Hydrotherapy gives Roxy, the boxer, a better doggie life | SteamboatToday.com

Hydrotherapy gives Roxy, the boxer, a better doggie life

Pet owner Jenn Zuccone, right, encourages her Boxer mix Roxy as veterinarian Natalia Stiff guides the dog through a hydrotherapy session on a treadmill at Steamboat Veterinary Hospital. The dog suffers from a neurological disorder, degenerative myelopathy, that limits her mobility.
Tom Ross

More about hydrotherapy at Steamboat Veterinary Hospital

• Hydrotherapy is also used to treat dogs following bone fractures and ligament damage

•The hydrotherapy equipment is manufactured by AquaPaws

•The warm water used in the tank enclosing the treadmill is recycled and sterilized  after every use by exposure to ultraviolet light

•The cost is $25 per session, with discounted multi-visit plans available

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Roxy, a pretty little boxer mix approaching her ninth birthday, may be that rare pooch that looks forward to veterinary clinic visits.

Roxy could not have been more calm and well-behaved Oct. 17 during a trip to Steamboat Veterinary Hospital with her owner Jenn Zuccone to see veterinarian Natalia Stiff. There is the possibility that Roxy thought of it as a visit to a doggie spa, as she immersed herself in warm water contained by a plexiglass rectangle where she took a short walk on a treadmill.

However, Roxy’s reality isn’t that promising – she suffers from a neurological disorder, degenerative myelopathy, which ultimately will end of her life. Roxy’s trip to the vet was to undergo hydrotherapy  treatment designed to strengthen her muscles and fend off the decline of her nervous system.

“Hydrotherapy is an alternative to surgery and drugs,” Stiff said. “It’s absolutely to support her muscles.”

Zuccone said she can observe that Roxy’s quality of life improves with each hydrotherapy visit.

“After I take her in, she has more energy,” Zuccone said. “She want to play. It gives her an emotional lift.”


The good news for Roxy is that degenerative myelopathy, which is similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease in humans — is not a painful disease. Yet, its effects are devastating, causing progressive paralysis in dogs, leading to death.

The disease is common among a handful of breeds, including German shepherds, corgis, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, Rhodesian ridgebacks, standard poodles and boxers.

According to Canine Genetic Diseases Network, degenerative myelopathy affects fibers in the spinal cord that transmit commands to the brain that govern movement of the limbs and sensory information from the limbs to the brain.

In the case of Roxy, her motor neurons aren’t working properly – the affected nerves don’t fire, Stiff explained.

The condition first reveals itself with a hind limb that appears to be dragging. As it progresses, dogs may begin to buckle on their feet and have trouble standing.

Stiff said veterinarians typically diagnose the condition by process of elimination, ruling out other maladies.

Walking on a treadmill submerged in water helps dogs to exercise their muscles in several ways, Stiff said. The buoyancy of the water tank takes some of the weight off of their legs and eases the destabilizing effects of the disease, while the mild resistance of walking in water strengthens them. At the same time, the inherent pressure of water, compared to walking in air, applies gentle compression to the muscles.

Stiff, who earned her board certification in canine rehabilitation from the University of Tennessee, explained that walking on the treadmill for about 12 minutes in water up to Roxy’s chest helps to strengthen her muscles and fend off the deteriorating effects of the disease.

Any time she is working to rehabilitate an animal, Stiff said, her approach is to identify the weakness and seek to restore functionality

Zuccone fought back tears as she explained that she just wants her pet to be comfortable during the remainder of her days.

“It’s our intent to love Roxy as much as we can for as long as we can,” she said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

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