Bulldog on treadmill

Pet Science

Should you exercise your dog on a treadmill? Here's what veterinarians say

It might not be a bad idea.

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If you’re a dog owner on TikTok, there’s a decent chance you’ve stumbled across a video of a pooch confidently strutting on a treadmill like a model jetting down a runway.

The search phrase “dog walker treadmill” has amassed more than 1 billion views on the site. But is it actually safe or acceptable to walk your dog on a treadmill? Apparently, it’s not an outlandish idea — plenty of pet owners can and do use treadmills to help their dogs exercise.

“While the concept has gained popularity, training a pet to use a treadmill has been around for years,” Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Lemonade, which offers pet insurance, tells Inverse.

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?

Start gradually at a very slow speed and use positive reinforcement training to help your pet adjust to the treadmill.Getty

Most veterinarians interviewed agreed that there’s generally no harm in walking a healthy pet on a treadmill, and some dogs may even benefit from it. However, you should always check with a veterinarian before beginning any new exercise regimen for your pup.

“Yes, some owners definitely do exercise their pets on treadmills — both cats and dogs,” Kelly Hicks, a medical oncology resident veterinarian at Oregon State University, tells Inverse.

“It is great exercise for a dog, especially when they can’t go outside for whatever reason,” adds Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian at PetKeen.

According to Liff, veterinarians have long used treadmills for rehabilitative 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 dog and cat rehabilitation programs to recover from injury, surgery, or promote weight loss,” Sean Jones, a veterinarian at Chewy, tells Inverse.

While it’s more common to see images of dogs walking on treadmills, cats have their own versions of treadmills known as “cat wheels” or “exercise wheels,” which resemble large hamster wheels. Some veterinarians may recommend cat wheels to help your feline lose weight.

“Cat treadmills are also growing in popularity,” Katherine Pankratz, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, tells Inverse.

But if you do choose to exercise your pet using a treadmill, make sure to keep a close eye on them at all times. It’s very possible for their toenails or fur to get caught in the machine.

“The big thing for the safety of a dog using a treadmill is they need to be supervised,” Bonk says.

Should I exercise my dog on a treadmill?

There’s no single answer to this question. It depends on the needs and interests of your pet, as well as the guidance of your veterinarian. Exercising on a treadmill may be too strenuous for some dogs with certain medical conditions and perfectly fine for others.

“I think the dogs that utilize treadmills are likely those who are very high energy — where a simple walk outside is not enough for them,” Hicks says.

If your goal is to help your pet to lose weight, Hicks says it’s more about the duration and intensity of exercise — frequent, constant activity is best — rather than whether or not to use a treadmill.

Mikkel Becker, a dog behavior counselor and lead animal trainer for Fear Free, tells Inverse that it may not be a good idea to walk puppies on a treadmill as their bones are still growing.

“But for healthy adult dogs, this is a great way to get them some miles on their feet in a temperature-controlled environment,” Becker says.

According to Becker, certain breeds, like the English bulldogs or pugs, may prefer walking on a treadmill indoors since they tend to overheat easily outdoors. It’s also fine for senior dogs to use treadmills so long as your veterinarian approves the plan since arthritis can inflame joints and pups need to be on the right medication to do exercise.

Pet owners should make sure to closely monitor dogs or cats when they’re using a treadmill. Getty

“The misconception is these dogs shouldn't be moving much, but oftentimes, these weight-bearing exercises can be good on their joints and helpful to remove that soreness,” Becker adds.

Jones notes that walking on a treadmill isn’t a total replacement for outdoor activity, but rather a supplement to it.

“Training a pet to walk on a treadmill can still be a useful tool to help a pet maintain and achieve a healthy body weight, stimulate muscle development, and burn off some energy,” Jones adds.

Do I need a special treadmill for my pet?

“There are actually treadmills made specifically for pets with raised sides or other attachments that make it easier for your dog to be on it,” Becker says.

But how do you know if your pet needs a special pet treadmill or whether it’s okay for them to use a human-sized treadmill? Jones says that either one can be used, but for larger dog breeds above 60 pounds, it’s best to purchase a pet-specific treadmill.

“Larger breed pets may have too long of a walking stride to be able to walk properly on a human treadmill,” Jones adds.

Pankratz says there are “several differences” between a human and a pet treadmill and that you should exercise caution before considering putting a dog on a human treadmill.

Some potential problems with using a human-sized treadmill for dogs include loud and potentially frightening noises, a shorter and narrower track surface that may be awkward for a dog’s gait, and a lack of safety guardrails.

How can I help my dog adjust to the treadmill?

“Some dogs are naturally curious about treadmills, especially if their owner is using one,” Bonk says.

But if your dog isn’t naturally revved up to get on the treadmill, they will still need help adjusting. There’s one guiding principle you should keep in mind above all else: Don’t use force or punishment of any kind, Pankratz says, since this can create a “negative emotional association with the treadmill.”

To acclimate a pet to the unfamiliarity of a treadmill, Hicks recommends using positive reinforcement training, such as giving praise or treats following good behavior.

This positive reinforcement may be more necessary for anxious or fearful dogs, according to Pankratz.

“When they look or approach the treadmill, praise and reward your dog with something they enjoy,” Pankratz says.

It’s a good idea to turn on the treadmill before your dog even tries it, so they can adjust to its noises. Gradually guide your dog onto the treadmill. You may want to use a leash for guidance, but do not force your pet onto the treadmill. Once they’re on the treadmill, experts recommend going very gradually from slower to faster speeds.

“When you're first starting, you're starting slow — the treadmill is barely moving, and you're rewarding every few steps,” Becker says, adding that it’s safe to increase the speed once the dog is clearly very comfortable with the machine.

According to Hicks, dogs going at faster speeds on the treadmill will likely need a harness or attachment for safety reasons. The amount of time your pet will spend on the treadmill depends on their baseline activity level.

“For less active dogs, less time is required,” Hicks says.

At the end of the day, pay attention to your dog’s behavioral cues for signs of stress or fear (for more on dog communication, check out our previous articles). If they’re clearly uncomfortable with the activity and cannot adjust, stop using the treadmill.

“Some dogs just aren’t going to go for a treadmill and that’s fine,” Bonk says.

What are other ways I can exercise my dog indoors?

Games like tug-of-war and fetch can make for great indoor exercise. Getty

There are many reasons why you’d want to exercise your dog indoors, ranging from bad weather to physical challenges preventing either the owner or dog from getting outdoors. Maybe you’ve got back-to-back- Zoom meetings and no time for a long midday walk with your pet.

“Not every day will be a perfect day for outdoor exercise, so have a plan in place for playtime indoors,” 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 they get the playtime they need. A few common indoor activities experts suggest include:

  • Fetch
  • Tug-of-war
  • Puzzle or treat-dispensing toys
  • Indoor obstacle courses
  • Hide-and-seek

If you’re exercising indoors, you’ll want to make sure you minimize “slip and scare" moments where your dog could get injured, according to Becker.

“Try exercising in an area that has carpet, or put down runners they can easily walk on if you have wood floors,” Becker says.

One good playtime activity: attaching a rope to a soft toy and throwing it to encourage your dog to chase the toy before reeling the rope back. Also, consider combining physical challenges with mental exercises that engage their minds and nose for maximum enjoyment.

“Other indoor activities that are also beneficial include chasing a ball down a long hallway or mental exercises, such as snuffle mats and other wobble toys that contain food and require some thought and activity to access the food,” Liff says.

Becker also suggests encouraging your pet to walk up and down the stairs — if they are physically able — to retrieve part of their meal. For additional tips, Pankratz recommends the book No walks? No worries!: Maintaining wellbeing in dogs on restricted exercise. That being said, even if your dog can easily exercise indoors, it’s still a good idea to get outdoors time when possible for your pet’s well-being.

“Mentally, it is stimulating for them to be outside to experience scents and other stimuli, whether it’s a quick walk around the neighborhood, free time in a backyard, or a dog park,” Liff adds.

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