Southtown Veterinary Hospital

1806 Ridge Rd.
Montrose, PA 18801

(570)278-9210

southtownvet.com

THE UNDERWATER TREADMILL

 

What is it? It?s like a regular walking treadmill put inside a fish tank! We

walk the dog inside, close and latch the door and then pump water in up to

the desired level ? usually about elbow or shoulder high. When we start up

the treadmill, the dog will naturally start walking. The tank can also be used

for swimming small dogs.

 

Why is it helpful? The water supports the dog?s weight, taking stress off

his joints. Walking in water is good exercise without damage to injured or

healing tissue. The water is also warm. Like a warm bath or a hot tub it

relaxes muscles, increases blood flow to muscles and tissues and reduces

pain.

 

What types of cases can benefit? For post-operative orthopedic patients

the treadmill provides a way to maintain muscle strength and cardiovascular

health while they are unable to walk far on dry ground. Dogs who are able to

use a treadmill recover much more quickly after surgery. For spinal patients

the treadmill can be the difference between walking again or not being able

to walk. Carefully placing the feet as the treadmill moves, while the weight

of the body is supported by the water, can teach and stimulate dogs to walk.

The treadmill is also great exercise for arthritic pets, especially those that

are overweight. Weight loss and conditioning are other uses of the treadmill.

 

When would you not want to use the underwater treadmill? This type of

exercise may not be appropriate for dogs with some types of heart and lung

diseases, with infections, open/draining surgical wounds or incisions, or with

infectious skin conditions.

 

How long does it take? Initial sessions may consist of only a few minutes of

treadmill walking. It also takes a few minutes at the beginning and end to fill

and drain the tank, and to dry the dog off. Massage, range of motion

stretching or gentle walking may be done first as warm-up exercises, and a

little cool-down walking is helpful afterwards as well for dogs that are

ambulatory.

The less physically fit the pet, or the more severe the injury or

surgery the dog is recovering from, the shorter the session will be. Many

owners are surprised at how short the initial sessions are, but if you?ve ever

tried to walk through thigh-deep water or heavy snow you can understand

that it?s a lot of work to overcome the resistance of the water. Session

length is usually increased by about 10% per week. Fit pets or those using

the treadmill for strength and conditioning may walk for 30 minutes or more,

but most pets cannot tolerate a very long session at first.

 

How fast does it go? The speed of the treadmill should be slow enough for

the patient to walk calmly and in a coordinated fashion, without becoming

anxious or overtired. For exercise in a healthy, fit dog we may increase to

the speed of a trot instead of a walk.

 

How often should it be done? Although daily sessions would be ideal in

many cases, most pet owners try for two to three sessions per week. Less

than that is of limited benefit. Most dogs need 6 or more sessions to make

significant progress, so most clients purchase a six or ten pack of sessions.

 

My dog is afraid of water. Can he still use the treadmill? Most dogs

handle it well. They don?t have to actually immerse themselves in water or

swim, and the water level rises slowly enough that they generally aren?t

frightened by it. The first session for an apprehensive dog may be dedicated

more toward getting the pet accustomed to the experience than actual

rehabilitation. Treats, toys and praise from the owner usually go a long way

toward making it a pleasant experience. Some dogs love the treadmill and

others just tolerate it. Very few cannot use it at all. Even some cats will

learn to use it! If you are concerned about it, purchase one session to start

with. If things go well you can then invest in a package of sessions.