Nov 29, 2010

Aqua Dog

AquaMerlinHydrotherapy for dogs has arrived in Marin. Merlin’s vet, Dr. Michelle Rose at the Animal Wellness Center of Marin, invited Merlin to experience their new underwater treadmill. Merlin’s been struggling with a bit of back leg weakness so a walk in a warm water tank sounded delightfully buoyant.

I first heard about veterinary hydrotherapy after a California horse was injured in the 1996 Belmont Stakes. Cavonnier had lost the Kentucky Derby by a nose (the closest finish in four decades), and the subsequent tendon injury was a disastrous career ender. Instead of putting him out to pasture, his Santa Rosa owners invested in an experimental underwater treadmill. Cavonnier recovered and won again two years later, making veterinary horse history. The rest of the high stakes horse trainers stopped laughing at California and started secretly fitting horse ramps into pools.

Merlin enjoys racing around in wet sand at the beach, but declines to swim. Paws always touching the bottom, water adds splashy fun. The vet’s warm water treadmill promised a low-impact workout, without a car full of sand. AquaMerlinIt’s discouraging to exercise when one is ailing or in pain, so taking weight off weak joints sounded like a grand idea. Merlin trotted into the physical therapy room and inspected the giant fish tank. He walked up the ramp, Dr. Rose closed the glass gate, and we reassured him over the open top as water flowed in the bottom. He looked a tad concerned when the water covered his belly, supporting 40% of his weight. “Walk!" we suggest as the treadmill started and he glided backwards. He gave us his this is really weird look and moved forward, raising each paw extra high, swim-walking. "He’s so clever," Dr. Rose said. We agreed. AquaMerlin

Merlin was pleased to be having a bath with dry ears and without shampoo. After a few steps, his walking confidence soared because he couldn’t stumble. His joy was contagious. With a few breaks for rest and treats, Merlin completed three runs of increasing speed, trotting merrily in slow motion. AquaMerlinHe barked happily as the water drained and pranced wetly about, playing towel tag.

The Hydro Physio underwater treadmill is from England, an exciting addition to our vet’s commitment to animal well-being. Merlin needs to build muscle mass in his back legs but other dogs use it for post-op recovery, agility training, or weight loss. There’s life jacket vests for skittish dogs and frozen peanut butter or squeaky toys for motivation. Trainers bring Guide Dogs, young dogs, lazy dogs, hyper dogs, and post-op dogs. Water walking gives quite a workout, ramping up to 5 mph. Surgery patients can start 2 weeks after operations to foster recovery and get off drugs quicker. Dr. Rose is going to start her own blog with patient success stories. Merlin’s waiting for the first cat volunteer.

AquaMerlinAlong with hydrotherapy, Merlin is continuing his home cone course and sit-stands to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion. The tank workout immediately improved proprioception and vitality. Maybe it’s the novelty, or the center of attention effect. Merlin’s other chauffeur suggests it’s the British love of dogs that transmits through this marvelous, futuristic contraption. I know it’s Dr. Rose’s healing presence.

Merlin now looks forward to vet visits. Water walking! Here comes Aqua Dog!