By Susan E. Davis, PT
Land Treadmills vs. Underwater Treadmills
Treadmill walking can benefit your dog’s health and lifestyle, but the question is:
What type should you choose?
By land or by sea?
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. It’s even more difficult 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 still sufficient.
The regular or land treadmill offers the ability to walk indoors, where you’re free from the elements and other distractions. They are typically used with dogs that have higher levels of function and can comfortably bear weight 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 cannot 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?
Well, yes you can. However, they are not as safe as the treadmills made specifically for animals, so 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, which is similar to what a hamster uses! I saw it last February at the Westminster Dog Show and found it to be very interesting. The tread wheel is dog-powered, compact in size, requires no electricity and comes in many sizes to accommodate all dogs from toy sized to giant breeds.
Underwater treadmills are enclosed, self-contained units that allow a dog to walk partially submerged in water and are typically found in canine rehabilitation centers. For dogs with balance and weight-bearing problems, the water offers buoyancy to take 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.
Items such as limb floats (similar to a child’s arm pool float), and floatation vests with attached harnesses can be added for safety. The limb floats and floatation vests also help your therapist and veterinarian target specific areas of the body for assistance and strengthening.
Ask Your Physical Therapist or Veterinarian
Your physical therapist or veterinarian can help you choose which type of treadmill would be of greatest benefit to your dog. Simple treadmill walking programs can be designed for adjusting 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.