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What is the difference between the underwater treadmill and the hydrotherapy pool?

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Difference between Underwater Treadmill and Hydrotherapy Pool?

Here at Pawseidon, we are so lucky to have a canine swimming pool, and a canine underwater treadmill – this is the dog equivalent of a super well-equipped gym!

We use our pool and our underwater treadmill (UWTM) all the time, and having access to both is a really important part of us being able to tailor our work to suit each dog perfectly – an essential part of making sure we’re able to provide the perfect experience for every single patient.

But what’s the difference between the two, and why might we choose one over the other for your dog? Well, this blog can help answer that question for you!

Let’s start with taking a look at our state of the art water treadmill…

A water treadmill is a little like the treadmills that you find in the gym – it has a moving belt to walk on, but it is built into a water-tight tank instead of being open sided. Once the dog is comfortable going into the tank, we can seal the doors which allows us to gradually fill the tank with warm water. When the water reaches the required level, we can start the belt which starts the dog walking.

When a dog is in a water treadmill, we can alter the level of the water. On land, a dog is 100% weight bearing, but we can change this using the water treadmill.  For example, if we popped a dog into the treadmill and filled the water up to the level of their elbows, that dog would only be 85% weight bearing – so we’ve reduced the weight bearing by 15%. If we carried on filling the treadmill up to the top of the dog’s shoulder, he’d only be 38% weight bearing, so his weight bearing is reduced by a whopping 62%! This does come with some consequences, such as the fact it’s a bit harder doing a workout in deep water (anyone who has ever done aqua-aerobics will be able to confirm that!) so we have to balance out the level of difficulty with the reduction in weight bearing for the dog. But we love having that level of control!

Some advantages of the UWTM are:

  • The aforementioned control! This allows us to perfectly place pooches for optimum rehab.
  • The UWTM can be a little less intimidating than a pool full of water for dogs that are a little worried about getting wet.
  • UWTM work can be really useful for pets with multiple conditions that need specific rehab. For example, sometimes patients will have orthopaedic surgery but will also have some muscle loss which requires rehabilitation from the operation and improvement of muscle bulk.
  • The limbs can often extend more in a treadmill than they can in a pool. Patients that have conditions that make limb extension difficult, for example hip dysplasia, can do great things in the treadmill.
  • We can control the walking or trotting speed of the treadmill, which stops the keen ones rushing too much or helps to keep those lazy-bones moving.
  • The improvements in the movements (some accidental poetry there….) can very quickly be seen to transfer over to the animal’s movements on land, which often gives really impressive results within a really great
  • Sometimes, a treadmill can be a suitable place to start for early rehab – there are some patients that can get going on the treadmill before they are ready for the pool. This includes some orthopaedic patients, such as those that have had cruciate surgery.

So where does our pool fit into this?  Well, the pool has lots of advantages of its own!

  • Whilst the treadmill is amazing for limb extension, the pool is amazing for joint flexion. So depending on what we are trying to achieve, we can pick which one we use. For patients that are experiencing reduced flexion of their joints – perhaps from injury or surgery – the pool is perfect.
  • Pools are fantastic for building core strength. The swimmers among you will know that swimming is hard work and requires a strong core – the more you swim, the stronger those abs get.
  • Remember what we were saying about reduction in weight bearing with the treadmill? Well – in a pool, weight bearing is reduced by 100%! That’s right – floating in water is completely weightless (Here’s some trivia….that’s why it’s often used for training astronauts). Being totally weightless removes all the forces through the joints which is really useful for some patients, especially those for whom weight-bearing is painful at that point.
  • Neurological patients are often physically unable to bear any weight of their own, and sometimes working in a weightless environment can help them regain some limb function, therefore setting them on the road to weight bearing on land again.
  • Swimming is excellent for cardio fitness, making it excellent not just for patients needing to lose weight or rehabilitate from an injury, but also perfect for sporting or working dogs wanting to improve or maintain fitness.
  • Dogs swim using the classic doggy-paddle. This works the front limbs very hard and can be excellent for building muscle in this area, for example – patients that need to strengthen following an injury. The flip side of this, is that the back legs work less hard….but that’s where the treadmill comes in!

Our pool is a wonderful, custom-built canine pool, in a really bright and airy space, so hopefully it feels like a nice place to be.  It’s similar to a human swimming pool, but there are a few key differences. We’ve taken care to make sure that the areas all around the pool are extra grippy and safe, to encourage dogs to be confident. We’ve thought about the entry and exit routes, making sure that dogs can enter the water in a controlled manner, and of course, the water temperature and depth are just perfect… both for the patients and for our team! We also use harnesses and buoyancy jackets to help maintain safety, especially in more vulnerable patients.

Whether we choose to work your dog (or indeed your cat!) in the pool, or on the treadmill, it’s the water that’s doing the work here, and the benefits of this are the same regardless of whether your pet is swimming, or trundling along on the treadmill. Warm water is great for…

  • Improving circulation
  • Increasing calorie expenditure (meaning it’s great for weight loss)
  • Improving nerve efficiency
  • Improving coordination
  • Improving and increasing soft-tissue elasticity

It’s worth remembering that not all dogs like to launch themselves enthusiastically into water like Tom Daly. For some dogs, water can be a little intimidating, and we’re always super careful to ensure we take the time to make sure dogs are super comfortable in the pool or the treadmill. Hey, we love getting the dogs into the water so we want them to love it as much as we do!