Labrador retrievers love swimming. And water therapy may be just what they need for a painful condition called elbow dysplasia.
This genetic disorder causes abnormal bone growth in the elbow, impeding movement. It’s a common cause of forelimb lameness in large breeds, veterinarians say.
For dogs with this condition, supervised water exercises can increase their range of motion and improve mobility, a small study from Britain found.
“Dogs with elbow dysplasia displayed an increased range of motion, stride frequency and stride length — measures of mobility in our study — after the hydrotherapy,” said study leader Alison Wills, of Hartpury University Center in England.
“In this study only Labradors were examined, but as other breeds are predisposed to developing elbow dysplasia, particularly German Shepherds, it would be interesting to investigate how hydrotherapy affects the movement of different types of dogs,” Wills added.
Researchers measured the strides of a small group of Labradors by adding reflective markers to the dogs’ limbs. Then, using a camera, they analyzed changes in the way these markers moved before and after the dogs swam.
Water therapy improved the stride of dogs with and without elbow dysplasia, suggesting that swimming may benefit many dogs. The researchers noted, however, their findings may not apply to dogs of different sizes and shapes.
“It is hard to generalize the findings to the entire canine population due to the small sample size,” Wills said in a news release from the Society for Experimental Biology.
She presented the findings Wednesday at the society’s annual meeting in Brighton, England. Until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on water therapy.