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Underwater/Hydro Treadmill

Underwater/Hydro-treadmill therapy is primarily used in dogs to help aid with a quicker return to normal function of limb/joint use, mobility and improved muscle strength after surgery or injury.  It also improves the  range of motion in compromised joints and is used in dogs for athletic conditioning and weight management.  It can be used on any size dog or animal, from a Miniature Pinscher to a Newfoundland.  This type of therapy environment is reduced weight-bearing so that increases the use of a limbs without resulting in discomfort to a post-surgical joint or pain

Dog and other pets can have some degree of muscle atrophy or loss of strength with injury or age.  Muscle atrophy can also occur as a secondary problem to arthritis and using an underwater/hydro treadmill once a week or more can help with muscle atrophy and improve strength and mobility because of the increased resistance to forward motion. The more frequent the sessions the faster strength and mobility will return.

The underwater/hydro treadmill provides increased comfort so that the dogs that are hesitant to use a leg or joint after injury will use the leg/joint to help maintain balance and stability in the water.   Underwater/Hydro treadmill therapy is useful in many in every size dog that needs help with exercise or recovery from surgeries such as FHO or ACL’s, The underwater/hydro treadmill allows motion in a low weight-bearing environment to help strengthen the muscles and tendons.  Increasing the water temperature can also help.

Dogs in general can benefit from conditioning on an underwater treadmill both in muscle strengthening and cardiovascular endurance because of water's increased resistance. Overweight dogs/pets can exercise more safely in a buoyant environment than on land. The water's buoyancy reduces weight-bearing stress while at the same time its resistance increases metabolic demand and improves muscle strength.1

As with any therapy each pet and animals general health must be evaluated before starting any therapy to ensure it is capable of safely and comfortably performing the activity. In addition to general health concerns, the practitioner must determine if a patient's pain level is too great to initiate active exercise. In most situations, patients in pain derive relief from aquatic activity.1 Initially, a therapist may choose to perform passive range of motion or standing exercises with the patient in the water and progress to active walking when the patient is more comfortable.

How does it work?

Many treadmill parameters, such as water depth, walking speed and direction, need to be determined each session to best achieve the desired outcome for a patient. Water temperature can also be controlled in necessary.

Changing the water depth alters a patient's motion and exercise exertion level. A low water level, just above the carpus (ankle/wrists) leaves the dog 91% weight-bearing, this increases carpal and hock flexion more than any other level does and is useful in patients with reduced flexion of these joints.  When the water is at elbow level, there is significant resistance but with minimal buoyancy, leaving the dog approximately 85% weight-bearing. This level is excellent for dogs you want to increase strength and endurance in. Water levels at or just above the shoulder have maximum buoyancy for strengthening the limbs with minimal joint load at 38% weight-bearing,  this is most beneficial in dogs with arthritis or recovering from surgery in which full weight-bearing is contraindicated or painful.  Water levels above this level cause dogs to shorten their strides, which can reduce the exercise's benefit.

The treadmill speed increases a patient's exertion through resistance. Slow speeds up to about 0.5 mph are used in dogs that have neurologic problems since the viscosity of the water gives patients more reaction time and they are more likely to step correctly instead of dragging their feet. Speeds of 1 to 2 mph are used for most postsurgical and arthritic dogs initially.  Faster speeds such as 2.2 to 5 mph are used for dog athletes and stronger patients that are more advanced in their rehabilitation.

Limb length and, thus, stride length are used to determine a starting speed. In our experience, a medium-sized dog just starting out on an underwater treadmill does best with initial speeds of 1 to 1.5 mph, which results in a comfortable, brisk walk.

The treadmills are usually used with walking forward but can be used for walking backwards .  Walking backwards strengthens the muscles that weaken in older dogs/pets.  These muscles are also important for jumping, so backward walking is also an excellent exercise for dog athletes. When the treadmill is being used in the backward walking mode the length of time is shorter than that of walking forward since backward walking is more difficult.

Water temperature can vary with cold and warm water have different effects. Cold usually reduces the heart rate, which can be beneficial when exercising for conditioning. Warm water can increases circulation and flexibility, thereby reducing discomfort.

Being under the guidance of a physical therapist's or veterinarian is extremely important when starting an underwater/treadmill therapy program for injury, recovery or disease.  A therapis, neuro or ortho specialists have techniques that can be used to benefit dogs: Where to stand and place hands, when to use assistive devices, and which devices to use are all factors that can affect the success of a therapy session or program.

Chewie’s uses the Eco Oasis Underwater Treadmill from H2O Fitness:







DVM 360 TOPS Veterinary Rehabilitation

Levine D, Rittenberry L, Millis DL. Aquatic therapy. In: Millis D, Levine D, Taylor RA, eds. Canine rehabilitation and physical therapy. St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier Saunders, 2004;264-276.

Ruoti RG, Morris DM, Cole AJ. Aquatic rehabilitation. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1997:71-79.

Jackson A, Millis D, Stevens M, et al. Joint kinematics during underwater treadmill activity, in Proceedings. 2nd Int Symp Rehabil Phys Ther Vet Med 2002;191.

 Marsolais GS, McLean S, Derrick T, et al. Kinematic analysis of the hind limb during swimming and walking in healthy dogs and dogs with surgically corrected cranial cruciate ligament rupture. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2003;222(6):739-743.

Zink MC. Peak performance: coaching the canine athlete. 2nd ed. Lutherville, Md: Canine Sports Productions, 1997.

 Tragauer V, Levine D, Millis DL. Percentage of normal weight bearing during partial immersion at various depths in dogs, in Proceedings. 2nd Int Symp Rehabil Phys Ther Vet Med 2002;189-190.

Dunning D, McCauley L, Knap K, et al . Effects of water temperature on heart and respiratory rate, rectal temperature and perceived exertional score in dogs exercising in an underwater treadmill, in Proceedings. 3rd Int Symp Rehabil Phys Ther Vet Med 2004;217.


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