Laurie's Blogs.


Jan 2024

Land Treadmill or Water Treadmill for the Neurologic Dog?

Laurie Edge-Hughes, BScPT, MAnimSt, CAFCI, CCRT, Cert. Sm. Anim. Acup / Dry Needling


The following blog highlights a journal article that as intended to provide scientific evidence for one purpose, but inadvertently helps we canine rehab clinicians for a different purpose!  I quite like to find little unintended nuggets of wisdom tucked into research articles.


So, here’s the article:

Lewis MJ, Thomovsky SA, Moore GE. Adaptation of land treadmill scoring system for underwater treadmill in dogs with thoracolumbar intervertebral disc extrusion. Vet J. 2023 Oct-Dec;300-302:106039.   

It is available open access at: 



The purpose of the research project was to see if a gait scoring system that has been validated for land treadmill in dogs acute spinal cord injury (SCI) secondary to thoracolumbar intervertebral disc extrusion (TL-IVDE), could be applied to TL-IVDE dogs walking in an underwater treadmill (UWTM) at a standardized water level.


The result?

Yup.  Yup, it can.  So, you can use this gait scoring system as an objective outcome measure for dogs recovering from TL-IVDE when they are in the UWTM.


The less-discussed interpretation of the study

Land based gait scoring systems require dogs to be ambulatory.  For neurologic dogs walking without support on a land treadmill (LT), if they are unable to take a weight bearing step, they will score a zero until they are able to take a weight-bearing step.  “This limits the ability to differentiate between a paraplegic dog and a non-ambulatory paraparetic dog, or to document improvement in pelvic limb motor function in a non-ambulatory dog.”


“…more dogs received a score > 0 on the UWTM compared to the LT, especially among recordings in which overt pelvic limb movement was present. Additionally, it was more common for scores on the UWTM to exceed those of the LT at the same visit by a margin of ≥ 10 %. While the majority of dogs showed dramatic improvements in gait scores on both treadmill types during the first month post-operatively, these scoring discrepancies suggest that properties of the water conveyed the support needed to allow weak dogs to take not only a greater number of steps but also more coordinated steps on the UWTM compared to the LT at the same timepoint.”


How else can this be interpreted?

I think this article also tells us that the UWTM is a good tool to encourage active movements (and presumably strengthening) over and above the land treadmill.  Should one not have access to an UWTM, then a support system should be utilized with a land treadmill in order to enable weaker neurologic dogs to take active steps.


There you go!  A fun little nugget to pull out of a research article!


Until next time…  Cheers!