They are presenting their work in a poster at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual meeting in Brighton today. The experiment was small, so the treatment is still in the early stages, but the researchers say it holds promise for labradors suffering from elbow dysplasia, one of the most common causes of lameness in dogs.
The main thing you need to know about the experiment is that they took a video of a labrador during its hydrotherapy, so you can see it for yourself:
"Elbow dysplasia can be painful and restrict movement of dogs, and it can impact on their quality of life," Dr Alison Wills, one of the scientists working on the project, told BuzzFeed News. "The only intervention we really have right now is surgery, so we decided to look at whether or not hydrotherapy can be used to improve the range of movement for dogs."
There were 12 dogs involved in the experiment in total: six healthy dogs and six with an early stage of elbow dysplasia. Dogs walked on treadmills before and after custom hydrotherapy sessions, and the researchers tracked their strides using reflective markers on their front legs.
After each hydrotherapy session, the range of motion was better in both the healthy dogs and the dogs with elbow dysplasia, but the increase was larger in the latter group.
This small study is limited, and can't be used to draw wider conclusions. For one thing, the researchers only measured how the dogs were affected right after the swimming session. "We don't know how long that effect will persist," says Wills.
They've also only looked at labradors so far. Wills says that German Shepherds are often to prone to this condition, too, so she'd like to see whether hydrotherapy can help them the way it appears to help labradors.
But the big thing would be a longitudinal study, which would gather data from a group of dogs over a longer period of time, and be able to draw more solid conclusions.