Jenny McDougle watched as her beloved Pembroke Welsh corgi grew weaker and weaker. The Bakersfield veterinarian knew too well that the outlook for Polo, her once playful pet, was bleak.

“He has degenerative myelopathy, which corgis can be prone to,” McDougle said during an interview last fall. “It’s like ALS in humans, as far as its effects.”

Polo died in November.

“We are so missing him now,” McDougle said. “It’s a terrible heartbreak.”

But McDougle, who grew up in Bakersfield and now works as a veterinarian for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, knew that in Polo’s final days she did everything she could to make him comfortable and control his pain.

Polo’s hind end slowly became paralyzed. Her fun little dog could no longer run fast and play. Hydrotherapy, along with natural remedies, diet control and canine massage were recommended for his condition.

Hydrotherapy uses water to relieve the joint and bone pain dogs may experience. It is used in such circumstances as recovery from surgeries and injuries, relief from chronic conditions or, as in Polo’s case, palliative care. Hydrotherapy allows dogs to use the main properties of water — buoyancy, viscosity, hydrostatic pressure and resistance — to exercise, repair injuries and relieve pain.

“Overall, hydrotherapy is not widespread at this time. But it is definitely not a fad,” said McDougle, who worked in a Bakersfield veterinarian practice for several years before joining the staff of the CDFA’s Animal Health Branch. “If anything, I know more and more vets recommending it for post-surgery return-to-motion therapy, as well as degenerative conditions.”

McDougle said hydrotherapy gives owners a sense of connection to their pets. It also helped her feel she was doing something to make Polo feel better.

“I think we will see more veterinarians getting further education and certificates in the area,” she said, adding that there are few places in Bakersfield now offering hydrotherapy. “I think most people do the swimming portion in a tub, or their own pool, with a doggie life vest.”

Recognizing the need, Sarah Sanders included an indoor pool when she recently remodeled and expanded her Fur & Feathers Luxury Pet Resort at Mill Creek, located at 408 21st St. in downtown Bakersfield.

“I knew a couple of people, who had pools and it really seemed like the perfect addition to what we do,” she said, explaining she and her staff traveled to Seattle to complete a course in K-9 hydrotherapy. “We are slowly growing our pool business and taking our time with it. Some weeks we have a couple of swims and others we have up to 10 or so.”

Sanders said pets are brought in for a variety of reasons. Some owners have pools and want their dogs to get used to being in the water. Fur & Feathers also receives referrals from local veterinarians.

“We have some (dogs) recovering from injuries or surgery, who can only have low-impact exercise, so the pool is perfect. We have some older pets struggling with arthritis and losing some of their mobility, so exercising in the warm water is a great way to build strength.

“We have a German shepherd pup who had a sudden paralysis/partial loss of use of her back end. We have been swimming for several months now — one or two times weekly — and she walks so much better. The sores on her feet have healed, since she no longer drags them. We also have some tripods who have come in because it is just a great way for them to exercise.”

Sanders keeps the scheduling of her pool flexible to serve customers’ needs. “Some people drop their pets off for doggie day care and we just work them in during the day. It is not so busy yet that we have any issues.

“We do not offer any swimming with the clients,” she said, explaining a trained staff member always accompanies pets into the pool.

But veterinarians warn that hydrotherapy might not be suitable for all dogs. Health conditions, such as ear or skin infections, could be aggravated by swimming. Some dogs are afraid of being in the water and may be traumatized. Owners are advised to consult with their veterinarians before beginning hydrotherapy for their pets. Monitor the dog’s reactions and watch for aversions to the therapy. 

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