WOODSTOCK – Twice a week, yellow Labrador Alex walks into what looks like a glass box without a top.
It fills with water up to about his chest, and then the floor starts moving.
It’s an underwater treadmill for dogs, and Alex likes it, owner Whitney Rupp said. As do her other three yellow Labs who have used the equipment.
For about seven years, Companion Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital in Crystal Lake has had the treadmill that Rupp and her dogs use. Veterinarian Karen Turner said there has been increasing interest in water therapy for dogs, called canine hydrotherapy.
“The underwater treadmill functions as a low-impact workout,” Turner said. “It can increase muscle strength and endurance, and allows for improved range of motion in all the joints.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, rehabilitation for pets has emerged over the past decade from a “boutique service” to a mainstream option. Physical therapy can mean pain relief, increased mobility, and an improved quality of life.
Alex the yellow Lab began using an underwater treadmill after tearing his rotator cuffs doing agility, Rupp said. In 2010, Rupp had been living in Baltimore, and the veterinarian there recommended the post-surgery treatment.
“The weightlessness of the water takes the pressure off the joints, and that’s just what he needed for his shoulders,” Rupp said.
When Rupp moved to Bull Valley, she sought out a practice that had a treadmill and now takes Alex to Companion Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital.
But the hydrotherapy isn’t just for rehab; it can help with overweight dogs or to just help keep dogs healthy and in shape.
In addition to 9-year-old Alex, Rupp has three other yellow Labs – Abby, Remi and Warden – who she brings in to use the treadmill during the winter. When they come home, they’re tired from the workout, which is especially nice to accomplish without having to go outside when the temperatures drop, Rupp said.
“I’m pretty toward the extreme when it comes to keeping my dogs in shape because I do competitive sports with them,” Rupp said. “But … it means keeping them healthy. It means a longer life, and the risk of injury is less.”
The underwater treadmill is a steep investment for a veterinary practice, let alone an individual pet owner: The price range for the equipment is between about $30,000 to $60,000.
Tudor Treadmills is a UK-based company with a location in Texas that sells the equipment. Veterinarians, universities, dog day cares and some individuals are customers, said Joanne Lisowski, who work in inside sales.
“I believe that people are treating their animals as well as they treat themselves,” Lisowski said. “Some people I know will send their animals to the doctor before they go. They’re demanding – they’re not asking, they’re demanding – the best and they really like the holistic approach.”
Individual sessions at veterinary practices run in the $35 to $40 range, which Rupp said is worthwhile.
“If you think about the cost of knee surgery on a dog, in my opinion, it’s a small price to pay to know your dog is in the best shape possible and the odds of them getting hurt are less,” she said.
Woodstock Veterinary Clinic on Lake Avenue has had an underwater treadmill since January, veterinarian Patti Klein Manke said. Ten to 20 clients have used it since then, and she’s trying to get the word out that the service is available.
The practice charges $35 for per session, each of which is about half an hour, and plan to offer a punch card as a special deal.
“With human medicine, if you have an injury, you go to rehab and it’s just automatic,” Klein Manke said. “Now, pet medicine has evolved so much that just about anything a person can have, a pet can have. There are knee replacements in dogs, and there have been hip replacements for a long time.”
Turner said many dogs are nervous their first time using the equipment and seem bit anxious when the treadmill starts, but figure it out in a few minutes and do fine from there on out.
“Some dogs absolutely love the treadmill and they can’t get in the room fast enough,” she said.
Woodstock Veterinary Clinic
691 Lake Avenue, Woodstock
Underwater treadmill is $35 per session, each lasting about half an hour.
Companion Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital
1095 Pingree Road, Suite 120, Crystal Lake
Underwater treadmill is $40 per session or $360 for a package of 10.