Our underwater treadmill may be state of the art and very high tech but is it really necessary? Can I not just swim my dog in the dam?

Research shows that underwater treadmill therapy speeds up muscle strengthening and improves joint range of motion in dogs following surgery, with benefits being gained in as little as 1-2 sessions per week. The benefits of UWT over swimming are outlined below:

Resistance: Have you ever tried running or walking fast through thigh or waist deep water? It is surprisingly difficult! Swimming is a lot easier. During an UWT session, your pet will have all four limbs going through their full range of motion as they would if walking on land. The muscles are, therefore, having to work harder through their whole functional range, which is imperative when building strength and recovering from injury. Other hydrotherapy techniques – such as swimming -do not allow for this functional strengthening.

Controlled Buoyancy: The buoyancy that water provides lessens the forces going through the joints by lessening the weight the animal has to carry, so it is an excellent choice for dogs with arthritis or painful joints. In an underwater treadmill, we can control how much water is added and, therefore, how much buoyancy is experienced. The more painful or functionally impaired the patient, the higher the water level is raised. This makes UWT therapy gentle and safe enough to use on patients as soon as 2 weeks post-operatively (once the stitches are out).

Gait Training: In the underwater treadmill, your pet is able to walk as it would on land. Our therapist will stand in the water with your pet and assist him/her in moving correctly, thereby training them to use their limbs efficiently and as normally as possible. This can be key to returning the pet to his full potential.

Controlled Speed and Incline: Your pet’s UWT session will be customized to match his/her ability and needs. Each session will be individually programmed for the speed and incline decided on by your therapist, and can be changed at any time if the pet is finding it too difficult (or too easy). This makes it an extremely safe tool to use for older and/or unfit dogs.

Controlled Temperature: The water temperature in the UWT is maintained at about +-30 degrees in winter and +-28 degrees in summer. The warmer temperature of the water promotes blood circulation, which decreases stiffness and provides pain relief, culminating in a feeling of well being.

Another advantage of the UWT is that it is often far less intimidating than swimming for patients who are fearful of water. The pet walks onto the stationary treadmill and then the water fills slowly from the bottom. You as the owner are standing in front of your pet while he/she is in the treadmill and therefore able to reassure him and give him treats to encourage him. We have had many owners who were certain that their pets would not adapt to the water. However, these dogs are now running excitedly into the treadmill on their own, anticipating the treats and toys that come along with the exercise! Don’t knock it until you try it.

Swimming, on the other hand, is also a great tool when used appropriately and directed by a well trained and certified animal physiotherapist. Swimming is, however, a less controlled activity where the velocity of the kicks and leg movements of the patient cannot be micromanaged. The limbs also go through less of their functional range of motion, so swimming is less transferable to the pet’s normal walking pattern on land. Swimming is also primarily a front limb movement for dogs so, unless carefully encouraged, the hind legs do not get as much effective exercise.

That being said, its not all bad news for dogs that like to swim. Swimming is still a great option for general fitness and conditioning and can be soothing for arthritic patients. It is also often easy to access in good weather and can be a great option for people wanting to get outside and have fun with their dogs. When being treated for an injury or condition though, you should not swim your pet unless the session is directed and overseen by the certified therapist.

As with any advanced therapeutic intervention, a physiotherapy assessment is required before your pet can commence with underwater treadmill therapy. It is also necessary for the treating therapist to keep a close eye on the progress of the patient and treat what the dog presents on each particular day. 


Please note: dogs with open wounds, stitches, unstable fractures, infectious diseases, GIT upsets or severe, acute bladder infections may be unable to use the UWTM and should be examined on a case-by-case basis to see what is and is not contraindicated