Hydrotherapy for Injured Dogs: Swimming vs. Underwater Treadmill

Hydrotherapy is the use of water to aid in recovery from injury. Water provides buoyancy so that a pet can walk on an injured limb without having to bear his full weight.

Golden retriever walking in the underwater treadmill


Most people think of swimming when they think of water therapy for their pet. An advantage of swimming is that it can allow your pet to exercise without bearing any weight. And swimming can be an excellent way for overweight dogs to burn calories.

However, with swimming, there is a lack of control with regards to speed, intensity, or proper limb use. Dogs primarily use their front legs to swim. Some dogs will even tuck their hind limbs while swimming, so they may not exercise an injured limb at all. If they do use all four limbs while swimming, they use a different pattern than a walking gait. This is important for dogs that are learning how to walk again.


Pros of Swimming:

  • Allows exercise with minimal weight bearing on an injured limb.
  • Improves muscular and cardiovascular endurance and strength.
  • Efficient exercise for weight loss.

Cons of Swimming:

  • No control of intensity or speed.
  • The footing of a pond or lake is often slippery or irregular.
  • Dogs often swim with a pattern that is different than walking.  Some dogs swim without using their hind limbs.

Chihuahua walking in the underwater treadmill

Underwater Treadmill

The underwater treadmill provides a more controlled environment than open water. We can adjust the depth of the water and the belt speed, depending on the needs of the pet. A dog can practice a normal walking gait while benefitting from the support of the water. The water is also warm, which allows muscles to relax and tendons to stretch.

More detailed information about the effects of varying the depth of water can be found here.


Pros of Underwater Treadmill:

  • Water height can be adjusted to vary the impact on the joints.
  • The speed of the treadmill can be varied according to the needs of the dog.
  • Pets use a normal walking or trotting gait pattern.
  • The water is warmed, which allows muscles to stretch.

Cons of Underwater Treadmill:

  • Occasional dogs will refuse to walk.

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