Hydrotherapy — Fancy Name For A Simple Process – for Aug. 19, 2010

In veterinary medicine the benefits of water spray therapy (hydrotherapy) on cuts, wounds, and swellings have long been known. It is cheap, requires some labour but provides many benefits to the animal.

Water therapy comes with no slaughter or milk withdrawal, requires no injections and is extremely cheap, another plus when it comes to production-animal medicine.

Lacerations are the obvious injuries where hydrotherapy can clean the wound, promote the growth of granulation tissue, keep the area moist as well as decrease swelling by washing cold water over the area. If the water is really cold it even numbs the area and provides some anesthetic properties.

Well water is fine. My rule of thumb is if it is adequate as drinking water it is OK to use in hydrotherapy. I prefer cold water initially when you have swelling, progressing to warm later if that is possible. The important principal here is that clean wounds heal, and that is what you are promoting with hydrotherapy. The usual time frame is 15 to 20 minutes once to twice a day depending on the advice from your veterinarian.

Usually a garden hose with a spray nozzle works best so adjustments can be made as to the concentration and strength of the spray. With wounds you want to leave them with the reddened look and have the debris and crusts removed. Overdoing it will waterlog the tissue and have a counterproductive effect.

I start the spray light and away from the wound, letting the horse, cow or other species get used to the spray before getting down to the business of spraying directly on the affected area. You will have fewer issues of them jumping around. It is like a training session and over time your patients will get used to it and enjoy the comfort it provides.

Plain water cleans the area without any soap or other potentially irritating products, and beats against the exposed tissue to stimulate healing. As the swelling decreases, this allows contraction and a decreasing size of the wound. Depending on the depth and size and location, your veterinarian will advise on the frequency over time. Some wounds will need to be covered to prevent drying out in the hot sun.


One should perform hydrotherapy on a grassy area. If performed in a chute, make sure the water can drain away so you don’t create a dirty, manure-soiled area, which only increases the chance of contamination.

In the field or by the chute you may not have the luxury of running water. In these instances purchase the two-to three-gallon garden sprayers. These are inexpensive, lightweight and portable and the ones I like are pumped with air so the water comes out under pressure. The tip can be adjusted to the type of spray you want and can be worked in to the hard-to-get areas. Label the sprayer for water only so no noxious chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides are used in it. Even small residues may be harmful to exposed flesh and delay the healing process or cause severe irritation.

Hydrotherapy, especially with cold water, is very good for acute swellings as well. Broken penises on bulls or lacerations to the sheath with resulting swelling respond very well to hydrotherapy. Any injuries from kicks, twists or sprains on the legs can be greatly minimized by using hydrotherapy if done as quickly as possible. With the water ice cold, it mimics you holding an ice pack to an “owie.”

Swellings from allergic reactions such as bee stings will also respond to hydrotherapy but treating the initial problem is best done first. Swellings from a local abscess or swelling on the brisket from heart failure will not respond to hydrotherapy so the initial diagnosis is very important before deciding on the course of action.

Hydrotherapy is a beneficial, inexpensive way to minimize downtime and promote healing in all species. After the initial examination have your veterinarian outline the proper time frames as every case is unique and there is no gold standard to follow.

Roy Lewis is a large-animal veterinarian practising at the

Westlock Veterinary Centre. His main interests are bovine

reproduction and herd health.


roy lewis




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