrick Referrals and the first orthopaedic specialist in the UK to be accredited by the American College of Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, said

We believe that appropriate rehabilitation is integral to the success of the orthopaedic and neuro-surgical intervention and fundamental in promoting pain-free functional quality of life.


Professor Noel Fitzpatrick, Managing Director of Fitzpatrick Referrals

There is no doubt that the list of benefits from Hydrotherapy is extensive. It is important to understand how to get the best out of your Hydrotherapy sessions so your dog or cat can get what they need from the treatment and more…

 grey dog icon

The benefits of Hydrotherapy include:

 Pain relief and the reduction of swelling

Increased joint mobility and reduced impact on joints

Increased joint muscle development

Encouragement in early movement and function

Increased cardiovascular fitness

Increased psychological well-being and motivation

Reduced muscles spasms

 Improved sensory awareness

 Weight management

At Fitzpatrick Referrals, an ACPAT Chartered Physiotherapist will first conduct a pre-hydrotherapy check (on land!) to ensure that the timing and introduction of Hydrotherapy are absolutely appropriate. Fitzpatrick Referrals performs techniques not available elsewhere specialising in 3D printed custom implants as well as common procedures such as Total Hip Replacement and Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy, so no two cases are the same.

The Physiotherapist assesses the patient’s current status to formulate a treatment programme working with the Hydrotherapy Team which is appropriate for the patient’s unique needs. The team consider the size, breed and personality of the patient to generate the most suitable programme. Hydrotherapy treatment is not recommended if it is not suitable for the patient and of course each and every treatment programme is constantly monitored and developed as required.


dog 3175810 1280 

Fitzpatrick Referrals offers Hydrotherapy in their 7m x 4m Hydrotherapy Pool as well as an Under-Water Treadmill staffed by Hydrotherapists who are all ABC Level 3 trained and CHA (Canine Hydrotherapy Association) members. They deliver world-class rehabilitation standards for every patient entrusted into their care not only because of their academic and clinical excellence but also because of their sincere compassion in treating each animal as if it was their own. Fitzpatrick Referrals are able to begin rehabilitation programmes for orthopaedic and neurological patients sometimes as early as the day after surgery to ensure the best start to their recovery.

The Hydrotherapy Service at Fitzpatrick Referrals is extensive covering 6 days a week including evening clinics and an early bird session to ensure inpatients, in particular, receive a continuity of care. The flexibility to choose what treatment is suitable provides every patient with an individual tailor-made plan.

 grey icon lab

Harvey-Nicholls’ Story

Harvey is a Golden Labrador who came to Fitzpatrick Referrals as an emergency when he presented tetraplegic. He was diagnosed with Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE) at C5-C6. Harvey was then referred for Hydrotherapy a few days later with three Hydrotherapists in the Pool to help support him and encourage a range of movement in all of his limbs.

Treatment was provided every other day until he had improved enough to return home on all fully functioning limbs. Two years later, Fitzpatrick Referrals still see Harvey-Nicholls with his family once a week for Hydrotherapy to maintain his strength and mobility. Harvey is a fine example of a patient who benefits from Hydrotherapy for his general well-being, other than a post-surgery case. from Hydrotherapy


Harvey 1

(Picture Courtesy of Richard Dunwoody: ‘Patient Harvey-Nicholls visits Fitzpatrick Referrals every week for a Hydrotherapy session following FCE’)

Elderly patients, particularly those suffering from arthritic changes, benefit in a Hydrotherapy Pool as they increase their range of joint motion. Patients who struggle to use a limb find it easier with this total support because there is no stress or impact on their joints. Using the Hydrotherapy Pool increases confidence in the patient to use the affected limb and once the muscle has developed, the patient is highly likely to improve their walking on land.

Fitzpatrick Referrals actively support the CHA guideline of not ‘biting’ onto a toy whilst submerged in water. Biting onto a toy can result in excessive water inhalation which is a significant health risk to the patient. Toys can be used as part of the session to encourage movement and fun, but only if their use is beneficial for the patient’s welfare in the Pool.


Harvey 2

(Picture Courtesy of Richard Dunwoody: ‘Patient Harvey-Nicholls loves swimming with Dino the toy dinosaur’)

Underwater platforms are important for performing therapeutic exercises, and can also be used for rest. Using the Under-Water Treadmill is essential for neurological cases because it allows specific gait reeducation whilst utilising the properties of the water. Dogs and cats are programmed with certain movement patterns which can be either lost or affected as a result of injury or disease. By immersing the patient, buoyancy support is provided which facilitates natural mobility while creating a more optimum environment for normal movement patterns. For post-operative cases, the controlled environment of an Under-Water Treadmill provides protection as the patient can only do certain activities in the initial phase of treatment. Those patients who have had high-risk orthopaedic surgeries, such as a Total Hip Replacement or lower back surgery, will benefit more from this environment.


underwater treadmill

(Picture Courtesy of Richard Dunwoody: ‘A patient receiving treatment in the Under-Water Treadmill)


grey dog icon

 Indi is an 18-month old Chihuahua who had a left Patella Luxation. She had surgery to correct it, but as typical with small breeds, she was finding it easy to compensate on three legs post-surgery. She was referred for Hydrotherapy and used the Under-Water Treadmill for four weeks post-surgery. Indi used the limb consistently during her first session and her family noticed an immediate improvement which continued throughout her eight-week course of treatment. 

‘Noodles’ or foam shaped tools as props provide support in the Under-Water Treadmill, or to act as a low object for the patient to step over – this is great if elderly animals are scuffing their feet due to joint stiffness. The combination of water support and the object to step over allows for an improved way of walking.

Preconceptions of cats disliking water often deter pet owners from using Hydrotherapy, however, it has proved very successful when using both the Hydrotherapy Pool and Under-Water Treadmill. Hydrotherapists will be able to identify instantly if the cat will enjoy the treatment. Unlike dogs who can adjust over time, cats are excellent at informing Hydrotherapists whether it is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ straight away. Cats that do agree to the treatment perform very well. It is often a surprise and a delight to their family when they see how accepting their cat is to being submerged in water.



(Picture Courtesy of Richard Dunwoody: ‘Hydrotherapist Amie with patient Dexter in the Hydrotherapy Pool’) 


grey icon lab

Case Study

Dexter is a Maine Coon cat who had a hunched position due to offloading his hind legs following a bilateral Total Hip Replacement. He was referred for Hydrotherapy a few months following his surgery to encourage him to straighten his back. Treatment in the Hydrotherapy Pool encouraged a range of movement and strengthened his hind legs, whilst ‘pod work’ using underwater platforms in the pool allowed Dexter to rest between laps. Required Physiotherapy was also performed on the pods to use the medium of the water to support Dexter and to use its therapeutic benefits. Dexter took to the water wonderfully and enjoyed his regular Hydrotherapy sessions. Not only did he reap the physical benefits, but it was also valuable for Dexter’s psychological well-being post-surgery.

Combining both the Hydrotherapy Pool and Under-Water Treadmill achieves the best overall outcome – the key is to decide when and how to use these techniques! Cases are often on restricted exercise, so Hydrotherapy is often seen as a substitute for what is considered their normal exercise. Most importantly, Hydrotherapy keeps your dog or cat happy whilst providing a speedy recovery. Fitzpatrick Referrals will always be driven by the patient’s needs and providing patients with all of the options available.

To find out more about the Hydrotherapy Service at Fitzpatrick Referrals, please visit 


or contact our Rehabilitation Team Leader, Fiona Doubleday

E: FionaD@fitzpatrickreferrals.co.uk

T: 01483 423 761

Readers may be interested in Professor Noel Fitzpatrick’s new initiative called FORWARD which stands for Fitzpatrick’s Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation for Working, Agility and Recreational Dogs.

The first FORWARD Symposium in 2016 explored in detail the musculoskeletal conditions that affect agility, working and performance dogs. Dr Chris Zink, Natasha Wise and Professor Noel Fitzpatrick covered key areas including rehabilitation, veterinary medicine and surgery for the training and preparation of the competition dog. They advised on the best options for treatment and rehabilitation following injury to bring your dog back to competition condition.

The next FORWARD Symposium will be either the 4th/5th February 2017. A DVD of the highlights of the 2016 FORWARD Symposium will be available soon.

To find out more information and for date confirmation, please visit www.facebook.com/fitzforward 


FP Referrals Logo