Underwater Treadmills

I really like the underwater treadmill, its a wonderful tool that can benefit most dogs. But like any tool, it needs to be used at the right time and for the right job, and while most dogs will benefit from some time on an underwater treadmill, I have never had a case that I have been unable to treat without an underwater treadmill either. With every dog I see there are a variety of treatment optionsand while I love the underwater treadmill, and make use of it with some of my clients at the Erina Heights Vet Centre Hospital, it’s not vital to therapy.

Most importantly, the underwater treadmill isn’t a golden bullet that will fix all problems on its own. It needs to be used as part of a complete therapy plan that mixes the treadmill in with other exercises, stretches, manipulations and massage. Progress needs to be assessed regularly against a set of goals and the program adjusted to make sure that the dog achieves the best outcomes. 

Like any treatment, there are always contraindications (reasons it shouldn't be used), here are some of the main ones:

  • If the dog has a skin condition preventing them jumping in.
  • If we are waiting for a skin wound to close or stitches to come out before starting therapy.
  • If your dog has had diarrhoea in the last 24hrs for human and canine safety.
  • If your animal hates water. Even then it is worth assessing to see if counter conditioning and positive reinforcement can turn the hate into love like I have managed with my own Kelpie, Abby. 
  • Veterinary advice should be sought before taking a dog with heart or pulmonary disease into the water. 
  • If there is no one properly experience in the use of the treadmill.

I’ve talked about swimming before, and that I prefer the underwater treadmill, so why is the underwater treadmill better than swimming?

  • You can control the speed of the treadmill and keep the dog moving at a speed where moment is controlled and the right muscle groups are targeted. 
  • We can make sure the animal is using all of their limbs and control how they use those limbs.
  • It is functional, they are practicing walking and shifting weight just like they do on land.
  • It is weight bearing, so it is working the supporting muscles that protect joints rather than just the mover muscles that move the limbs.

I often get asked why you would use the underwater treadmill rather than a normal treadmill. Since you asked..

  • With the underwater treadmill we can control the amount of resistance based on the depth of water, jets of water and the speed we are asking the dog to move at. It is even possible to use floats and other attachments to make the resistance even greater. Talk about an epic work out! While traditional treadmills have incline and speed to increase the difficulty, it only offers us two variable to play with, while the underwater treadmill offers more than four. 
  • It is possible to provide extra support through flotation devices for weak dogs who are unable to lift their own weight. This allows the dogs to move in a more functional manner than would be possible on land, no matter how wonderful the harness we use is.
  • By changing the depth we can target specific joints to increase the range of motion. Maintenance of range of motion is one of the reasons why swimming is encouraged but once again the underwater treadmill means we can better target movement and make sure the dog isn’t cheating.

I love the underwater treadmill, it has a wide range of uses. However, if an underwater treadmill isn’t available to you, you aren’t missing out. I like to keep my practice mobile, so I can visit my clients where they are most comfortable, at home, or at their own vets so often an underwater treadmill just isn’t available. Luckily there are always alternatives that will work for your dog.

Dr Jaime Jackson