Canine Fitness Equipment: Water Treadmill
Many years ago, when I was recovering from a strained Achilles tendon, my physical therapist had me use their water treadmill as part of my return to walking and running. This was an interesting experience for me. Although it didn’t quite feel like real running, I could tell that my muscles were being worked, albeit in a different way.
Lucky for me, I have not had to use the water treadmill again so far (knock wood). However, four of my senior dogs have used it as part of a strengthening and therapeutic therapy program. In fact, the water treadmill, although sometimes hard to find, is a fantastic piece of equipment for canine rehabilitation and fitness.
The Canine Water Treadmill
The canine water treadmill is similar to the human version like the one I used. The key difference between the human and canine water treadmill is the length of the platform. As with non-water canine treadmills, because a dog has four limbs, they require a platform that is proportional to the stride length of the dog, meaning that smaller dogs can use a smaller platform and larger dogs require a longer platform.
Water treadmills are meant to provide three key benefits. First, because the dog’s body is partially submerged in water, the resulting buoyancy will lessen the impact on the joints and muscles. Depending on how high the tank is filled, the effective bodyweight can be reduced by ½, and the resulting impact and stress on the joints is therefore reduced as well.
The second benefit of the water treadmill is that the water itself provides resistance to the dog’s body as it walks or runs on the platform. I noticed this immediately when I was in my rehab. The water makes it harder to move the limbs through space, thus strengthening the hip flexors, glutes, core, and other muscles in a very low impact way.
The third benefit is that the water can provide a therapeutic effect. When the dog moves along the platform, the water provides gentle compression on the body, which can help with healing and recovery, much like massage is meant to do.
As I mentioned earlier, my senior dogs have used the water treadmill in order to rehab from injury or to provide a low impact exercise option. Yet, younger, healthy dogs can also benefit from the water treadmill. For example, very active dogs, especially ones that could be over-training, could use the water treadmill as a low impact way to maintain cardio fitness or strength. Agility dogs could also use the water treadmill as a way to improve hip flexor strength which can help with some of the obstacles they face on the course.
For those who don’t have convenient access to a canine water treadmill, all is not lost. Having your dog walk or run in any body of water can provide similar benefit. The key is to find water that will provide ample buoyancy and resistance. A good rule of thumb is to look for water that will reach the dog’s belly or slightly higher. If the water is too deep, the dog will want to swim (which is a great exercise, but provides a different type of benefit).