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Sherri Richards, Published May 22 2010

South Fargo business offers hydrotherapy for your canine

Sunny, an 8-year-old golden retriever, goes for a swim in an 88-degree wave pool once a week.

Sunny has hip dysplasia, said her owner, Genell Bogner of West Fargo, and for years has gotten acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. Last year, she started Sunny on canine hydrotherapy.

“It firmed up her muscles, of course,” Bogner said. “Because she’s in the water, she can exercise pain-free, whereas if we try to walk her or lightly treadmill her, it’s painful because of the pressure on the joint.

“She’s at the point now she wants to run up the ramp and jump in.”

Bogner has taken Sunny to Molen Pet Center in south Fargo for the water therapy – one of the latest ways local pet owners can cater to their furry friends.

Indoor training

Aldon and Francisca Lytle opened Molen Pet Center in March. They wanted an indoor facility for Francisca to train dogs.

Francisca is an orthopedic surgeon, most recently with Innovis Health in Fargo, but has had a “lifelong desire to be involved with animals.” She started training them, sometimes using a clicker to mark desired behavior, and now teaches individual classes in obedience and agility.

The Lytles also rent floor space at the pet center to other trainers who offer puppy kindergarten and other classes.

They started offering hydrotherapy last June after the 8-by-14 jetted pool became available. The Lytles charge $25 for a half-hour session after one free introductory session. They have not received formal training in canine hydrotherapy.

Aldon dons a wetsuit and gets into the 4-foot-deep pool with the dog, which sometimes wears a life vest. He massages the dog, checks its joints, stretches its legs and helps it swim into the continuous current.

“They all know how to swim. It’s letting the dog know they know how to swim,” Aldon said.

He describes it as low-impact aerobics for dogs. The time in the pool exercises the muscles and provides a cardiac workout.

Rehab, conditioning

About a third of Molen’s clients are recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, Aldon said. Many suffer from hip dysplasia, like Sunny. Hydrotherapy can also be used in dogs that are overweight or to condition them for sports.

“Just like people, when you take pressure off joints and muscles that are sore, you relieve pain, but you can still work on conditioning,” he said.

Some people ask if they can’t just take their dog to the lake. That’s fine, they say, but there’s no coach in the lake. “I can keep working them. I can isolate the motion,” Aldon said.

Karl Bednarchik, who runs Ivy League Dog Training, has brought his dogs to Molen Pet Center for group classes and did hydrotherapy with one of his dogs, a Chesapeake Bay retriever that had re-injured a knee joint, leading to a second surgery.

“Hunting dogs are like professional athletes. They’re pushed to their physical limits. This type of therapy for dogs that have been injured is very, very valuable,” Bednarchik said.

More common

A 2009 article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association stated that pet rehabilitation, such as hydrotherapy, has become more mainstream over the past decade.

Dr. Laurie Bauer, a veterinarian with Casselton (N.D.) Veterinary Service, agrees. She is working to become certified in canine rehabilitation through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute.

She said much of canine rehabilitation is descended from human physical therapy and work in the equine field.

“Too bad we’re only about 50 years behind the humans,” she joked.

Hydrotherapy is one modality of pet rehabilitation and can be beneficial for post-operative rehabilitation, she said.

“If used inaccurately, it can cause more injuries,” Bauer said.

Fellow Casselton vet Dr. Brad Bartholomay has suggested several clients go to the Molen Pet Center, including Sunny, the golden retriever.

“It provides a way to strengthen muscles that we can’t get them to strengthen anywhere else,” he said.

Bartholomay said swimming a dog can have its downsides, such as the potential for erratic movement, which could harm a joint, but the non-weight-bearing movement can improve range of motion and muscle. Improving muscle tone can stabilize joints, he said.

“The dogs I’ve brought there have certainly got more muscle coming out of there,” he said.

Business profile

Molen Pet Center