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Does Swim Therapy for Tripawd Dogs Help or Hurt?

We’ve all heard that swim therapy for Tripawd dogs is a great idea. But did you know there’s a right way and a wrong way to put your dog in the water? These vet-approved swim safety tips for three-legged dogs will keep your pup safe while getting in shape!

How to Stay Safe When Swimming your Tripawd Dog

The temperatures are climbing, finally! It’s tempting to put your Tripawd hero into the nearest swimming hole, but before you do, get your Tripawd examined by a rehabilitation therapist (free, thanks to donors who give to the Tripawd Rehab Reimbursement Grant!).

You want to wait because hydrotherapy can do more harm than good for unfit canine amputees. We learned this from a lecture about osteoarthritis, given by veterinary rehabilitation therapist Dr. John Waterhouse BVSc, CCRP, founder of the Veterinary Teaching Academy. In it, he discussed the benefits and concerns about swimming a physically compromised canine:

Is swimming good for the arthritic patient? No. I don’t recommend free swimming for the arthritic patient.

Now, he’s not exactly saying swimming is bad. Keep reading.

Unsupervised Open Water Swimming is Risky for Unfit Tripawds

Tripawd swim therapy
Wyatt is fit enough to swim solo (for now).

“Swimming is a thrashing movement, not a controlled walking movement,” explained Dr. Waterhouse. “Unless it’s in a pool with a registered rehab specialist or technician where they’re monitoring, supporting, and guiding the animal through the swimming movement, then I’m all for swimming. It’s a great orthopedic exercise.

But just sending the animals down to swim by themselves can have more detrimental effects than when it’s done in a supervised, safe environment.”

Controlled Hydrotherapy for Dogs Has More Benefits

When you take your Tripawd to rehabilitation therapy, that fun water treadmill is so much more than a giant bathtub for your pup.

swimming for Tripawds
Abby gets the benefits of swim therapy in a hydro tank.

For example, as we learned in our interview with Texas A&M Veterinary Rehab Therapists, a water treadmill shows exactly how a Tripawd is walking. A therapist can guide the dog to minimize the “hop” motion that amputee dogs make. Normalizing an amputee’s gait minimizes muscle soreness and joint stress.

“This system is really good for alleviating some of their weight so they can use their weight in a normal fashion, strengthen their core, strengthen their remaining legs so they can deal with the loss of that fourth leg,” says Marina Harrson, LVT, CCRP.

Tripawd swim therapy
Dharma gets safer swim therapy with a Ruffwear Float Coat.

“The important thing about water therapy in general is they are still weight bearing. We never take away all of that bottom surface so part of their weight is still working towards building the muscle,” said Marina.

Because a hydrotherapy tank’s water height is adjusted to an animal’s size and weight bearing capabilities, it provides a safer way to exercise the dog than open water swimming.

For a Fit Tripawd, Open Water Swimming is Helpful and Fun

Be Sure to Swim Safer With a Canine Float Coat

Rehabilitation therapy does a great job helping Tripawds like Ella get strong enough to tackle open water swimming. That’s why the Tripawds Foundation will even pay for your dog or cat’s first rehabilitation therapy visit!

In the meantime, you can get your Tripawd ready for any kind of water with a Ruffwear Float Coat. It’s our #1 dog flotation jacket that keeps all dogs–but especially Tripawds–safe in any kind of water.

Benefits of a Float Coat for Tripawds


All dogs swim so much better and safer with flotation help. But for a Tripawd, the right gear can mean the difference between an enjoyable swim and and exhausting one. The Ruffwear Float Coat is our #1 choice because it:

  • puts a dogs’ head above water, to avoid swallowing too much water
  • keeps a Tripawd upright and stable, even during rough conditions
  • helps preserve energy for the rest of the day at the beach

Years ago when Jerry tried his first Ruffwear Float Coat, we saw what a difference it made in his water stamina. And today, Wyatt swims with his Ruffwear doggie life jacket. Your dog should too! Try one and we believe you’ll feel the same way.

Tripawd swim therapy
Johnnie says “I’m ready to swim now!”

Shop with Tripawds and support our community

Ruffwear Float Coat for Tripawds
The Ruffwear Float Coat

Our Tripawds Gear Store has the Float Coat in stock, ready to show you why this doggie life jacket is the only one we trust enough for Tripawd swim therapy in a tank, lake, river or ocean.

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