Aquafit for dogs: a visit to the animal physio
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Aquafit for dogs: a visit to the animal physio

Translation: Megan Cornish

In need of massages and releasing muscle tension, dogs are now also going for physiotherapy. At Gesundhund GmbH, our furry friend Saida gets into the swimming pool and onto the trampoline for us. Her owner Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler tells us what dogs are currently in need of.

First the paw pads get wet. Then the claws, knees and thighs. The 23-degree water of the aquafit pool slowly rises up the legs of Saida the Labrador until it tickles her stomach. «Pft», Saida snorts and shakes her head. Her owner Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler unscrews a pack of meat paste to incentivise her. Food «doping» is allowed here.

Supergirls don’t cry: Saida gets involved in aquafit with a little bribe.
Supergirls don’t cry: Saida gets involved in aquafit with a little bribe.
Source: Christian Walker

While Saida salivates, Reinmuth-Hürzeler presses the start button unnoticed. The treadmill begins to turn under the dog’s paws. Supergirl, as her pink collar says, takes off. Carried by the water, she slowly moves forward. Her joints are freed up and her muscles work against the water resistance. She keeps her balance with her tail swinging back and forth.

The dog builds muscles and works on her balance on the underwater treadmill.
The dog builds muscles and works on her balance on the underwater treadmill.
Source: Christian Walker

Aquafit also works for dogs with illnesses and issues

Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler has all sorts of dogs kicking around in the water. She builds muscle with older and sick dogs at Gesundhund GmbH (website in German) and improves the sure-footedness of younger ones. She tires out adult dogs when they don’t have time for a walk, and she can even lower paralysed animals into the water in a stretcher. The aquafit pool is in constant use. Almost every day, dogs come in with issues from back problems to signs of paralysis. Even those who aren’t predisposed to it due to their body type.

«I can’t say what the exact reasons are. Of course, being overweight puts a lot of strain on the joints, but it can’t be due to too little exercise alone. I think owners just pay closer attention these days. And they’re willing to invest more money in their pets.»

Therapy sessions generally have to be paid for by pet owners themselves. A 45-minute treatment costs between 85 and 110 francs, depending on the practice. The first session often costs between 120 and 140 francs. If owners have pet insurance, this can cover dog physiotherapy. However, certain illnesses are excluded, depending on the provider. So it’s worth finding out beforehand.

Saida’s session is over. The water drains out with a gurgle. The dog helps by sipping the filtered water. When she’s on dry land, her owner opens the flap and pulls out the ramp. This way, dogs can get in and out of the pool on their own.

The ramp makes it easier for impaired and traumatised dogs to get in and out.
The ramp makes it easier for impaired and traumatised dogs to get in and out.
Source: Christian Walker

This also allows Binia-Maria to work with animals that don’t like physical closeness because they suffer from anxiety disorders or have to wear muzzles for example. Many other practices turn away dogs like these. «I think that’s wrong. I think every dog deserves treatment. And it can work. For example, by instructing the owner and having them stand at the edge of the pool instead of me.»

From therapy dog to patient

Saida has now got out of the pool. The seven-year-old Labrador dog relaxes and has her stomach rubbed dry. It’s hard to believe. As a young dog, she was aggressive and suffered from countless physical ailments. At times she could barely walk. Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler originally wanted to use her as a therapy dog. The trained nurse wanted to take up a new position with her as the manager of a retirement centre, but nothing came of it. Ultimately, the therapy dog had to go to therapy herself. With unsatisfactory results.

«We went to a lot of physiotherapy practices. Many of them were careless in their work. They also gave us incorrect diagnoses,» recalls Reinmuth-Hürzeler. So, in 2021, she decided to become a dog physiotherapist herself. «When I heard that the training only takes a year, depending on the school, it was clear to me why there was a lack of expertise. I was glad that I already had basic anatomical knowledge as a nursing specialist.»

Dog anatomy is similar to ours Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler is glad that she had prior knowledge.
Dog anatomy is similar to ours Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler is glad that she had prior knowledge.
Source: Christian Walker

Nevertheless, even after two years of running her own practice, she would never presume to make a diagnosis herself. She consults each dog’s vet. She also doesn’t give any food recommendations. «That’s what other experts are there for,» says Reinmuth-Hürzeler.

Magnetic field: sceptical owner, enthusiastic dog

The field of dog physiotherapy is large enough. In addition to aqua training, Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler offers massage, lymphatic drainage and magnetic field therapy. As if that were her cue, Saida plops down on the mat. The magnetic coil inside generates an electromagnetic field. It’s said to stimulate cell metabolism. Reinmuth-Hürzeler looks slightly critical. «I have a human medicine background and have difficulty with it. But it actually works on dogs. When Saida’s in pain, she lies on it by herself.»

Saida on the magnetic field mat. She gets on it herself when she needs it.
Saida on the magnetic field mat. She gets on it herself when she needs it.
Source: Christian Walker

There’s a small trampoline on the wall behind the Labrador. Binia-Maria also uses this in physiotherapy. «Come on, sweetie,» she calls encouragingly. However, Saida has no desire to leave her soft mat. Her eyes seem to say: «Seriously, on the trampoline?!». So, bribery is needed again. When the meat paste is brought out, Saida jumps up and gets on the trampoline. As she smacks her lips, her owner pushes the bouncy surface down behind her. Saida immediately balances the movement by tensing and relaxing muscle groups. This is how to build deep muscles. «It’s actually pilates for the dog,» explains Binia-Maria.

There’s dog pilates on the trampoline by the wall. At the front, the furry friends can do some hurdle jumping.
There’s dog pilates on the trampoline by the wall. At the front, the furry friends can do some hurdle jumping.
Source: Christian Walker

Stress can be «contagious»

Enough pilates, says Saida with a snort. Exhausted, she falls at her owner’s feet. Physiotherapy is strenuous. But not just for the dog. «Owners of ill dogs in particular experience a great deal of stress due to numerous vet and therapy appointments,» explains Binia-Maria. Sometimes stress is even transferred from humans to animals, she says. That’s why she has a special offer in her practice: the trained masseuse also destresses the dog owners.

«I could have done with it when Saida was doing so badly,» says Binia-Maria. But she doesn’t hold anything against her pet after those difficult early years. The opposite in fact. As she looks around the room, her eyes linger over the practice logo, which features Saida’s head. She sits down on the floor next to her dog and whispers to her: «Thank you. None of this would be here without you.» Saida pants. That was probably «you’re welcome.»

One heart and one soul: Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler and Saida.
One heart and one soul: Binia-Maria Reinmuth-Hürzeler and Saida.
Source: Christian Walker

Have you ever been to physiotherapy with your dog, or could you imagine going? Tell me and the Community about it in the comments.

Header image: Christian Walker

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I like anything that has four legs or roots. The books I enjoy let me peer into the abyss of the human psyche. Unlike those wretched mountains that are forever blocking the view – especially of the sea. Lighthouses are a great place for getting some fresh air too, you know? 


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