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August 2, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Veterinary Q&A: Can dogs exercise on treadmills?

Lori Lutskas.JPGLori Lutskas, a certified physical rehabilitation therapist at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, answers this week's questions.

Question: If someone owns a working/herding dog that requires a lot of exercise, such as a Siberian husky, but finds walks just aren't enough, would it help if the dog worked out on a treadmill?

Answer: Yes, most dogs can be trained to use an electric treadmill, whether it is a walking treadmill or underwater treadmill. (Never use a manual treadmill.) However, the animal should never be left alone on a treadmill. The pet will need to be supervised and monitored.

As with humans, you should also make sure your pet is able to handle the exercise routine, thus be sure your veterinarian has approved the activity first, especially if your pet is older.

Question: What is the advantage to training on a treadmill?

Answer: On a walking treadmill, the weight can be evenly distributed to reduce stress on some joints. This is especially true with an underwater treadmill, where as much as 38 percent of the weight can be reduced on the lower joints, such as the wrists and ankles.

Question: We assume treadmills are not right for every dog. Please explain.

Answer: Not every dog will enjoy the treadmill. It may be afraid of the machine or have health conditions that prevent increased exercise. Remember, supervision is always required.

Injuries can occur if the pet falls from the tracks or is overworked. They could be sprain or soft tissue injuries.

And if you have a long hair pet; the hair will need to be brought up so it does not get caught in the treads/motor.

Question: Would human treadmills work or are treadmills specifically built for pets preferred? If so, why?

Answer: Human treadmills may have a shorter track surface for your dog, but whether you use a treadmill you already own depends on the size of your pet. Some treadmills may not have a slow enough speed for small dogs.

Dog-specific treadmills will have longer tracks; slower speeds and side rails to prevent falls.

Question: How do you safely train a dog to use a treadmill?

Answer: To start your dog on the walking treadmill you should first train the dog to the leash.

You will want to start slow by just having the dog around the treadmill, hearing the noise of it running and getting accustom to the motion and sound.

When the treadmill is powered off, have the dog get on and off the track repeatedly to grow accustomed to it. It would be best to have your dog in a harness with the leash attached when working around the treadmill.

Once the dog is comfortable with the machine; you can start the track moving while encourage the dog to face forward and walk toward you.

Treats are helpful to get started, and the first few times may be easier with two people.

Question: Some dogs will run (or walk) beyond exhaustion. How does an owner know the dog is ready to rest?

Answer: If you know your pet well, you will see changes in facial expression when the animal begins to tire. Other signs will be how fast they pant, foaming at the mouth and heart rate.

If your dog starts foaming at the mouth you will want to stop immediately.

You should be aware of the temperature of the room and how that affects your pet's workout.

If you are in doubt, play it safe and stop the exercises.

Dogs will experience muscle soreness just as humans do when we exercise, so start slowly and build up the treadmill time gradually.

Lori Lutskas

Lutskas is a licensed vet technician and certified physical rehabilitation therapist at WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. She is an executive board member of the Washington State Association of Veterinary Technicians, and lives in the Pullman area with a dog and a cat.

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Do you have a question about veterinary health or pet behavior? Ask now! We'll pose some of your questions to a local trainer in an upcoming post.

Read earlier Q&A columns here.

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