How often should I shock my pool?


How often should I shock my pool ?


The simple answer is “Whenever it needs it.” The real question is “How do I know when my pool needs a shock treatment ?”


First, it helps to understand what a shock treatment is and why we need to do it.

When clients (both canine and human) enter the pool, they introduce organics into the water. These include sweat, saliva, skin cells, body lotions, deodorants, soil, urine, loam, and a host of other things. Mother nature also contributes by blowing leaves and other debris into outdoor pools. These organics provide a food source for bacteria to live on. Although there are both good and bad bacteria, the health department generally insists that we get rid of ALL of them.

So we add sanitizers to the pool. When you use chlorine, ozone, or bromine, these compounds actually do two things: 1) they kill the bacteria, and 2) they break down the contaminants, helping to remove them from the water so they no longer provide a smorgasbord for new bacteria.

This is accomplished by oxidation – an oxygen molecule “attacks” the contaminants. You may have heard of oxidation in relation to a rusty old car, and it’s exactly the same thing. Just as oxidation can turn metal into dust, it will also break down the organics in the pool water.

Killing bacteria is fairly quick and easy, but dissolving the contaminants takes a bit more time and muscle. The problem comes when the sanitizer “falls behind.” If there is a choice between a live bacterium and the organic food source, the oxygen molecule will tend to attach to the food rather than the bacterium. So your sanitizer ends up working on the less important task. Unfortunately, while the sanitizer is working on the contaminant, the bacteria can multiply and you can end up with a bacteria “bloom.” If your water is cloudy before a shock treatment, but clears up afterwards, this is probably what is happening.

You could avoid shock treatments almost entirely by increasing the level of an oxidizing sanitizer so that it never falls behind. This makes sense if contaminants are coming into the pool at a fairly steady rate, but it is wasteful if the problem is just the occasional exceptionally dirty dog. In addition, some sanitizers (particularly minerals and UV) don’t use oxidation at all, so they are of no use in removing organics.

The purpose of a shock treatment, then, is to remove the organics and other contaminants from the pool. It is NOT intended as a replacement for sanitation, but it will help sanitizers be more effective.


If you are chlorinating a pool, it’s quite easy to measure when a shock treatment is needed. Your test kit should include tests for both free and total chlorine. The free chlorine is what is available for killing the bacteria. The total chlorine is the combination of free chlorine plus what has already been “spent” for dissolving organics. When the level of total chlorine exceeds the amount of free (usually by 2 ppm or more), then you know that you are falling behind and need to shock.

We’ve all walked into a public pool and been knocked over by the chlorine smell. It might surprise you to learn that this was probably the result of NOT ENOUGH chlorine, rather than too much! The level of organics has gotten out of hand, and what you smell is the byproduct – a combination of chlorine and ammonia, or chloramines. A shock treatment is needed to deal with the organics, followed by an increase in chlorine on a daily basis to prevent the buildup in the future.

No matter what sanitizer you are using you can certainly schedule regular shock treatments, but there is no single formula to determine how often. In general, if your water is getting cloudy before the treatment and clearing up afterward, then you need to shorten the cycle and/or increase your daily dose of an oxidizing sanitizer. The smaller your pool, the more often you will need to shock. An 800 gallon spa may require daily shock treatments.

You may also want to shock:

  • After exceptionally heavy use.
  • After a heavy rain or a windstorm that blows debris into the pool.
  • After a water change.

This last one may surprise you – you’d think that the water coming from your tap is clean and pure. It probably IS safe from live bacteria, but there may still be organics. I always shock after a water change.


There are two main categories of shock treatment: chlorine and non-chlorine. The former is simply raising the chlorine to a very high level – typically around 10 ppm. This provides enough oxidation to dissolve the organics AND rid the pool of bacteria that may have been busy multiplying during the imbalance.

The trouble with chlorinated shocks is that you cannot use the pool until the chlorine level drops back to normal levels – around 3 ppm. This can take some time, and you must test the pool water to ensure the level has dropped. In addition, if you are using an alternative sanitizer, it may not be compatible with the chlorine shock treatment.

Non-chlorine treatments generally use potassium monopersulfate. This will NOT kill bacteria, but it is very effective at oxidizing the contaminants. The labels claim you can swim 15 minutes after treating, although I still prefer to wait overnight.


  • You should leave the cover off the pool during a shock treatment. This is because nitrogen gas is expelled as a by-product, and you want to let it escape.
  • If you use a flocculant (a blue clarifier), add it after the shock treatment has had time to work.
  • You’ll probably need to vacuum the pool afterwards, since the oxidized materials will tend to sink to the bottom of the pool.
  • Certain sanitizers may reduce or eliminate the need for shock treatments, but shock treatments do NOT replace sanitizers.

Got questions about water quality, chemistry, or equipment?
Email Karen Hunter at:

The ACWT Pool GuruThe ACWT Pool Guru:
Karen Hunter
22609 102nd Ave SE
Woodinville, WA 98077
425 487-3078

Ozone Sanitation


I’m thinking about using ozone to sanitize my pool. What should I know?


Good choice! Ozone is an excellent sanitizer that is economical, environmentally friendly, and pleasant for our clients.

Let’s start with a basic understanding about how ozone works. You may be surprised to hear that ozone, chlorine, bromine, and peroxide all work essentially the same way – by oxidation. All these sanitizers are common chemical compounds that have an “extra” oxygen molecule. The formula for oxygen gas is O2, while ozone is O3. Plain old salt (sodium chloride) is NaCl, while liquid chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) is NaClO. Water, or H 2 O, becomes hydrogen peroxide, or H 2 O 2, with an extra oxygen molecule.

These compounds are “volatile” – that is, the extra oxygen molecule makes them unbalanced, and they want to return to the simpler compound. Happily, the extra oxygen molecule is attracted to oxygen-hating bacteria ! So when the two meet, the oxygen molecule detaches from the sanitizer and attaches itself to the bacterium. The bacteria die, and the ozone turns back into oxygen.

Okay – enough about chemistry. Lets talk about your options for adding ozone to your pool.

Because of its extreme volatility, plus the fact that it is a gas, you can’t just buy ozone and add it to the water. Instead, you must purchase an ozone “generator”, which makes ozone using the oxygen in the air or water. There are two common types of generators: UV light and Corona Discharge (or CD).

In my opinion, you should not even consider a UV generator for a pool, especially one that meets the needs of our furry clients. To generate ozone using UV requires that 1) the water be in contact with the lights for an extended period of time, and 2) there is no “interference” between the UV source and the water. In other words, you have to have a low flow system, you need to have a fairly large chamber with multiple lights, you need to keep the bulbs spotlessly clean, and any kind of cloudiness in the water will interfere with ozone production. In addition, the lights lose effectiveness over time, even before they burn out. In general, UV ozone generators are okay for sanitizing the drinking water in your motor home, but not much else.

CD models are capable of much higher ozone output, AND at a lower operating cost (less electricity, no bulb replacement). They are compatible with higher flow rates and aren’t affected by cloudy water. Most ozone generators sold for the pool industry are CD models, but be sure you ask. In a CD ozone generator, room air is filtered and bubbled into the water, which is then passed through electrically charged plates. The electrical charge adds the extra oxygen molecule, and the oxygen in the air is converted to ozone. A similar thing happens during thunder storms, which is why you often smell ozone after a lightning strike.

Hooking up an ozone generator to your pool is fairly straightforward. You’ll need to have a small bypass manifold between the filter and heater. Part of the water that is circulating will be diverted into the ozone generator.

Now here’s another thing you need to know about ozone and all the other sanitizers as well – in addition to being volatile, they are also corrosive ! Ozone will bleach out color just as chlorine and peroxide will. There can be other reactions: ozone has a tendency to break down silicone, polycarbonates (certain plastics) react to bromine, chlorine destroys latex, etc.

Proper dilution of these sanitizers in water helps to minimize these corrosive effects. However, since it’s a gas, ozone is a bit harder to dilute than the others. If you send the ozone gas directly to your pool, you are going to see immediate and serious damage to your pool cover! For this reason, along with your ozone generator, you want to be sure to include a degassing unit, also called an ozone tower.

An ozone tower is basically a tall pipe with an outlet at the top for gas and at the bottom for sanitized water. The water and the ozone mix in the pipe and the bacteria are killed. The gas bubbles (oxygen and unused ozone) are sent out the top (which should be vented to the outdoors), and the sanitized water, minus bubbles, is returned to your pool (not to the heater).

You can purchase ozone towers from most of the manufacturers of ozone generators, and you can also find them at aquarium stores. There are also build-it-yourself instructions for them on the internet. In my opinion, the taller the tower the better.

However wonderful ozone is, it is not usually sufficient as your only sanitizer. Ozone isn’t effective against algae. It doesn’t remain in the water, so you’ll still need a residual sanitizer such as chlorine, bromine, or copper. However, you’ll be able to use much lower amounts of the other sanitizers and still keep the water clean and healthy.

Got questions about water quality, chemistry, or equipment?
Email Karen Hunter at:

The ACWT Pool GuruThe ACWT Pool Guru:
Karen Hunter
22609 102nd Ave SE
Woodinville, WA 98077
425 487-3078

What is pH?


What is pH? Mine is frequently off, but my water looks fine.


Well, pH stands for “potential of hydrogen”, but I prefer to think of it as Potential Hazard. It is probably the single most important test in your pool kit, and keeping the pH in the correct range is one of the most valuable things you can do to keep your pool clean and safe.

pH is basically a measure of the relative acidity / alkalinity of a substance. It ranges from 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline), with 7 being neutral. Your blood, skin, saliva, and the diet Coke you drink all have pH values. When the pH in your body falls outside a certain range, it’s a sign that something is wrong. The same is true of your pool water.

The pH in your pool should generally be kept in the 7.2 to 7.8 range, although I shoot for between 7.4 and 7.6. If it gets outside this range, several things can happen.

The first is that your clients will be uncomfortable. Stinging, red eyes and itchy skin are symptoms of an undesirable pH. High pH levels also increase the likelihood of yeast infections – bad for dogs and people alike.

The second problem is sanitation. Chlorine and bromine do not work when the pH is too far out of balance. So you could be putting in chemicals to clean the water that are having little or no effect.

Finally, a pH that is too high can contribute to cloudiness in the water, while one that is too low can damage your pool and equipment.

A low pH can be raised with the addition of sodium bicarbonate – simple baking soda. Save yourself some money – instead of purchasing “pH Up” from the pool store, go to Costco and get a big bag of baking soda.

When the pH is too high, you must add acid to the water. Many people are reluctant to do this, believing that acid is a “bad” thing. Believe me, if your pH is too high, acid is a very good thing. It does require careful handling, though.

Changes in pH are easiest when they are small. Don’t wait until the pH is at the outside of the range to fix it. Once the pH is balanced and stable, testing two or three times a week (and making necessary adjustments) is probably all that will be needed. When you first set up the pool, after water changes, or after any major event (such as exceptionally heavy use or changing equipment), you should test and adjust daily until things stabilize.

If you are testing for multiple things (and you should be), and need to fix more than one, fix the pH first.

Final note: Many kits include a test for TA (Total Alkalinity). In general, having the TA in the right range will help stabilize the pH. However, changing one will change the other, and depending on other factors, it may be impossible to make both of them fall in the suggested range (this is not uncommon when using ozone, which tends to raise pH without a corresponding change in TA). When this happens, ignore the TA and focus on the pH. If your pH is in the right range and your water is not cloudy, TA is of little importance.

Got questions about water quality, chemistry, or equipment?
Email Karen Hunter at:

The ACWT Pool GuruThe ACWT Pool Guru:
Karen Hunter
22609 102nd Ave SE
Woodinville, WA 98077
425 487-3078

To build a Pool vs a Treadmill?


Hi! I am wondering why there are not more pools for hydrotherapy here in Australia yet? I have been researching the water treadmills and believe they would be an excellent rehab process amongst other types of medical reasons. Do you recommend them as an alternative if you do not have the room for a full functioning pool set up?

Thank you, Cathy

Answer (by Cindy Horsfall):

Hello Cathy,

This is a great question.

To build a POOL vs a TREADMILL….
Many things to consider here…

First, it’s important to consider the intent of your investment. After you have considered this,- you’ll want to explore the local laws to make sure you can legally do what you are intending.

If you get a treadmill, your goal would most likely be for rehabilitation work, gait re-patterning and strength building. In many parts of the world, there are laws against anyone but a licensed veterinarian to do any kind of rehabilitation work. Many in the USA have been shut down who have treadmills as its hard to say you are doing anything ELSE except rehab with a treadmill. Not so with a pool as you can change your wording to swimming and resistance work in water and stay away from the more clinical (and illegal) terms used with treadmills.

So the first thing I advise is for you to check your local laws and build a vision that complies with the laws.

Second, you brought up space as an issue… and yes, a treadmill can be carried in through a smaller door, you don’t need the headroom as your work is done at ground level and takes up half the space as a swim spa.

A smaller swim spa still takes up about 8×14 or more in floor space … with 3′ around it you’re looking at needing to dedicate a space at least 14×20. More than this, you do need a larger door or window so that the spa can be carried into the space and ideally you would have at least 10′ ceilings so you could build a ramp up and deck around it for safe access.

Expenses? A treadmill usually runs twice the cost of a swim spa as it’s a highly specialized item. Most likely, the expenses to run the treadmill are less however…

Both are excellent options and rewarding things to offer in your business. Please keep us posted on what you decide to do and good luck!!!! Let me know if you have any other questions or thoughts – – – –

What should I do about ventilation?


Hi: I am putting in a pool soon and am struggling with what to do regarding ventilation. What kind of systems/brand names of ventilation systems have been used to control moisture?

Thanks in advance, Ann Marie

Answer (by Sandy Fisher):

Hi Ann Marie,

I, personally, have a system put in by MM Comfort Systems (they are located in Redmond, WA). It is a full heating/dehumidification system. It works perfectly but was very pricey. Some people choose to just use an exhaust fan. Those are the only two options I have heard being used.

A lot of your needs will depend on your building and your pool area. Is the building heated? What are the materials the building is made of? Are the materials susceptible to damage from the humidity. It is very easy to have mold and mildew problems if humidity is not controlled. Do you have a lease or own the building? If you have a lease, you could be liable for all damages to the building from humidity so you will want to proceed with caution. Talk to the landlord and make sure you do whatever needs to be done to protect yourself. When I was looking t leased space, they required the walls to be painted with special paint and a dehumidification system to be installed (that wouldn’t be allowed to leave when the lease expired).

There is currently a discussion on dehumidifiers on the Yahoo discussion group. If you are not yet a member, you may wish to join that group. Here is the discussion:

Original Post:

Hi, Anyone out there tried or researched using a self standing de-humidifier to help with the moisture in your building or room? They have them that suck up 32 pints or more in a 24 hour period. Is this enough?

Response #1: A lot of it will depend on if you are heating the building (and to what temperature) when the weather turns cold. The colder the air, the more condensation you have, the more humidity you will have. Also, the surface area of the pool, how long the pool will be uncovered and what kind of cover you have will make a difference. What kind of building do you have and how tolerant of wet conditions is it? Can you use the dehumidifier in wet locations? Sounds silly since it is taking humidity out of the air, but they aren’t all necessarily made to be used around a pool.

Here’s a link to some dehumidifiers that can be used in pool areas:

The ones that handle indoor pool areas talk about taking care of 200 pounds of water a day (not pints). They start around $2,000. I would try and find out how noisy they are (not sure if they are like heaters where they make a lot of noise or not). Maybe call the company and see what they would recommend for your particular situation.

We have a full dehumidification system and are extremely happy with it. Our system is set to heat the air (and pool) as well as take the humidity out. A great system. However, very pricey but it is an investment. If you try shortcuts and have mold and mildew or the building gets damaged because the humidity couldn’t be controlled, you will end up spending more money in the long run. I’m amazed at how often our system is running even in the summer when it’s hot outside.

Response #2: I think that is about the size of my dehumidifier, and I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t even use it in the summer, I just have fans on and keep the windows open. I also have my pool covered when not in use, I will even put the covers back on if there is more than an hour between appointments. That really cuts down on the humidity. In the winter I have more of a problem, of course. It does get humid during the day, but I always have the windows open at least a little bit. At night I put several fans on and keep the dehumidifier running. I usually empty it before I go to bed and then as soon as I get up in the morning. If you can run a drain to the outside so the container doesn’t fill up, that would be preferable. It is an option for mine, I just haven’t done it yet! If you are trying to use the pool for heat and have it uncovered all the time, this size would definitely not work.

Which pool will be most tolerant of dog hair?


I am looking into starting a k9 swiiming pool. I need recommendations on which pools will be most tolerant of the hair.

Thanks,- Jennifer G.

Answer (by Cindy Horsfall):

Hi Jennifer! You can read the following topic on the ACWT website: What kind of pool or spa should I get?

When choosing a pool, the filter and circulation system will be very important. It’s best to work with the pool contractor or manufacturer of the spa/pool to set up a system that will be able to handle large amounts of hair. Filter and pump sizes are all dependent on the pool or spa size you select.

Pools and swim spas are usually built for people and pool maintenance companies always talk about hair nets and such… so most pool contractors and companies aren’t comfortable with HAIR… let alone DOG HAIR… so this is where you need to ask for them to think outside the box. You need to beef up any circulation system to push that hair through the filters. You should pay attention to the hair catch pots in your pool and can even ask for more or bigger catch pots which are designed to catch the hair BEFORE it goes to the filters. Some like the cartridge filters for hair as you don’t have to clean them but just toss them away and put in another one, while sand and DE filters you have to clean and backwash.

Hope this helps!

What kind of pool or spa should I get?


Hi, I am in the process of building a boarding and training kennel, and water therapy facility. We are starting with a covered outdoor pool and a pond. Because we’re located in the southeast the pond will be used primarily for sports and conditioning 3/4 of the year because of moderate weather. The pool though, there are so many choices it’s mind-boggling. Cost-wise, we are shooting for a rectangular 12′ to 16′ by 20′ to 32′ pool. Warm enough for therapeutic value, but cool enough for conditioning, too.

What are the pros and cons of pool types in the opinions of people already using the pools? Does the ACWT have a site or information we could rely on to make an informed decision?

We do plan to join ACWT once we’re open.

Thank you, Paula P.

Answer (by Cindy Horsfall):

Hello Paula! Sounds like you have a great business idea and we all can’t wait to hear about your new facility.

Since you have the luxury of having a pond for recreational swimming, what I would probably recommend is buying a swim spa for your therapeutic use. One option is the FLORIDA NORTH Swim Spa. Florida North offers a discount to ACWT members – check out our Membership page. Their Swim Spa is an 8′ x 20′ fiberglass portable unit. The spa itself retails for $11,500 (not including shipping and installation costs) and the bench and stairs are quite usable for therapy. Some of the swim spas we have seen have weird molded seats or little corner steps making them impractical for our canine friends. The Florida North spa is a stand-alone unit so it can be installed above-ground. There are also other options in swim spas such as the stainless steel and tile swim spa available from Bradford Products. However, these types of spas are over $30,000 (not including shipping and installation) and are much heavier than the fiberglass models which make installation a bit more limiting. For fiberglass or acrylic vessels, if you go with any size over 8 feet wide, you will probably need to install them in-ground due to weight and the pool’s inability to contain itself when full. Always check with the manufacturer to see what kind of installation is appropriate.

These are the reasons why I would suggest you consider a swim spa:

  • The swim jets and the circulation jets are strong, allowing for the water to turn over many times which leads to the sanitation that is always a challenge with dog hair. You don’t want a stagnant pool and those that do go with the in-ground pool have to beef up their circulation system to drive the pool water through the filters (3 options – DE/SAND/CARTRIDGE).
  • Swim spas can be portable and relatively inexpensive, allowing one to get into business on a limited budget with a great pool.
  • I have never had a dog who I couldn’t do wonderful therapy work in an 8′ x 20′ spa. Even 240 pound mastiffs have ample room for therapeutic swimming and work.
  • They aren’t too big so you can’t implement a complete dump/clean and water change with your program. This is an ideal situation for a canine spa. One rarely dumps an in-ground pool.
  • You can turn temperatures up and down as needed. Due to the lower water capacity over a pool, a swim spa is very efficient. I used to have tropical Tuesdays set at 96 degrees for the greyhounds and whippets and very elderly who only came in for massage and then it would be 88 degrees by Friday for the hard core swimmers. My usual temperature is 94 degrees for all kinds of work and my comfort. Also, maintenance costs are much less with a spa with lower water capacity.

Keep us posted here at the ACWT and good luck !!!

All About Filters

A properly maintained pool incorporates both filtration and sanitation. We sanitize to kill bacteria, viruses, and algae, and we filter to remove particles suspended in the water. While clear water is not a guarantee that the water is safe to swim in, cloudy water is definitely a sign that something needs attention.

Your filter is a critical part of your pool system, and should be selected with care and properly maintained. In this issue, we’ll provide some information to help you understand the various options and advantages and disadvantages of each.


Cartridge filters are usually what you will get with pre-packaged pools or spas. They work by trapping particles in a pleated, non-woven fabric. Cartridge filters are readily available and easy to operate. They occupy very little space and do not require a backwash outlet. However, they are less than ideal for a dog pool.

The cartridges require frequent cleaning or replacement. Cleaning usually involves a hose, lots of water, and a fair bit of time. An automated cartridge cleaner such as the Blaster ( is a good investment. It’s also a good idea to have extra cartridges available: one in the filter, one being cleaned, and one ready to go.

Cartridges are my least favorite choice. The amount of hair and dirt that dogs bring in causes them to clog quickly – you may be changing/cleaning them daily. They can remove particles from about 30 to 100 microns in size. This is the least effective of all filtering options, so you will not have optimal water clarity.

If you do use cartridges, try to choose something with as much square footage as possible (I’d recommend at least 200). The more square footage you have, the less often you’ll have to clean or replace cartridges.


Sand filters, which use several cubic feet of sand as a filter medium, have much lower maintenance requirements than cartridges. Their effectiveness actually improves as particles accumulate (up to a point). Sand filters can go several weeks between cleanings, and they are the best filter for handling large amounts of hair. Sand filters will remove particles as small as 20 microns.

Sand filters are cleaned by backwashing, which involves running the pool water backwards through the sand and out as waste. Very little or no sand is lost in the process. Backwashing also provides an opportunity to do a partial water change – a good practice no matter what type of filter you use.

Approximately every six months the sand should be washed with a special cleaning solution to remove oils that may accumulate. The sand itself should not require replacement for 4 years or more. A properly operating sand filter will NOT put sand into the pool.

Sand filters take up more space than cartridge canisters, and you must be able to run a waste hose from the filter to a drain or the outdoors.


Zeolite (sold under the brand name Zeobrite, is used in sand filters instead of “generic” sand. It is a natural, granular mineral similar in appearance to sand, but it has filtration abilities that are far superior. Zeolite can filter particles as small as 3 to 5 microns, which rivals DE. The cleaning and maintenance requirements are even better than sand – less backwashing is required, although you should still wash out the oils every six months.

Zeolite is also capable of boosting the effectiveness of you sanitation system because it can actually remove ammonia from the water.

A sand filter filled with Zeolite is my choice for filtration.

DE (Diatomaceous Earth)

Diatomaceous Earth is a fine white powder that looks similar to talcum powder. It is actually the skeletons of billions of tiny sea creatures. DE filters generally provide optimum water clarity, as they will filter down to 3 microns.

DE filters utilize a fabric covered grid. The DE powder is added to the water, usually by pouring it into the skimmer, and it then becomes trapped on the fabric.

DE filters require more maintenance than sand or zeolite. They require regular backwashing, but unlike sand, the DE powder is lost during the process and must be replaced. Most municipalities prohibit washing DE down the sanitary or sewer drains, as it will clog the filters in the treatment plants. You may have to add a recovery tank to meet building codes.

Because it is so fine, DE filters clog quickly. When clogged, they become “channeled”, meaning the water will bypass the DE and even though it is running through the canister it is not being filtered. Most DE filters have a “bump” function, which is like shaking the powder to redistribute it evenly.

DE filters should not be used with biguanide sanitizers such as Baquacil or SoftSwim, since they cause the powder to cake.

If you choose a DE filter, I recommend using it as a secondary filter after a cartridge filter. This will keep the larger particles out of the DE grid, and reduce the need for backwashing or bumping.

How Big?

Well, that question will fill a whole issue, so we’ll cover that in a future Splash. In short, however, bigger is better when it comes to filters, so don’t scrimp here.

Happy Swimming!

Note from ACWT President Cindy Horsfall: I value and understand everything that Karen says here in her article on filters. She’s got great advice and knowledge. However, I feel compelled to say here that I do love my cartridge filter and I wouldn’t replace it. I have a 150 sq ft cartridge filter for my 8×20 swim spa and I hose it out every 2 weeks and replace it (they cost about $80) every month. They are the easiest solution for me and my lifestyle.

Got questions about water quality, chemistry, or equipment?
Email Karen Hunter at:

The ACWT Pool GuruThe ACWT Pool Guru:
Karen Hunter
22609 102nd Ave SE
Woodinville, WA 98077
425 487-3078

Test Your Pool Chemical IQ

Do you know what you are putting in your pool?

Chemicals are a necessary part of pool maintenance. As much as we would like to eliminate them, it just isn’t practical (or safe) to go without.

However, it is vitally important that you understand what is in the chemicals that you do use, and also when they should be used. Without that understanding, you may be adding many more things than you need to, or in some cases actually doing harm to your clients and/or your pool systems.

Here’s a quick true/false quiz to test your pool chemical IQ.

  • You should never use “plain” chlorine – instead, use dichlor or trichlor which are specifically made for pools.
  • You should add a flocculent (blue clarifier) once a week.
  • Stains on your pool are a sign of metals in the water.
  • You should shock your pool once a week.
  • If your water is crystal clear then it’s safe to swim in.



While it’s true that dichlor and trichlor are specifically formulated for pools, it isn’t true that you should always use them. Dichlor and trichlor combine chlorine with cyanuric acid, which acts as a stabilizer. Stabilizer is a must in outdoor pools because sunlight can cause chlorine to dissipate very quickly. However, very little (if any) is needed in indoor pools. Even more important is that chlorine is used up and must be replaced, whereas the stabilizer stays around. So every time you add the dichlor or trichlor to the pool, you’re adding more stabilizer that you probably don’t need. It will build up over time, and it can even reach the point where it interferes with the chlorine’s ability to work. Then things go haywire in a hurry! The only way to remove it is to drain and replace the water.

You can avoid this by not adding stabilizer if you don’t need it. Stabilizer can be purchased separately (it is usually sold as ‘conditioner’), and you can use it with plain chlorine (calcium hypochlorite). Test strips can be used to ensure the proper levels of both the chlorine and the stabilizer.

NOTE: Chlorine in any form should be handled carefully, and always follow directions on the packaging. Do not mix products.


Flocculants are often referred to as “blue clarifiers.” They are useful when you have cloudy water due to tiny particles that are so small they pass through your filter. The flocculent works by causing these smaller particles to stick together into larger ones. The larger particles can then be trapped in the filter or will fall to the bottom of the pool where they can be vacuumed up.

Flocculants are generally safe to use. They are basically inert polymers – not likely to cause a problem for swimmers or react with other chemicals in the pool. The problem with the statement is “once a week.” If you have adequate filtration and circulation, then adding a clarifier once every two or three weeks is probably sufficient. Don’t assume you need one just because you see cloudy water. After heavy use your water will probably be cloudy for a few hours until your filter has a chance to catch up. When the water is still cloudy after several hours, then a clarifier may be called for.

You need to know that too much flocculent can actually have a reverse effect – it can make your pool cloudier than it was before !

#3 Maybe TRUE, maybe FALSE

Stains on the side of your pool MIGHT be caused by metals. However, they might also be caused by algae or other organics.

It seems logical that a rust colored stain is a sign of iron in your water, so you might purchase a product designed to remove it. However, most metal removers add phosphates to the water, and algae LOVE phosphates. If your stain is actually algae, then using the metal remover will cause the algae to multiply rapidly, making things MUCH worse.

The key here is to determine what is really causing the problem before you try to treat it. First, try a little pH reducer on the stain by putting the powder in an old sock and placing it on the stain for a few minutes. The acid in the pH reducer will remove metal stains, but will have little or no effect on algae. Alternatively, try a little laundry bleach or pool chlorine, which should remove algae but won’t affect metal stains. Better yet – take a water sample to your pool store to be tested for metals.

Once you know the real cause of the problem you can use the proper treatment to correct it.


Yes, you should shock your pool. However, depending on your pool and the use it gets, you might need to shock every day, once a month, or never. There is no magic number to determine how often to shock.

Shocking is a way to remove organics from your water – body oils, perspiration, saliva, skin cells, and all the other goodies that are introduced into the pool when we climb in. If we fail to remove them, then our sanitizers can be rendered ineffective. How often you need to shock is affected by the swimmer load, pool size, and type and level of sanitizer.

To determine when to shock a chlorinated pool, simply measure the free chlorine and total chlorine. When the total is more than 1 ppm greater that the free, shocking is recommended. In a brominated pool, use shock when the bromine levels drop. Add the shock in small increments, since it will cause your bromine levels to rise quickly.


Water that looks good is only one indicator of a well maintained pool. Clear water could still be way off in pH, which would result in red eyes and skin irritation. Clear water could also have dangerously high levels of chlorine or bromine, excessive bacteria counts, or undesirable nitrates or ammonia.

On the other hand, perfectly safe water might appear cloudy due to small bubbles caused when air is introduced into the pipes, or suspended particles of inert materials.

Your eyes and nose are good starting points for measuring water quality, but they aren’t a guarantee. Water testing is critical. Test strips that measure the critical things (pH, sanitizer level) are inexpensive and easy to use.


Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just have a tablet that we added to the pool once a week that would keep the water clean, clear, and safe? Sadly, it doesn’t exist. What your pool needs is not only different from the pool down the street, it is also different from one day to the next. The best way to keep out of trouble is to be educated. A knowledgeable pool professional is worth their weight in gold. They will test your water (usually for free) and help you find a targeted solution.

In short: Test before you treat, and don’t treat for a problem you don’t have.

Happy swimming!

Got questions about water quality, chemistry, or equipment?
Email Karen Hunter at:

The ACWT Pool GuruThe ACWT Pool Guru:
Karen Hunter
22609 102nd Ave SE
Woodinville, WA 98077
425 487-3078

Is Fluoride Safe for You and your Dog?

By Linda Joy, MSW

For the last 60 years, we’ve been assured that the addition of fluoride to our public water supplies is a safe and effective means of reducing dental decay. But is it really safe and effective? Or does fluoride pose health risks not only for us, but for our dogs? Although health officials insist that fluoride is safe, the reality is that politics often trump science when public policy is made. Therefore, with fluoride, as with all toxic chemicals, it is wise to investigate as much as you can and decide for yourself. To begin, consider the following questions along with their often surprising answers:

What is the actual fluoride chemical added to our water?

Hydrofluorosilicic acid is the chemical put in the vast majority of U.S. water supplies. It is not pharmaceutical grade, it is removed from the pollution scrubbers of phosphate fertilizer plants and contains contaminants of lead, arsenic and radium. This toxic industrial waste – which would be costly for the fertilizer industry to dispose of properly – is sold to water districts and is more toxic than lead.

Are there any health risks from fluoride for people and pets?

While the public has been assured of its safety, in actuality, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acknowledged that no chronic health studies have been done on this fluoride chemical. In March of 2006, The National Research Council (NRC) completed a three year review of the peer-reviewed research on fluoride. Numerous adverse health risks were cited such as disruption of the nervous and endocrine systems (including the brain and thyroid), bone fractures, and joint pain. A recently published Harvard study concluded that there was a seven-fold risk in osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, among young boys after exposure to fluoridated water. This study may have implication for dogs, since osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, is the most common bone tumor diagnosed in dogs in the U.S.

Dogs have a significantly higher rate of osteosarcoma than humans. Researchers at Colorado State University recently conducted a large study on osteosarcoma and dogs. In their abstract they state that the osteosarcoma rate in dogs is 8 in 100,000, approximately 8 times greater than that in humans. Their findings haven’t yet been published, and their research will be the first epidemiological study of the effects of fluoride on dogs. More research on fluoride’s impact on dogs and cats needs to be conducted to rule out, or determine, adverse health effects.

Is bathing and swimming in fluoridated water harmful for us or our dogs?

Fluoride in highly acidic water does enter the skin, although it is unclear whether neutral acidity, typical of most tap water, can do the same thing. However, since some studies indicate that fluoride can be absorbed through the skin, more research needs to be done in this area.

Since people and their dogs drink various amounts of fluoridated water, and many foods contain fluoride, how can the fluoride dose be controlled?

Simply – it can’t! Water is usually fluoridated at 1 part per million (1 ppm) to provide 1 mg of fluoride per liter of water. However, dogs and their humans who drink more than the average amount of this water will ingest higher levels of fluoride and be more susceptible to its toxic effects. There is no way of controlling the dose, which means fluoridation contradicts sound pharmacological principles. It is medically irresponsible and unethical to administer to everyone – without informed consent – the same medication without first determining individual need.

In addition, the fluoride content in processed foods and beverages adds to the total fluoride intake in both humans and their companion animals. People ingest fluoride from many common cereals, sodas, juices, etc., and fluoride is found in pesticide residues as well. As a result of this overexposure, in 2005 the Centers for Disease Control reported that 32% of U.S. children now have some form of dental fluorosis (permanent scarring of the teeth) due to ingesting too much fluoride.

Research indicates that pet foods can contain high levels of fluoride; a low fluoride commercial dog food can contain 40-60 parts per million of fluoride and a high fluoride dog food can have 460 parts per million or more of fluoride! However, little systematic research has been done regarding the fluoride content of pet food. With potentially high levels of fluoride (sometimes called fluorine) consumed by dogs, is it possible – as in people – that symptoms of arthritis, spinal abnormalities, etc. in dogs could actually be skeletal fluorosis (over-accumulation of fluoride in the bone)? The stages of skeletal fluorosis range from joint pain, muscle weakness and changes in the pelvis and spinal column to osteoporosis and to a crippling condition of the joints and vertebrae. Unfortunately, veterinarians typically aren’t aware that the fluoride content in pet foods could be very high and potentially impacting a pet’s health.

Is fluoridation effective? Are there benefits which outweigh the risks?

There is now agreement among dental researchers that any benefit of fluoride in fighting tooth decay comes from direct application to teeth, not from ingestion. The “effectiveness” of fluoridation is more myth than science. Most European countries are not fluoridated, yet World Health Organization statistics show that European dental decay rates have gone down as much as those in the U.S. In addition, major U.S. cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Cincinnati and Boston have been fluoridating for decades, yet they all are reporting rampant tooth decay among children. Adequate dental care and a nutritious diet are critical in reducing tooth decay, and both are absent in the low-income populations of these cities.

What are some recent developments around this issue?

Dr. Hardy Limeback, one of the scientists on the prestigious panel of the National Research Council that reviewed fluoride’s toxicity, has said that their report is highly relevant to the policy of fluoridation. Dr. Limeback has stated, “the evidence that fluoridation is more harmful than beneficial is now overwhelming.”

On August 19, 2005, 11 U.S. EPA Unions, representing over 7000 professional employees, called for a nationwide moratorium on fluoridation and also a congressional investigation of this policy.

In June, 2005, scientists at the Environmental Working Group asked the National Institutes of Health to list fluoride in tap water as a carcinogen.

The Fluoride Deception , published by Christopher Bryson in 2004, exposes the sordid history of fluoridation. Bryson discusses how industry and the military worked behind the scenes to bury or alter studies indicating fluoride’s toxic effects.

In 2001, Dr. J. William Hirzy, Senior Vice-President, Headquarters Union, spoke to the US EPA on behalf of his union. He said, “In summary, we hold that fluoridation is an unreasonable risk. That is, the toxicity of fluoride is so great and the purported benefits associated with it are so small – if there are any at all – that requiring every man, woman and child in America to ingest it borders on criminal behavior on the part of governments.”

How can we and our pets avoid fluoride exposure?

First and foremost, avoid drinking fluoridated water! One way to do this is by removing fluoride from all drinking water and cooking water, using systems like reverse osmosis, ion-exchange, or distillation. Be aware that common charcoal filters do not remove fluoride. Another option is to buy bottled water (check the ingredients for fluoride!) for your family and pets.

If you have an infant, do not use fluoridated water to make formula since this would give the baby a very high dose of fluoride. Infant formula reconstituted with fluoridated water gives the baby 250 times more fluoride than occurs naturally in breast milk! Children under 3 should not be exposed to more than one glass of fluoridated water daily, although it is best to avoid fluoride altogether.

Your dogs and other pets also need to be protected from high fluoride levels in their food. If you feed your dog or cat commercial pet food, call the companies and ask for the fluoride content. (Unfortunately this is difficult to determine since companies usually don’t test for fluoride.) Try to avoid commercial pet food (or people food) that uses mechanically de-boned chicken since it contains high fluoride levels due to incorporated bone particles, in addition to other ingredients that contain fluoride.

What can we do to help bring about an end to this harmful policy of fluoridation?

The best thing you can do is educate yourself about fluoride and its risks and then share this information with others. The website with the most comprehensive information on fluoride is . The vast majority of people still believe the myth that fluoride is “safe and effective,” and by educating others you can help bring about much-needed change in this perception. Fluoride’s documented health risks make it imperative to invoke the Precautionary Principle, which in the case of fluoridation translates into: when in doubt, leave it out!

Epidemiology . 15(4):S83, July 2004, Water Fluoridation and Canine Osteosarcoma

Linda Joy belongs to WA Action for Safe Water (WASW). WASW educates the community on the current science regarding fluoride’s toxicity, health risks, and effectiveness. For information, contact her at,

For Canine Athletes

Weekend Warriors and Winter Couch Potatoes:
How can we help to turn them into true Canine Athletes?

By Debbie LaMonica
ACWT Therapist, Washington

It looks like it is springtime here in Washington. I say this not because it FEELS that way when I walk out my front door, but because the calendar says so. Pretty soon, what the calendar says, and what my senses feel, will match one another. This time of year, the thoughts of many a dog fancier turn to athletic endeavors with our dogs. Field trials, Lure coursing, Racing, Agility, Flyball, Jogging for Fun and Fitness, Carting, Weight pulling and many other events take place after the dark haze of winter leaves us and the sun begins to peek through the clouds.

lindywMany dogs (and for that matter, their owners!) spend the winter cuddled up on the couch, watching football, snuggled under a down comforter, with eyes peeking out only to look for the remote control or for the next bowl of popcorn. Then comes “Spring Marvelous Spring” holding the promise of athletic performance events, fun, ribbons, and – if we are not very careful as trainers and caregivers – injuries, fatigue, overwork, and an early end to all of the fun.

“Winter Couch Potato Syndrome” and “Weekend Warrior Syndrome” are both rampant in both the human and canine athletic communities. How can we, as warm water therapists and specialists, help? What can we do to make the transition from lazy winter to active spring as safe and pain free as possible?

We all know the importance of warm water therapy after an injury or a surgery. Did you know that by helping to condition a canine athlete BEFORE the injuries, you can actually help to prevent those injuries from happening in the first place, maximize performance, and increase the length of that dog’s working (and playing) career? The financial outlay for the caregiver for rehabilitation of an injury that has occurred because of lack of proper conditioning is FAR greater than the conditioning of the canine athlete that could have prevented the injury from occurring in the first place.

So, how do we go about turning a couch potato into a lean athletic machine? The answer is many fold, and certainly, the amount and type of conditioning necessary is different for each of the athletic endeavors, but there are some basic rules to follow:

*If there was any injury in the last season, be certain that you or the caretaker checks with the dog’s veterinarian to be certain that there is nothing that you are missing or that there is nothing that you need to do differently for conditioning than is normally required.

*Always begin and end with stretching. I have found that Repetitive Isolated Stretching is more effective than just Static Stretches, but I employ both in both my land and water practices, as well as on my own dogs. Remember to stay in plane, and to stretch agonists AND antagonists. A stretch in one direction is great, but if you do not stretch the antagonists to those muscles, you are ASKING for an injury to occur. Do not just stretch the limbs. Remember to do vertebral/neck/spinal stretches (in flexion, extension, and rotation) as well. Remember that the tail is an extension of the vertebral column, is used as a rudder and counterbalance in athletic endeavors, and is often a point where dogs hold tension.

*Start slow, even if the dog was in optimal condition at the end of the last athletic season. You can progress as fast as that dog’s conditioning allows, but do not just jump in with both feet thinking that they will be able to start where they left off. This, also, is begging for an injury. Trying to get it all accomplished too fast is a common mistake. This can lead to overwork and muscle strain. A gradual ramp-up of the activity level is best for the dog.

Educate the owners about pre- and post- event stretches and techniques that THEY can use to keep their dogs in optimal and fit condition. Stay within your scope of practice, but share as much information as you possibly can to help them keep their charges healthy and fit.

The BEST thing that you can do is to encourage caretakers to keep their dogs fit year round by coming in for swimming/stretching/conditioning all through the winter months. When springtime is upon us the next year they will be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to get their dogs ready… and they may even be pleasantly surprised at the performance of their dogs early in the athletic season. MOST importantly, they (and you) are helping to prevent injuries from overwork to muscles that are simply not ready for the stress that we put upon them.

weekendwarriorsBefore my dogs compete, I always give them a kiss on their head and tell them to “Run Safe” (actually, we have a little pre-event mantra “No Tripping, No Fighting, No Barking, No Biting. RUN SAFE”). When I let go of their lead to send them off to do what years of instinct dictate that they do, I do so with the knowledge that no matter where they end up in the competition, they have had a grand time, and I have done everything within my power to make certain that they are as safe and injury-free as possible.

Questions to ask yourself about warm water conditioning for athletes:

  • Are you marketing the conditioning aspect of your practice as effectively as you can?
  • Do you talk about the effectiveness of injury prevention?
  • Are you starting off athletic conditioning with too much intensity? That can lead to overuse injuries!
  • Are you remembering the importance of stretching both PRE and POST conditioning exercise?
  • Do you educate caretakers on the importance of pre and post event care?

The Emotional Impact of Water

hotbathHave you ever had a stressful day?
Just wanted to come home and slip into a hot bath?
Let your problems just float away………….

The Emotional Impact of Water
Well – then you know the power of warm water to calm… relax… Take away your troubles….

We were all born in water…
at the cellular level, when we are in warm water, we go back to a time when everything was safe & taken care of…
pre-injury, pre-divorce, pre-shelter, pre-betrayal, pre-abuse, pre-rescue…
Before our time alone here in this life on this planet – we were all floating in warm water… in the womb…

This neurological memory is a scientific fact and when we or our dogs are floated and held and nurtured in warm water, it allows the body – at the deepest levels – to remember a time when things were easier…safer….

And in that state of being… deep healing becomes possible.

In our work with canine water therapy, you may notice this effect when the aggressive terrier comes to see you in spa…
meets you at the door snarling and then becomes a mush-puppy in your arms in the water…
you find yourself aware that there is a shift in the emotional state of the dog…
then their ‘owner’… the room becomes quieter – – –

So often I’ve had dogs come to see me who are paralyzed from a surgery or injury and they have given up…
their people are depressed, frightened and feel helpless…
often just the shift in this deeper emotional/spiritual state is what is needed to turn it all around…

The Power of Water….
It’s deeper than you think…..

Cindy Horsfall – La Paw Spa

The Benefits of Warm Water Therapy

In Aquatic bodywork, we work from a comprehensive perspective that embraces both Eastern and Western models of the body. According to this expanded view, loss of flexibility in joints and muscles is not only physiological in origin, but emotional as well.*

  • Diminished Muscular Tension
  • Increased Range of Motion
  • Reduction of Pain
  • Augmented Peripheral Circulation
  • Normalization of Muscle Tone
  • Reduced Stress and Anxiety
  • Increased Body Awareness
  • Release of Emotional Stress

Warmth of the Water:

As the temperature of the therapy pool approaches core body temperature, heat energy is absorbed into the body through conduction in stillness, and through convection when moved. Heat production metabolism slows down as warmth is supplied from the outside. The viscosity of muscles is reduced and circulation to them is enhanced several-fold. In this softer, more elastic state, muscles are more amenable to stretching. [1]Alexander Georgeakopoulos

Water Pressure:

The body is subjected to greater pressure in water than out of it. This squeezing pressure increases both lymphatic and venous return from the limbs, helping to clear the metabolites from muscle and connective tissues, rendering the body more amenable to stretches. The raised levels of blood and lymph entering the right atrium of the heart slows it down, producing a calming effect, also favorable to stretching. Beyond this, the equal and omni-directional pressure in water stabilizes joints, making stretches safer. [2]Alexander Georgeakopoulos

Who is a Candidate for Warm Water Therapy?

Conditions that may benefit include:

  • Joint injury/lameness
  • Hip/elbow dysplasia
  • Spinal injuries
  • Mobility problems
  • Circulatory problems
  • Arthritic conditions
  • Weight reduction
  • Chronic pain
  • Geriatrics
  • Pre surgery
  • Post surgery
  • Warm water therapy may be perfect for:
  • Loosening up tight muscles
  • Increasing circulation
  • Decreasing swelling
  • Increasing endurance
  • Increasing flexibility
  • Increasing range of motion
  • Increasing balance and coordination
  • Increases body awareness
  • Increasing muscle strength
  • Relaxing and therapeutic to the soul
  • Building confidence and having fun!


1, 2 Alexander Georgeakopoulos

Canine Water Therapy F.A.Q.

Question: I am from the state of Missouri and was recently watching the early morning show and saw a piece on ACWT and was very interested in this. I began looking on the web and have not had any luck finding any in our area. Is this one person that has been opening these around the U.S. or is this something one buys into to open. This would be a very good thing for people in our area. I now do petsitting for a business and I want to get into training dogs for a purpose. As Therapy Dogs. How can I get more information on this subject. I have a Lab that is overweight and we walk but she has bad hips and it is hard for her so this would be a great thing not only for me but others. Juli

Answer: Hello Juli, No, the canine water therapy/swim centers are all privately owned by individuals who are motivated to do so… it is my hope that eventually all areas will have a location for this service as it is an amazing and wonderful business for both the business owners and for the community.

Right now there is not a special license to operate, although what you can call the service does vary from state to state (ie: in most states you can not call it ‘therapy’ or ‘rehab’ as those terms belong to veterinarians, licensed massage therapists, physical therapists, etc. Most people get around this by just calling it a swim center. You need to check with your local authorities to see what you can do and then work within the guidelines of the laws that are in your area.

Let me know if I can help you further and be SURE to let us know if you decide to OPEN a pool in your area !!! We would love to list you…..

Great question and thanks for your interest, Cindy, ACWT President

Question: Hi, I am in the process of building a boarding and training kennel, and water therapy facility. We are starting with a covered outdoor pool and a pond. Because we’re located in the southeast the pond will be used primarily for sports and conditioning 3/4 of the year because of moderate weather. The pool though, there are so many choices it’s mind-boggling. Cost-wise, we are shooting for a rectangular 12′ to 16′ by 20′ to 32′ pool. Warm enough for therapeutic value, but cool enough for conditioning, too.

What are the pros and cons of pool types in the opinions of people already using the pools? Does the ACWT have a site or information we could rely on to make an informed decision?

We do plan to join ACWT once we’re open.

Thank you, Paula P.

Answer: Hello Paula! Sounds like you have a great business idea and we all can’t wait to hear about your new facility.

Since you have the luxury of having a pond for recreational swimming, what I would probably recommend is buying a swim spa for your therapeutic use. One option is the FLORIDA NORTH Swim Spa. Florida North offers a discount to ACWT members. Their Swim Spa is an 8′ x 20′ fiberglass portable unit. The spa itself retails for $11,500 (not including shipping and installation costs) and the bench and stairs are quite usable for therapy. Some of the swim spas we have seen have weird molded seats or little corner steps making them impractical for our canine friends. The Florida North spa is a stand-alone unit so it can be installed above-ground. There are also other options in swim spas such as the stainless steel and tile swim spa available from Bradford Products. However, these types of spas are over $30,000 (not including shipping and installation) and are much heavier than the fiberglass models which make installation a bit more limiting. For fiberglass or acrylic vessels, if you go with any size over 8 feet wide, you will probably need to install them in-ground due to weight and the pool’s inability to contain itself when full. Always check with the manufacturer to see what kind of installation is appropriate.

These are the reasons why I would suggest you consider a swim spa:

  • The swim jets and the circulation jets are strong, allowing for the water to turn over many times which leads to the sanitation that is always a challenge with dog hair. You don’t want a stagnant pool and those that do go with the in-ground pool have to beef up their circulation system to drive the pool water through the filters (3 options – DE/SAND/CARTRIDGE).
  • Swim spas can be portable and relatively inexpensive, allowing one to get into business on a limited budget with a great pool.
  • I have never had a dog who I couldn’t do wonderful therapy work in an 8′ x 20′ spa. Even 240-pound mastiffs have ample room for therapeutic swimming and work.
  • They aren’t too big so you can’t implement a complete dump/clean and water change with your program. This is an ideal situation for a canine spa. One rarely dumps an in-ground pool.
  • You can turn temperatures up and down as needed. Due to the lower water capacity over a pool, a swim spa is very efficient. I used to have tropical Tuesdays set at 96 degrees for the greyhounds and whippets and very elderly who only came in for massage and then it would be 88 degrees by Friday for the hard core swimmers. My usual temperature is 94 degrees for all kinds of work and my comfort. Also, maintenance costs are much less with a spa with lower water capacity.

Keep us posted here at the ACWT and good luck !!!

Warmest Regards,
Cindy Horsfall

Canine Flotation Devices

What I like in a Canine Flotation Device for Therapy work…

by Cindy Horsfall

A dog will usually arrive at your pool in order to regain full range of motion, to build confidence, to build muscle and strength. I personally don’t often use a flotation device as I want to be able to support the dog, feel his movement and have access to his entire body for massage, however, for those dogs who don’t need this hands on approach, a floatation device MUST first and foremost be of utmost comfort and not impose on the dog’s full range of motion.

The most common poor design flaw that I see is the flotation device that restricts the forward movement of the shoulder.

The other important characteristic of a good flotation device is one that inspires confidence. In canine water therapy, we often are in need of nurturing confidence and the spirit of a dog who has ‘given up’… the last thing we need is a flotation device that rides up in back (like the ones with only one strap under the body) or that cuts into the belly (like the ones without a protective belly flap), or where the belly flap rides back (like the ones where the belly flaps don’t have proper guides for the 2 straps).

Finally – we need a flotation device that is easy to put on and take off. We are often in the middle of a session and need to be able to put this device on quickly … or perhaps we want to take it off quickly to assess movement or work the muscles in a different way… the plastic quick release buckles are wonderful… as opposed to the flotation devices where one has to place the front feet through little holes… or the ones that zip down the back…. we don’t usually have that kind of time to put one of those contraptions on.

Our needs will be slightly different than the needs of the boat owner looking to secure his pup from drowning – our needs are most importantly to not restrict movement, to be comfortable, to fit well and to be easy to put on and take off…

I’m sure there are many on the market that would work well … but these are the 2 that I have used recently most often…


flotation1K-9 Float Coat – Canine Life Jacket

RUFF WEAR K-9 Float Coat – Canine Life Jacket
In addition to the flotation features, this PFD has reflective trim for visibility and a practical assistance handle for helping your dog. Rock Lockster® release buckles allow for easy removal — even when the dog is soaked or reluctant to cooperate.

Other features:

  • Durable, high-visibility 1,680-denier ballistic nylon fabric.
  • Variable thickness buoyancy cells. Reflective trim for low light visibility.
  • Ergonomic cut for fit, safety and mobility
  • Rock Lockster® side release buckles
  • Concealed D-ring attachment point
  • Low profile handle up top for assisting dog

flotation2Outward Hound – The Safe and Secure Life Jacket for dogs

This design allows for fast size adjustments and a flexible comfortable fit. A high performance dog flotation device, providing flotation and ultimate buoyancy.

Other features:

  • Quickly adjusted for a good fit, with quick-release buckles.
  • Water repellent neoprene and cordura nylon construction provides warmth and protection from abrasion.
  • Fits under the belly to keep it securely in place.
  • Convenient top grab handle for easy rescue by hand or boat hook.
  • Example of what not to use as a Canine Flotation Device!!!


TTouch Method

Swim Sessions Combined with the TTOUCH METHOD ™ offer Canines New Pawsibilities

By Pampered Paw Swim Spa

ttouch-method-picInjuries sustained by canines often leave a holding pattern of impaired function and pain in the injured area. These mal-adaptive responses are repetitively used because they are “programmed” as neural patterns which exist below the level of the dog’s awareness. In an effort to protect their body, the animal that is in pain will carry themselves in a way which is beneficial at the time. However long term, it can have a negative effect, causing movement patterns that cause more tension and pain. These patterns often block the use of that original affected body part and thereby create stress on distant areas of the body which must overwork to compensate. This chronic distress often affects the dog’s general health, mood, and behavior. The TTouch Method ™ is used to bring these patterns to awareness. The benefits of aware functioning are an invitation for restoration of function following surgery or injury.. In this state of awareness daily processes are altered so that self healing is mobilized and a healthier homeostasis results.

The Tellington TTouch Method ™ finds areas in the canine’s body that indicate discomfort, fear of contact, pain and tension. The TTouch Method ™ has been used extensively to speed healing and recovery from injuries, illness and surgeries in all animal species as well as humans. TTouch ™ is NOT a variation of massage. TTouch ™ is useful to “retrain a number of physiological responses in ways which promote recovery and health. The intent of the TTouch ™ is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence. TTouch ™ helps to release tension and increase body awareness by using a combination of touches, lifts and movement exercises. This TTouch ™ awakens the neurological system at the cellular level so that the animal actually learns a different way to relate to his world.

Canine swimming and TTouch ™ practioner, Tonita Fernandez offers combinations of TTouch ™ and hydrothermal exercise to create an invitation for the canine body to re pattern and re balance. At Pampered Paw Swim Spa, LLC in Enumclaw WA we incorporate the TTouch Method ™ in the canine swim sessions. For many clients we also set up follow-up TTouch ™ sessions outside of the water. Tonita has developed a first of its kind swim session for canines using tools, and equipment as the dog is immersed in the comfort of warm water. “I am really excited about bringing TTouch ™ to the world of Canine hydrotherapy.” “By combining swim sessions and TTouch ™ it offers non–invasive ways to work with gait irregularities, injury, illness, arthritis, hip dysplasia, aging and surgery recovery. It reduces stress as well as brings about more body awareness which creates an invitation for better physical and emotional function and balance.

The Tellington TTouch Method ™ is comprised of three components that work independent of each other, but are designed to work most efficiently when the three components of the work are combined for maximum effect.

The first of the three components works on the neurological level, while the second one uses equipment and tools to influence the self confidence and the balance of the animal. The third component uses grounding exercises to increase self confidence, coordination, focus and body awareness.

TTouch ™ can be used on the animal in the comfort of water as well as outside of the water, with equally great results. The few minutes spent before the dog enters the pool or spa can be used to offer TTouches that take little time and can be used parallel to other methods or hydrothermal exercises. In its simplest form the only tools needed are a pair of hands. TTouch ™ offers the dog non-habitual touches and movement. The effects are lasting. TTouch ™ is known as the touch that teaches. As we apply it, TTouch ™ teaches the dog to use its mental and physical resources to reorganize its programmed responses.

Tonita plans to offer Canine Hydrothermal TTouch ™ workshops in the fall 2006 at Pampered at Paw Swim Spa. TTouch ™ is known as the touch that teaches. During a warm water swim session TTouch ™ can be used as a way of offering the dog help in cases of excessive barking, aggressive behavior, extreme fear and shyness, excitability and nervousness, problems with aging, surgery recovery, as well as a multitude of physical and emotional issues. Sessions outside of the pool will help a dog to build confidence as well as bring about more body awareness, helping a dog to recover from injury and illness, or just enhance the quality of the animal’s life. Dog guardians as well as veterinary staff and all water workers will learn ways to help dogs live up to their full potential. Some topics that we will visit are:

  • Calming the nervous dog or a first time swimmer.
  • Specific TTouches to use for helping an incision to heal.
  • How to use a leash to offer the dog with physical issues a way to rebalance its body, promoting optimum balance.
  • TTouches and tools to make the most of a dogs swim session.
  • Minimizing counterproductive stress responses during a swim session.

Watch Tonita’s website for more information:



Depending on the dog, his behavior, or physical impairment, different wraps may be applied. “The wrap pictured is one I most frequently use. It is easy to put on the dog and very effective.” Place the middle of the wrap across the dog’s chest and cross the ends once on the back. Then take both ends (without crossing them) back along the outside of the thighs. Place each end over the hind end and bring the ends of the wrap up under the legs and over the back. Connect the Wrap by tying it off to one side of the dogs spine. If left loose, it may not be effective and, if too tight, it can interfere with the dog’s movement especially when swimming. Some dog’s coats and activity level don’t allow the wrap to be of benefit during a swim session. However, the wrap can be applied for just five minutes or so in the beginning of a session as you introduce the dog to the water and spend some time connecting with him. It can then be removed before he actually swims. Ace bandages are inexpensive and easy to apply on a dog. Pampered Paw Swim Spa stocks Ace bandages for home use. Large breed dogs may need two or three Ace bandages sewn together to function as a full Body Wrap. Tonita likes to send the client home with tips, and TTouches to use at home. The more involved the dog guardian is in the health and well being of the dog the faster we see positive results. After the Body Wrap is on the dog Tonita uses variations of TTouches to increase the dog’s circulation and activate the neural impulses in the legs.


The Body Wrap enhances the dog’s sense of his own body. It is a TTouch aid, that Tonita incorporates into most swim sessions. ” I often use the Body Wrap to address issues that effect a dog on an emotional as well as physical level. It is a great aid, that helps to improve a dog’s mobility. It is especially helpful for the dog that is hyperactive, afraid of loud noises or nervous in general. The Body Wrap is also useful for injured or recovering dogs. It works wonderful for older, stiff and arthritic dogs.” TTouches can be offered to the dog before, during or after the use of the Body Wrap. Veterinary techs, canine water workers and animal massage practitioners can also incorporate the TTouch Body Wrap aid into their swim sessions, as well as before or after a session. Just wearing the Body Wrap for five to ten minutes can bring more body awareness to an animal. “There are several versions of wrapping. When using a wrap in the water, I use a waterproof material.” At Pampered Paw Swim Spa, Tonita teaches the dogs’ guardians to use simple ace bandages as a wrap to offer more information to the dog at home or to calm the dog before coming for a swim session. The dog who is healing from a knee or hip surgery or one who is pre-op with issues in these areas often do remarkably well when body wraps are applied. Pictured at right, Tonita uses wraps to work with a dog that is very hyperactive, nervous and vocal. “Upon arrival I apply a body wrap on this dog and he is able to calm down and relax and be more focused and aware of his body, getting the most out of his swim session.”


Using this gentle circular TTouch ™ on the dogs mouth affects both physical and emotional responses and improves the dog’s focus and ability to learn. This TTouch ™ method is very helpful for barking, stress, shyness, chewing, dental work, hyperactivity, fear and maintaining health and well-being. Pictured at left, Tonita Fernandez of Pampered Paw Swim Spa is sitting behind the dogs head supporting the muzzle or chin softly with one hand, being careful not to squeeze or restrain. She uses gentle TTouches on the outside of the mouth and tiny touches on the upper and lower gums and lip areas, that can be done for just one minute or less with great results. If the mouth is dry, wet fingers work better. This should be done with obvious caution. ” I find that this mouth work is very effective for the dog who has emotional upset. It is great to use for dogs that are recovering from surgery who tend to lick or chew their wounds, continuously. It is also very beneficial for the animal that has a fear of veterinary offices.”

To learn more about TTouch, please go to

Canine First Aid for the Water Therapist

(presented by Lisa Dzyban, DVM, ACVIM Diplomate at the July 2006 ACWT Meeting)


  • Get pet medical history, including underlying medical conditions. Be sure to find out what medication(s) the pet is on. Have veterinarian and emergency contact information.
  • Have a pet first aid kit readily available. This should be in a place where everyone can get to it. Mounting it on a wall may not be a good idea as it can not easily be removed to take to the area where it is needed. (See the Pet First Aid Kit article for items that should be contained in your Kit).
  • Have a list of Emergency Phone Numbers readily available. Animal Poison Control (1-888-426-4435 or
  • All staff should be trained and current in pet CPR.
  • Have a disaster plan in place and practice safety drills with your staff.
  • Make sure all dogs have ID on.


Heart Disease

  • If the dog has been diagnosed with a heart condition, be sure to find out from the veterinarian if the dog can start an exercise program and what the parameters are.
  • Common medications include lasix, digoxin and enalapril.
  • Heart problems commonly show the day after exercise.
  • These dogs are not normal animals. Chemicals and heat can cause problems in these dogs.

Respiratory Disease

  • These involve the lung or upper airway.
  • Common medications include theodur and hycodan
  • Chemicals and heat can cause problems in these dogs.

Neurologic or Muscle Disease

  • This includes seizure disorders.
  • Common medications include phenobarbital and acepromazine.

Endocrine Disease

  • Common medication includes insulin.

Cancer or immune disease

  • Dogs shouldn’t go to public dog places while their white blood cell count is low (usually the 2 days while getting chemotherapy).

Canine Emergency Procedures


  • Did you know that a dog can drown on 1 tablespoon of water?
  • A dog can drown in water or in vomit. The heart will stop within 60 seconds.
  • Wet Drowning: Inhale fluids and lungs get full.
  • Dry Drowning: Nothing is in the lungs. The dog tries to breathe but the glotus closes and clamps shut. The dog does not get oxygen and there is a lot of lung trauma.
  • Gravity is your ally the first few seconds after drowning.
  • Procedure to assist a drowning dog:
    • Invert the dog to expel water and try to get the airway back by sweeping your finger in the back of the throat. Use gravity. You can stand the dog on it’s nose. Do not punch the dog.
    • Lay on side with it’s head lower than it’s torso .
    • Evaluate for CPR and begin if needed.
    • Wrap in warm blankets.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!


  • Causes: Diabetes, Addison ‘s, liver failure, insulin, and tumors. Puppies, Labrador Retrievers and hunting dogs are especially susceptible. Small breeds are more prone to low blood pressure rather than low blood sugar.
  • Signs: Weakness, disorientation and seizures.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Feed the dog if it is able to swallow.
    • If not able to swallow, corn syrup on the gums may work.
    • Honey, glucose tablets, marshmallows and frosting can be kept on hand.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!
  • A reward is that when you exercise a diabetic dog their medications may need to be lowered. Exercise is great for these dogs!


  • Causes: Epilepsy, low blood sugar, low oxygen and brain disorders. The brain feeds on oxygen and sugar.
  • Seizures can be Grand Mal to Petit Mal.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Protect the dog from injury. Hitting it’s head on the ground is the most common problem.
    • If the dog is in the water at the time of the seizure, keep its head above the water. If you are by yourself, stay in the water if the seizure lasts less than 5 minutes. The warm water could actually be helpful.
    • Do not rub or stimulate or yell at the dog. This could make the seizure last longer. Speak calmly and place your hands on them.
    • Time the event.
    • Give Phenobarbital if already prescribed.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian if this is a new problem, if the seizure is longer than 5 minutes or if there are two or more seizures in 24 hours!

Respiratory Distress

  • Causes: Prior heart, upper airway or lung disease, inhalation of water or vomit (choking) and foreign body. One of the most common culprits is beauty bark.
  • Signs: Air gulping, noisy breathing, raspiness, hoarse bark, lilac gums and no breathing. Upper airway noise can indicate inhaled items. Do not confuse these symptoms with reverse sneezing.
  • If the dog is oxygenating properly, there are usually no worries. If the dog has laryngeal paralysis, is overly warm or has had too much exercise, the dog is probably not getting enough oxygen and this becomes a life and death situation.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Keep the dog cool, calm and fan its face. If air conditioning is available, that is best. If you are in a humid place, take the dog outside.
    • Perform the Heimlich maneuver if a known foreign object is present. Do not do this if the dog is coughing.
      Evaluate the dog for CPR and begin if needed.
    • Take the dog to the veterinarian even if the dog improves.
    • If the dog has known lung disease, exercise the dog carefully and expose it only to perfect air quality.
  • Dogs with severe bronchitis may not be a good candidate for swimming.


  • Causes:
    • Neurologic: disc disease, slipped disc, emboli, tumor, endocrine disease, infection, Myasthenia, and certain medications.
      • Myasthenia is an immune disease affecting certain muscles. The longer the dog exercises, the weaker it gets. Hind legs are worse than the front. With rest, they get better. The esophagus is also affected. This mostly occurs in large breed dogs.
      • Hypoxia (low oxygen): heart disease, anemia and lung disease.
        • If the dog comes out of the water and collapses, the veterinarian will look at this as a possible cause.
  • Signs: Inability or incoordinated ambulation. Any dog that is weak of having trouble walking may have hypoxia. Gum color can be an indicator, however dead dogs can have pink gums so you can’t always use this as a sign.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Immediate and complete rest.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!


  • Causes: Heart disease, severe anemia and brain disorder. 90% of the time when a dog faints, they have a heart problem. Low blood sugar and low blood pressure can also cause fainting.
  • Signs: Loss of consciousness with rapid recovery. If the dog falls over, is limp, wakes up and is ok, it has probably fainted versus having a seizure.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Get a heart rate or rhythm while fainted if at all possible. This can be very helpful to the veterinarian.
    • Immediate and complete rest.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!

Pulse and Heart Rate

Normal heart rate (resting)

  • Small dog: 100-160 beats per minute (bpm). This can go up to 250 bpm if the dog is very anxious.
  • Large dog (over 30 pounds): 60-100 bpm. The larger the dog, the slower the heart rate. A Mastiff may have a heart rate of 60 bpm and a Labrador might have a heart rate of 80-100 bpm.

Pulse Points

  • Take the pulse at the inner thigh (femoral), the left fifth rib space (heart beat) or pedal or palmar (paw).
  • Heart rate is similar to pulse but not exactly.

Allergic Reaction (anaphylactic)

  • Causes: Bee stings and spider bites are most common. Also, vaccine and medication reactions.
  • Signs: Swollen muzzle and face, itchiness (usually the first sign), hives, vomiting and diarrhea (a severe sign). Hives are more evident in short haired dogs.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Give Benadryl (diphenhydramine) at a dose of 1 mg per pound. If the dog does not get better right away, it will need a stronger medication. If swollen face and itchiness are the only symptoms, the dog is still in a safe place. Benadryl may keep the dog from going to the next stage which is usually hives.
    • Steroids and epinephrine are also treatment options. An Epi-Pen is used only for life and death situations.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!

Gastric Torsion

  • Cause: Distension of stomach with gas and/or food and rotation of organ on axis. It cuts off its own blood supply and usually takes the spleen with it. Starts as bloat.
  • Signs: The cardinal sign the veterinarian looks for is dry vomiting. You may or may not see a distended stomach. Also, a rapid heart rate.
  • Treatment procedure: Get the dog to the veterinarian immediately. Can be fatal within 4 hours.
  • Simple bloat is rarely fatal. The flip of the stomach is what is most dangerous.
  • Large breed, deep-chested dogs are more prone to bloat. With these dogs, it can be hard to tell if the stomach is distended just by looking at them. An x-ray will probably be needed.
  • The only cause that has been found is exercise after eating. Usually 1 hour after a meal but can be as long as 4 hours after. Also, don’t let dogs eat 4-6 before swimming.


  • Cause: Body temperature greater than 104 degrees. Usually associated with heat (such as being left in a hot car) or exercise. Bulldogs and dogs with laryngeal problems are especially prone.
  • Signs: Excessive panting, drooling, collapse, noisy breathing, brick membranes, cherry red gums bloody diarrhea and rapid heart rate.
  • Treatment procedure:
    • Wet body with cool (not cold) water and place in front of a fan or air conditioner.
    • Get the dog to the veterinarian!
  • When the body temperature reaches 104 degrees, the intestines start to melt and toxins are released into the bloodstream. At 105-106 degrees, the brain swells and damage occurs. Fluid moves into places where it is not supposed to be. The dog can have problems with their heart and kidneys afterward due to the release of the toxins.
  • Hyperthermia is a cardiovascular nightmare. Care can last 3 days or more.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

  • These symptoms can be an emergency if:
    • There is blood in the vomit or throughout the diarrhea.
    • The dog vomits more than eight times in 24 hours.
    • Vomit and diarrhea are occurring together.
    • There are other signs of shock or allergic reaction.
  • Treatment procedure: withhold food and give small amounts of water frequently if it does not trigger vomiting.

Bite Wounds and Eye Trauma

  • All eye wounds are an emergency! Prevent self trauma with an Elizabethan collar.
  • Flat faced dogs are especially prone to eye trauma.
  • All bite wounds are worse than they appear on the surface. There can be muscle trauma and infection.
  • Antibiotics should be started within 8 hours.
  • Bite wounds of the abdomen, neck or chest often need surgical exploration.

How to Pick a Therapist or Pool

(wagcover) Brenda Williams holds Cooper, a lab cross, in a pool at Pawsitively Pooched doing their their assisted swimming program. For Wag Cover in Special Projects ... Robin Kuniski/Sept.29.2005/Digital

(wagcover) Brenda Williams holds Cooper, a lab cross, in a pool at Pawsitively Pooched doing their their assisted swimming program. For Wag Cover in Special Projects … Robin Kuniski/Sept.29.2005/Digital

Canine water therapy and aquatic swimming can serve many purposes, from pure, recreational fun to post surgery rehabilitation. There are different types of pools and spa services to meet these needs. Spas may offer assisted swimming alone, self swimming where you can swim your own dog, or they may offer massage, Ttouch, acupressure, reiki, aromatherapy, etc. The facility might also have an underwater treadmill.

Before choosing a pool or therapist, think about what benefits you hope your dog will gain from swimming and/or aquatic massage. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if your dog is a candidate, and ask what type of pool is best for your dog’s specific needs.

Note – in some states a veterinary referral is needed prior to certain services, such as massage, and in some states massage can only be performed by or under direct supervision of a veterinarian. A list of requirements by state can be found on the IAAMB website, or by calling your local veterinarian or massage board and inquiring. The laws are ‘up in the air’ in this rapidly growing field of service and in the process of being defined in each State/Province.

Things to Consider

Swimming provides a non weight-bearing form of exercise. Benefits may include the following:

  • Loosening tight muscles
  • Increasing circulation, endurance, flexibility, range of motion, balance, coordination and muscle strength
  • Decreasing swelling
  • Relaxation
  • Confidence building

Conditions which may benefit from water therapy include:

  • Joint injury
  • Hip/elbow dysplasia
  • Spinal injury
  • Mobility problems
  • Arthritis
  • Pre/Post-Surgery
  • Chronic pain
  • Geriatrics
  • Weight reduction

Some questions to ask about the therapist:

  • What training has the person received?
  • Are they licensed or certified?
  • Why did they choose this line of work?
  • How many hours have they spent in the pool?
  • Are they trained in pet first aid, specifically first aid in the water? What is the procedure in the event of an emergency situation? Does the therapist or facility have a relationship with a nearby veterinarian? Is there veterinary care available if an emergency occurs outside of normal business hours?
  • What type of evaluation is required prior to swimming your dog? Is the evaluation performed by your veterinarian, the therapist, both?
  • What, if any, vaccinations are required?

Some questions to ask about the pool:

  • What is the pool temperature? Pool temperature should be between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooler temperatures can be better for conditioning or weight loss. Warmer temperatures can help with muscle relaxation and sooth stiff or sore joints.
  • How often is the pool cleaned? What chemicals are used to clean the pool?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Is the business insured?
  • Ask if you can tour the facility and meet the therapist(s) prior to scheduling an appointment.
  • Are customer referrals available?

Some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Were all of my questions answered to my satisfaction?
  • Did I feel comfortable asking questions?
  • Am I comfortable putting my dog in this persons care?

Canine Water Therapy has profound effects on many levels, each therapist and each pool will offer a different ‘feeling’ or service. Explore and Inquire and Try a few different programs. Don’t be shy about asking that your dog be removed from the pool or the session if you feel uncomfortable. Remember that is is YOUR emotional safety and YOUR DOG’s emotional and physical safety that is the priority.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy of the German Shepherd Dog

Degenerative Myelopathy of the German Shepherd Dog

This guide was compiled by a German Shepherd Dog owner who provided care for dogs with this disease. She is not a veterinarian. The guide is intended to provide general information and examples; it is not intended to be a substitute for expert advice and information that can only be provided by a qualified veterinarian familiar with Degenerative Myelopathy (DM).

Consult your veterinarian and neurologist for accurate and complete information about DM.

What is degenerative myelopathy (DM)?

DM is a disease that attacks the dog’s nervous system and leads to progressive neural (nerve) damage over time. It may initially attack one side of the dog, or both sides. DM does not seem to cause the dog any pain. Onset of DM is usually between 5 years and older age (e.g. 10 to 12 years).

DM is progressive, which means the symptoms worsen over time. However, dogs receiving treatment may have periods of stability where there is no further degeneration for days, weeks, months or years. Dog owners will see “stages” of degeneration, with only very mild symptoms in the earliest stages. DM progression may be very slow in some dogs, and very fast in others.

Without treatment, progression from stage to stage of the disease is much faster so it is important to begin treatment as early as possible. Early diagnosis and integrated treatment slows the progression of symptoms for most dogs.

Many other diseases and certain types of injury (e.g., a spinal injury, low thyroid) cause the same symptoms as DM, so it is important to rule these out before assuming that your dog has DM. Also, DM may co-exist with other physical problems or diseases. Always ask your vet to perform the least invasive tests first (such as blood tests). Some of the more invasive tests (such as myleograms) present a significant risk of making DM symptoms much worse permanently. DM cannot be diagnosed by observation alone.

A comprehensive description of DM, tests and treatment options can be found on the internet at the address below.

This is an article by Dr. Roger Clemmons, PhD. The treatments described by Dr. Clemmons were effective for my dogs, but your veterinarian may hold a different viewpoint about treatment than Dr Clemmons. Consult with your veterinarian for other treatment options. Be aware that most veterinarians are not specialists with detailed knowledge of DM, testing options or treatments. Urge your vet to consult with experts in the field if they do not know about DM.

The DM Support Group web site also has extensive information written in layperson’s language (including testing information, care instructions and many very useful links):

DM and your dog

Your dog will adjust to the physical changes brought on by DM, and live a happy life, with your help. Mentally, dogs remain bright, vibrant, alert and playful (if that’s the way they were before the onset of DM!). Sleepy or laid-back dogs stay that way, too. Dogs seem to adjust better if their owners remain positive and upbeat. Many owners report a new and incredible level of understanding, love and closeness with their dogs as the DM progresses.

DM does not cause any pain. As far as research can show, dogs feel numbness in affected areas (and this is consistent with what people feel who have similar conditions). If your dog is in pain or shows any difficulty with urination or defecation, inform your vet immediately and make an appointment.

As DM progresses into new stages, your dog will discover its new limitations and find ways of handling the new challenges. Seeing your dog learning new ways of moving and living with DM may be an emotional experience for you (especially if this is your first experience caring for someone who is differently “abled” or who is ill).

DM and You

You may find it very hard to witness the physical decline in your dog, in the same way it is hard to see a person you love become ill. If you are willing to walk this journey with your dog, there will be many unexpected blessings, profound experiences, gifts and astonishing things to learn as the dog shares experiences with you. This is true whether you are young or old, and it is true for children as well as adults.

Caring for a DM dog can be challenging in later stages of the disease, especially when you don’t know all the tricks and hints that make life with a DM dog easier. Be confident that you will learn what you need to know over time from your veterinarian, and from others who have cared for a DM dog! There are many resources available to you that will help you learn quickly. Here is a short list of information topics you may need to become familiar with at different stages of the disease:

  • Facts about DM progression
  • What medications, foods and supplements are helpful
  • Exercise that works! (swimming and walking)
  • What to do when your dog cannot voluntarily urinate (easy to solve!)
  • Symptoms of urinary tract infections in a dog
  • How to express the bladder, and how often (easy!)
  • How to stimulate a bowel movement, and how often (easy)
  • How to turn a partly paralyzed dog (easy for both dog and person)
  • Where to find equipment at reasonable prices that will make your care giving duties easier and less-impactful to your household
  • Where to find support for when you want it or need it

DM Symptoms and Course

DM symptoms may wax and wane, so early symptoms may appear one day and then disappear for weeks. Begin treatment EARLY for the best chance of delaying onset of symptoms.

In very early stages, symptoms may be very subtle. Owners may notice the dog’s inside rear toe nails wear down more quickly, for example, or that the dog shuffles his or her back feet from time to time, or the dog’s stride is shorter than normal. Later, the dog will begin dragging a back foot or both back feet all the time (that is, the leg is not lifted quite far enough and the toe nails drag as the dog walks). Eventually, one or both back legs become weaker and the dog begins to move more clumsily (especially when walking around corners). If the DM is left untreated, the rear legs may become paralyzed in 3 to 6 months after the initial appearance of symptoms. With early treatment, permanent paralysis of the back legs may be delayed 12 months or more (even years). There is anecdotal evidence of some dogs remaining stable (no significant degeneration with continuing ability to walk and run) for 3 years and more; these dogs had early treatment.

In later stages (after full paralysis of the hind legs), DM causes paralysis of the front legs and attacks the brain stem. Dogs may have seizures at this stage. Some small movements in the legs and head may remain, but the dog is able to move itself or remain in an upright position. At this point, palliative care is provided.

DM is not a fatal disease, so caregivers will need to free their dogs through euthanasia when the time comes. This is always a difficult decision but it is a very compassionate thing to do for a late stage dog.

DM affects each dog differently. With treatment, some dogs may live for years with relatively minor symptoms (e.g., toe dragging), while others loose mobility within a few months. Treatment provides the best quality of life for your dog, regardless of the rate DM progresses.

What causes DM?

The exact cause of the DM is not known. However, most researchers seem to think there are genetic, environmental and toxic factors. Research has not shown what mechanism triggers the onset of DM.

Is there a cure for DM?

There is no cure. However, as stated above, symptoms may be delayed with treatment. At the University of Florida, about 80% of dogs respond well.

The objective of the treatment is to delay onset or progression of symptoms, and to provide maximum quality of life to the dog over the course of the DM.

Treatment includes exercise, diet and dietary supplements, medication and other supportive measures. The cost of medications and supplements are reasonable for many people. If you cannot afford all or part of the medication/supplements, diet and exercise (at least 2 hours per week) alone may delay onset of symptoms or help the dog remain stable. Acupuncture has also been shown to slow symptoms.

Westlab Pharmacy in Gainesville, Florida (telephone: 1-800-4westla) appears to provide the cheapest and highest quality medications and supplements for the treatment of DM. Your veterinarian will need to call in a prescription for your dog. The cost is significantly less than purchasing items through local pharmacies or health food stores.

The Westlab web site is very informative and includes a complete description of the medications and supplements:

These can be printed out and given to your veterinarian for review. Westlabs works closely with Dr. Clemmons and the University of Florida.

Key medications are N Acetylecysteine, Aminocaprioc acid, and Antiox Q (or preferably Antiox QCB). See the Westlab information sheet for details. If your dog is on an incontinence drug, please tell your vet and Westlabs. DM medications may interact with incontinence drugs, and a simple adjustment to the medications or dosage may be necessary.

As a caring owner, you will hope and expect the medications and supplements to magically return your dog to “normal.” While some dogs may experience dramatic improvement, others may not see obvious change or slowing of symptom development.

What happens after paralysis of the back legs?

Dogs with paralyzed back legs can remain mobile and physically fit with your help.

  • Assisted swimming is excellent exercise and is recommended for DM dogs
  • Dog wheelchairs are available which allow dogs to run, play and go for walks and hikes. Without the wheelchair, dogs with paralyzed rear legs can move on their own (scooting), or can be assisted with a rear-end harness
  • Small accommodations may need to be made in your home (as the dog scoots instead of walks), and some people may elect to use a ramp to help their dogs into cars or down stairs.

Dogs can absolutely live a happy and vibrant life even with the impact of DM. Your other pets will adjust, too. You may even see them grooming and caring for the DM dog.

Although it may be very difficult for you as an owner to adjust with the progression of DM, the rewards of caring for a DM dog are profound and may be life changing.

Caregiver Help Aids and Support

There are many tips that will help you provide care giving and yet minimize the impact on yourself and your household.

Useful Equipment

Harnesses to lift your dog’s rear end

No special equipment is needed until the dog starts serious toe dragging or becomes unstable. At this point, you will need a rear-end harness to help lift and stabilize your dog when out walking. Some people use a towel sling, but this is hard on your back and is not ergonomically correct for you or your dog (and it’s a lot of work to use a towel in this way!). A rear end harness allows you to carry your dog with one hand, like a suitcase! Harnesses are also available for dogs having trouble with their front legs. Here are some places to buy a harness:

Dog Wheelchairs & Lifts

There are a large number of companies that make custom wheel chairs for dogs, and there are also plans available for homemade wheelchairs. Some former owners of DM dogs are willing to give their own wheelchairs away at no cost.

Wheelchair designs vary and some are easier to adjust and use than others. Ask lots of questions and get advice before investing in one. However, most dogs love the mobility, so they are really worth the effort and cost!

If your dog is fully paralyzed, a new or used lift is very handy. The Tylift company sells lifts that some DM dog owners found very helpful. Lifts are not for everyone, but if you have back trouble or a very large dog, they can come in handy for moving the dog with ease (the dog and dog bed can be moved at the same time).

Here are a few ideas; a search on the internet will yield more results: (plans for homemade wheelchairs, slings, lifts and great support!)

Profleece and Bed Covers

Late stage DM dogs may occasionally leak urine. Profleece is a wonderful product that wicks wetness away and yet absorbs. To protect underlying beds, use a shower curtain or rubber sheet.

Profleece is available directly from the manufacturer or at the La Paw Spa store.

Latex Gloves and Diapers

Latex gloves and adult diapers work with dogs too!

Help and Support

There are bonded and insured dog caregivers in some cities, but choose carefully. Also, vet techs may be able to help. Contact your vet for names. These people can care for your paralyzed dog while you go on vacation, go to work, or just hang out!

Support is available from other dog owners with DM dogs and handicapped pets. Two excellent sites are: (general support about providing care) (DM support group)

Updated December 2004, there appears to be a new test that can determine if a dog has DM and also might be able to help – click here