Paper review: Hydrotherapy for dogs with elbow dysplasia


Paper: A single hydrotherapy session increases range of motion and stride length in Labrador Retrievers diagnosed with elbow dysplasia. The Veterinary Journal, Vol 234, pp. 105-110.

Preston and Wills (2018) conducted a study investigating the effects of hydrotherapy on dogs with bilateral elbow dysplasia.
The study was conducted with 6 healthy dogs and 6 dogs with bilateral elbow dysplasia. All dogs were Labrador Retrievers, for consistency.
Kinematic analysis was used to assess the effect of a customised hydrotherapy session on range of motion, stride length and stride frequency. Reflective markers were placed on bony landmarks and dogs were recorded walking at their own speed on a treadmill before and after a single hydrotherapy session.
The results were as follows:

– Baseline elbow range of motion was greater in the healthy dogs.
– Hydrotherapy increased the range of motion of the forelimbs of both groups.
– Dogs with elbow dysplasia demonstrated a greater improvement in range of motion than healthy dogs.
– Hydrotherapy improved the stride length of all dogs but significant differences were not seen between the two groups.
– Stride frequency increased after hydrotherapy only in the left forelimb in all dogs.

The results suggest that hydrotherapy may be beneficial for dogs with elbow dysplasia but with such as small population size, more research must be done to confirm this.
We are also unsure whether the improvements seen are long lasting or transient, as the dogs were only studied 10 minutes after hydrotherapy and there was no follow up. It would also be interesting to see if the dogs had incremental improvements with each session, or whether they plateaued after a certain number of sessions.

There are relatively few therapeutic options for elbow dysplasia compared to other orthopaedic diseases. Therefore, hydrotherapy may be a useful therapeutic tool for the rehabilitation and treatment of elbow dysplasia.