The underwater treadmill is an often recommended rehab tool for many dogs with many different conditions. For all intents and purposes it is a treadmill in the water. The water is used to unweight the dogs body so that they have can more easily use all of their legs. The height of the water can be increased so the dog is more supported in the water.

Dog on Underwater treadmill

The underwater treadmill is not suited for all dogs, and should be used with caution with:

  • Dogs with a fear of water, as this can put the dog and handler at risk
  • Post-surgical incisions that haven’t full healed, as this can increase the risk of infection
  • Dogs with low fitness (ie. can only tolerate a few minutes at a time)

Pawsitively Fit does not use an underwater treadmill. We believe underwater treadmill should be used as only a piece of a full rehabilitation program. Any dog requiring rehabilitation should first undergo a complete assessment to determine their unique needs, not all of which can be met by any single tool.

Here are a few things that you should know before starting your dog on the underwater treadmill:

#1 The underwater treadmill does not allow for progressive overload of muscles.

What is progressive overload? If you’ve ever worked out with weights you already know this principle. You need to start with a lighter load and progress the weight over time in order to increase strength. The underwater treadmill does not allow for that level specificity of slowly increasing the challenge. By working with a certified canine rehabilitation therapist, they can develop an individualized program that addresses your dog’s specific needs and build strength appropriately.

#2 The underwater treadmill can miss strengthening muscles that are weak.

When your dog goes on the treadmill the are only moving their legs in one direction of movement (forward and back). They are often not using, or using well, many of the muscles that are the weakest and that may have lead to their injury in the first place. Again, a canine rehab therapist can determine which muscles are weak and need targeted strengthening.

#3 The underwater treadmill may worsen gait abnormalities

If a dog walks with an abnormal gait pattern and are put on an underwater treadmill, they will most likely continue to walk that way. A proper assessment will identify WHY a dog is walking abnormally and will help guide treatment to correct it. Unless a dog with a gait abnormality has the therapist using their hands on the dog while they are on the treadmill to correct the problem, it will continue to happen in the water.

Should your dog use the underwater treadmill?

MAYBE. It depends on your dog and their specific needs. It can be great for dogs with neurological conditions who need the buoyancy of the water to help them to use their limbs. It can also be a great tool for building cardiovascular endurance for dogs.

With canine rehab becoming more popular and widely available, underwater treadmill can sometimes become synonymous with rehab but the two should not be used interchangeably.

Have questions? Leave us a comment!

Dog exercising it's back legs to build strength
Juno Bird Dog
Maggie doing a push-up to work her front leg strength