What are the health benefits of getting my dog to walk on an underwater treadmill?
Underwater treadmill therapy is most often used for post-surgical rehabilitation or after an injury to the limbs, back or neck of dogs.
Originally developed in the 1970s for physical rehabilitation of injured race horses, veterinarians began using it with canine patients in 1998. Today, the therapy is most commonly used for dogs, though some facilities have treadmill equipment that can accommodate horses.
Underwater treadmills are used to treat obesity, arthritis, post-surgical conditioning and strokes.
Since it’s less physically stressful than with conventional therapy, many dogs who won’t put weight on an injured limb outside the tank more readily engage in water so it’s often used for pain management.
The warm water relieves pain and relaxes aching muscles, while immersion forces exaggerated limb movements that improve the range of joint movement. It’s an especially safe therapeutic environment for obese patients, because their buoyancy in the tank reduces physical stress on their limbs. Physical therapists are available to treat patients with hands-on therapy while the animal is in the tank, utilizing motion therapy, massage and chiropractic treatment while the patient undergoes underwater treadmill therapy. Dogs who suffer spinal injury often have to re-learn to walk, and their physical therapist can apply gentle physical manipulation while their patient is in the tank, which speeds the recovery of the dog’s neuromuscular system.
Still, your veterinarian needs to determine if it’s right for your dog. Pets with cardiac or respiratory ailments may have difficulty with the treadmill. They must be carefully monitored during therapy with short exercise sessions alternated with extended rest periods.
Also, not all dogs are comfortable in the water and some breeds. Bulldogs have difficulty swimming due to their body shapes. It is important to make sure that even an experienced swimmer wears a life vest. In addition, the use of the treadmill should be regulated to prevent excessive exertion.