If you are a dog owner on TikTok, chances are you’ve come across a video of a dog confidently strutting around on a treadmill like a model racing down a track.
The search phrase “dog walker treadmill” has amassed over a billion views on the site. But is it Actually safe or acceptable to walk your dog on a treadmill? Apparently it’s not a far-fetched idea – many pet owners can and do use treadmills to help exercise their dogs.
Here’s how to safely train your pet to walk on a treadmill and why it might benefit your K9 friend.
Is it okay to exercise a pet on a treadmill?
Most veterinarians surveyed agreed that there is generally no harm in walking a healthy animal on a treadmill, and some dogs may even benefit from it. However, you should always consult a veterinarian before beginning any new exercise regimen for your pup.
“Yes, some owners definitely exercise their pets on treadmills – cats and dogs,” Kelly Hicksa medical oncology resident veterinarian at Oregon State University, says Reverse.
According to Liff, veterinarians have long used treadmills for rehabilitation purposes. Many hydrotherapy clinics use underwater treadmills to help dogs recover from injuries or regain mobility after spinal cord or orthopedic injuries.
“Currently, treadmills are used in rehabilitation programs for dogs and cats to recover from injury, surgery, or to aid weight loss,” said Sean Jones, veterinarian at Softrecount Reverse.
Although it’s more common to see images of dogs walking on treadmills, cats have their own versions of treadmills called “cat wheels” or “exercise wheels”, which look like large hamster wheels . Some veterinarians may recommend cat rollers to help your feline lose weight.
“Cat treadmills are also growing in popularity,” Catherine Pankratza certified veterinary behaviorist, says Reverse.
But if you choose to exercise your pet with a treadmill, be sure to supervise it closely at all times. It is very possible that their fingernails or hair gets caught in the machine.
“The most important thing for the safety of a dog using a treadmill is that they need to be supervised,” says Bonk.
Should I exercise my dog on a treadmill?
There is no single answer to this question. It depends on your pet’s needs and interests, as well as the advice of your veterinarian. Exercising on a treadmill may be too tiring for some dogs with certain medical conditions and perfectly fine for others.
“I think dogs that use treadmills are probably the ones with a lot of energy — where just a walk outside just isn’t enough for them,” Hicks says.
If your goal is to help your pet lose weight, Hicks says it’s more about exercise duration and intensity—frequent, consistent activity is best—rather than using or not a treadmill.
“But for healthy adult dogs, it’s a great way to get them going for miles in a temperature-controlled environment,” says Becker.
According to Becker, some breeds, like English Bulldogs or Pugs, may prefer to walk on a treadmill indoors because they tend to overheat easily outdoors. It’s also okay for senior dogs to use treadmills as long as your veterinarian approves of the plan, as arthritis can inflame the joints and puppies need to be on the right medications for exercise.
“The misconception is that these dogs shouldn’t move much, but often these weight-bearing exercises can be good for their joints and helpful in eliminating that pain,” Becker adds.
Jones notes that walking on a treadmill isn’t a total replacement for outdoor activities, but rather a complement.
“Training an animal to walk on a treadmill can still be a useful tool in helping an animal maintain and achieve a healthy body weight, stimulate muscle development and burn energy,” Jones adds.
Do I need a special treadmill for my pet?
“There are actually treadmills specifically designed for pets with raised sides or other attachments that make it easier for your dog to be on it,” says Becker.
But how do you know if your pet needs a special treadmill or can use a human-sized treadmill? Jones says either can be used, but for larger dog breeds over 60 pounds, it’s best to purchase a pet-specific treadmill.
“Large-breed pets may have too long a stride to walk properly on a human treadmill,” Jones adds.
Pankratz says there are “several differences” between a human treadmill and a pet treadmill and that you should exercise caution before considering putting a dog on a human treadmill.
Some potential issues with using a human-sized treadmill for dogs include loud and potentially frightening noises, a shorter and narrower track surface that can be awkward for a dog’s gait, and a lack of safety guardrail.
How can I help my dog adapt to the treadmill?
“Some dogs are naturally curious about treadmills, especially if their owner uses one,” says Bonk.
But if your dog isn’t naturally ready to get on the treadmill, he’ll still need help adjusting. There’s one guiding principle you need to keep in mind first and foremost: Don’t use force or punishment of any kind, says Pankratz, as it can create a “negative emotional association with the treadmill.”
To acclimate a pet to unfamiliarity with a treadmill, Hicks recommends using positive reinforcement training, such as giving praise or treats after good behavior.
This positive reinforcement may be more necessary for anxious or fearful dogs, according to Pankratz.
“When they look at or approach the treadmill, praise and reward your dog with something they like,” Pankratz says.
It’s a good idea to turn on the treadmill before your dog even tries it, so he can adjust to his noises. Gradually guide your dog onto the treadmill. You can use a leash to guide you, but don’t force your pet onto the treadmill. Once on the treadmill, experts recommend moving very gradually from a slower to a faster speed.
“When you first start, you start slow – the treadmill barely moves and you reward every step,” says Becker, adding that it’s safe to increase the speed once the dog is clearly very close. comfortable with the machine.
According to Hicks, dogs that go at faster speeds on the treadmill will likely need a harness or accessory for safety. The amount of time your pet will spend on the treadmill depends on their baseline activity level.
“For less active dogs, less time is needed,” says Hicks.
At the end of the day, pay attention to your dog’s behavioral cues for signs of stress or fear (read more about canine communication in our previous articles). If he is clearly uncomfortable with the activity and cannot adapt, stop using the treadmill.
“Some dogs just won’t go on a treadmill and that’s fine,” says Bonk.
What are some other ways I can exercise my dog indoors?
There are many reasons why you would want to exercise your dog indoors, ranging from bad weather to physical challenges preventing the owner or dog from going outside. Maybe you have back-to-back Zoom meetings and don’t have time for a long midday walk with your pet.
“Not every day will be perfect for exercising outdoors, so have a plan in place for indoor playtime,” Jones says.
If your dog doesn’t want to hop on a treadmill—a relatable feeling for any human—find other ways to make sure he gets the playtime he needs. Here are some suggestions from experts in common indoor activities:
- tug of war
- Puzzle or treat-dispensing toys
- Indoor obstacle course
- hide and seek
If you exercise indoors, you’ll want to make sure to minimize the “slip and fright” moments where your dog could get hurt, Becker says.
“Try to exercise in a carpeted area or lay down rugs that they can easily walk on if you have wooden floors,” says Becker.
A good play activity: tie a rope to a soft toy and throw it to encourage your dog to chase the toy before rewinding the rope. Also consider combining physical challenges with mental exercises that engage their minds and noses for maximum enjoyment.
“Other indoor activities that are also beneficial include chasing a ball down a long hallway or mental exercises, such as snuff mats and other swinging toys that contain food and require thinking and an activity to access food,” says Liff.
Becker also suggests encouraging your pet to walk up and down stairs — if they’re physically able — to retrieve some of their meal. For additional guidance, Pankratz recommends the book No walks? Carefree ! : Maintaining the welfare of dogs with exercise restrictions. That being said, even though your dog can easily exercise indoors, it’s always a good idea to spend time outside when possible for your pet’s well-being.
“Mentally, it’s stimulating for them to be outside to experience scents and other stimuli, whether it’s a brisk walk around the neighborhood, free time in a backyard, or a dog park,” adds Liff.