Treadmills for Dog PT: A Comparison of Canine Treadmills

Treadmill walking can benefit your dog’s health and lifestyle, but which type to choose is the question:  by land or by sea?

Treadmills for Dog PT: A Comparison of Canine Treadmills

The following is a comparison between land and underwater treadmills.

Walking as a primary form of dog exercise

I am a big fan of leash walking as a primary form of dog exercise, but factors such as weather, uneven terrain and environmental distractions can make it difficult, especially if your dog has a health or other unique condition.

The forward mechanics of walking outdoors on pavement or grass require the body to speed up and slow down while propelling the body ahead.  

On a treadmill, there is no true forward propulsion as the treadmill belt cycles under the board so the body is essentially keeping up rather than pushing forward.  This is why outdoor walking is generally preferable in terms of functional strengthening, but treadmill walking is sufficiently similar to outdoor land walking to be of benefit.

Canine land treadmills

The “regular” or land treadmill, offers the ability to walk indoors, free from the elements or other distraction. They benefit dogs that have a higher level of functioning are can comfortably weight bear on their limbs.

These treadmills should have low side guarding walls along the whole length of the unit as well as in the front. The walls should be high enough so the dog can’t easily jump off but low enough to have full physical access to guide and support the dog as needed.

Can you use a “human being” treadmill instead?  

Yes, but they are not as safe as ones made specifically for animals. If you use one, you need to carefully discern if your dog has the agility and coordination to safely negotiate a human treadmill.

Treadmills manufactured for pets also have special tread belts that will not scuff or irritate most paw pads.

The newest type of indoor walking device on the market for animals is a “tread wheel”: similar to what a hamster uses! I saw it at the Westminster Dog Show; isn’t it interesting?

This treadmill is

  • dog-powered
  • compact in size
  • requires no electricity
  • and comes in sizes to accommodate toy through giant breeds

Underwater treadmills

Underwater treadmills are enclosed, self-contained units that allow a dog to walk partially submerged in water. You can typically find them in canine rehabilitation centers. 

Canine PT: Underwater Treadmill
Oasis canine underwater treadmill. Photo Joseph Thomson

For dogs with balance and weight-bearing problems, the water offers buoyancy to take the pressure off of painful stiff joints and hydrostatic pressure to support the body from falling.

In general, the clinician will start with higher levels of water and gradually reduce the level as the dog improves in balance, endurance, and strength.

Underwater treadmills have controls that alter the treadmill speed, depth of water, temperature and resistance by air jets.  

These adjustments help your therapist and veterinarian control how the dog exercises and consistently reproduce the experience.

Therapists might utilize items such as:

  • limb floats (similar to a child’s arm pool float)
  • or floatation vests with attached harnesses

These devices provide additional safety, as well as help to target specific areas of the body for assistance and strengthening.

Your veterinarian or physical therapist can help you choose which type of treadmill would be of greatest benefit to your dog.

Simple treadmill walking programs allow for adjustment of:

  • the correct speed
  • incline and duration
  • and progression as your dog improves  

Parameters can be set for “maintenance” levels to help your dog keep a steady state of fitness and health.  At no time should a dog be left unattended on any type of treadmill.

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