The walls of Splash Canine Hydrotherapy & Recovery’s facility in Ridgefield are covered with large photos of the business’s much-loved clients – dogs of all shapes and sizes, and even a few cats – that are benefiting from warm-water therapy in a pool or underwater treadmill.

large dog in an underwater treadmill at Splash Canine Hydrotherapy
Casulla is only one year old and has ruptured cruciate ligaments in both back legs. The treadmill is her happy place. Photo credit: Donna Mac

“Many paralyzed pets can regain mobility through aerobic exercise in warm water,” says Kristin Finstad, owner of Splash Canine Hydrotherapy. “It stimulates nerves, increases circulation and builds muscle mass, which is especially helpful for pets suffering from neurological deficits, paralysis, or arthritis, and those recovering from surgery.

“Pets may not ever move normally again, but many can get back to their previous activities, which makes this very rewarding work,” she says. Finstad is a certified veterinary technician and licensed small animal massage practitioner who has focused on veterinary rehabilitation and hydrotherapy for more than 14 years. Pet pro Donna Mac, of Auntie Donna’s Pet Nanny Services, also works parttime with Splash Canine Hydrotherapy clients.

Immobile Pets Regain Mobility in Warm Water

Some of Finstad’s clients need help getting out of their owners’ cars and are carried in to the building. But once decked out in a life jacket, with Finstad by their side, they enjoy swimming circles and figure eights around the warm water pool and fetching balls and squeaky toys. In between activities, the animals often get underwater massage from Finstad. And for animals that are better helped by walking or jogging, the underwater treadmill at Splash Canine lets them get in a good romp while strengthening their muscles and easing their joints.

a pig sitting in an underwater treadmill with a person at Splash Canine Hydrotherapy
Winona, the elderly 200-pound rescued pig, enjoyed soaking in warm water in the underwater treadmill and getting a hug from Finstad. Walking on the treadmill though? Not so much. Photo credit: Donna Mac

“The underwater treadmill is often best for a paralyzed animal that’s relearning how to walk,” says Finstad. “It helps with muscle memory and gait patterning, and reminds the animal how to walk with good posture.” But whether to head for the treadmill or pool is often the animal’s choice.

“Some like the structure of walking on the underwater treadmill,” she says. “Others love retrieving toys and playing in the pool. Whichever the pet, or the pet parent, or I choose, pets love coming here. The endorphin release they get from hydrotherapy helps them feel better, and they remember that. Plus, we have lots of toys, and we give out plenty of treats and love.”

Think Cats – and Pigs, for That Matter – Don’t Like Water? Think Again

cat swimming in a lifevest at Splash Canine Hydrotherapy
Jude was thrown from a car as a kitten and suffered permanent nerve damage to his front leg. He’s now 15 years old and swims to stay strong and maintain function of that leg. Photo credit: Kristin Finstad

“I love working with cats, and they’re actually better swimmers than dogs after they’ve been introduced to the experience in a calm and gentle way,” says Finstad. “Cats with nerve damage, or older cats with arthritis, can get great benefits from swimming in warm water.”

And then there was the 200-pound pig named Winona from a farm rescue organization. She was elderly and had severe arthritis in one of her front legs. Why not try her on the treadmill, Finstad thought. “Winona loved the water, but she said a firm ‘NO’ to walking on the treadmill,” laughs Finstad.

Canine Hydrotherapy and Rehabilitation Facilities are in High Demand

Finstad takes special interest in geriatric cases and pets with neurologic conditions like paralysis, strokes and spinal surgery recovery. While she does see some post-operative orthopedic cases, she’s quick to encourage people to seek out other facilities. “There’s definitely a shortage of hydrotherapy and rehab facilities in Clark County, so call them all and get on all their waiting lists,” she advises.

“Some facilities have an underwater treadmill but no pool, some have a pool but no treadmill, and some let you self-swim your pet, which is something I don’t offer.” Two of the facilities she refers people to include Cascade Park Animal Hospital and Mountain View Veterinary Hospital, both in Vancouver.

A Wealth of Mobility Assistance Awaits Pets at Splash Canine Hydrotherapy

small dog in a dog wheelchair
Athena was found in an alley, abandoned and a quadriplegic. She’s now walking without a cart, thanks to hydrotherapy. Photo credit: Kristin Finstad

Hydrotherapy is Finstad’s central focus. But she’s also well-versed in all the assorted products that can help pets function at their best. She’s got dog booties to protect paws while walking, slings, harnesses, ramps, steps and carts, which she generously gives or loans out to her clients.

“Pet parents donate supplies when they’re done using them, and some companies donate new products, so I usually have plenty of everything to share,” she says. “A cart can allow a disabled dog to go to the beach and experience something they haven’t been able to do for a while.”

Finstad helps fit products to pets, and also offers guidance to pet parents who are coping with the challenges and heartache of an animal’s debilitating health issues. “The humans I work with are all going the extra mile to improve their animal’s quality of life, and that’s part of what makes this a dream job for me.”

Finstad lives in Woodland with three goats, two roosters, two cats and two dogs. For more information, visit the Splash Canine Hydrotherapy website.

Splash Canine Hydrotherapy & Recovery
20413 NE 29th Ave, Ridgefield

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