Swimming for Elbow Dysplasia and Post Cruciate Surgery - An Explanation.

I have had lots of questions about my recommendation against swimming for ED and Cruciate disease (pre or post operatively). 

Firstly, this is a general rule! There will always be exceptions to the rule. There may be times that swimming is appropriate in these cases but it is not without thought and careful planning. If my previous article got you thinking then awesome, that was my aim. There are different opinions and until we have scientific data, we have to look at our experience and theory to explain what we experience in practice. 

I am a control freak, and I am risk averse. I send clients home with programs and have to assume that if something can go wrong it will. This means with the choice of two exercises I will always go for the safer one. So if it becomes a choice between swimming and wading, I say bring on the wading!! 

Specific to Elbow Dysplasia

Elbows are generally classified as ‘irritable’. They are easily upset, causing pain. When swimming movement is repetitive and depending on the dog, possibly exaggerated. This can cause increased inflammation and abnormal forces moving across the joint, which can lead to pain. It is impossible to make small tweaks to form while swimming, like you can in weight bearing exercises, that can minimise the risk of this occurring.

So to be safe, and minimise the risk of further injury or irritation while in recover, I recommend no swimming for ED patients as the general rule, particularly for those playing at home.

Specific to Cruciate Ligament

The stifle joint after a TTA or TPLO is only stable when weight bearing. When swimming the joint is no more stable than prior to the surgery. Unless you have spent a significant amount of time building up supporting muscles for these joints then swimming can lead to abnormal joint forces moving through the stifle which raises the potential of further injury or irritation. 

Again, avoiding swimming is a matter of minimising risk during recovery.


Swimming only builds up muscles that move the front leg rather than those that support the joint. Supporting muscles are only worked when the dog is weight bearing. These muscles are already likely to be compromised by pain. Building up/activating the moving muscles you can end up with unusual forces across the joint when the dog gets out of the pool. If you do not work on land based exercises and primarily use swimming as therapy (as many do) then you will end up with an unbalanced joint, with weak supporting muscles and (by comparison) overly strong moving muscles. This leads to increased risk of pain, irritation or even further injury.

Unfortunately, we don’t have specific studies to back up many of my recommendations, but we do have lots of experience and some really well tested hypothesises for why we see these results.

If you are interested in swimming then consider doing a regular pain score to track what exercises makes your dog feel better and what make them feel worse. By having actual data on a page you can track trends much better and you can see changes over time.

Dr Jaime Jackson