Underwater Treadmill Helps Pets Lose Weight

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COLUMBIA - Some people have pets that have gained a few pounds over the years and helping those animals lose the extra weight isn't always easy. The University of Missouri's Veterinary Hospital has a unique solution -- an underwater treadmill.

The water therapy is used for animals recovering from surgery and those suffering from joint pain and/or obesity. Columbia resident, Sarah Grim, takes her cat, Sunshine, to the vet hospital weekly for a 15 minute walk on the treadmill. Sunshine is 14 years old and hasn't had the easiest life.

"He's had the hernia, he's had bladder stones, multiple episodes of bladder stones where he's had bladder surgery and two years ago he was diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma," Grim said.

Sunshine's in remission now, but he's still on a steroid called prednisone that's caused him to gain weight.

"Sunshine's current weight is 17 pounds," veterinary technician Adrienne Siddens said. "His goal weight and how he used to be is closer to 8 to 10 pounds."

Siddens works with Sunshine every Thursday. She starts by strapping him into a pink life jacket and helping him do some stretches. He spends 15 minutes on the underwater treadmill, which helps take pressure off of his joints.

"Right now, with the water level where it is we are probably taking about 85 percent of his body weight off of his shoulders...and he's also getting the resistance of walking through the water so we're hopefully strengthening muscles," Siddens said while Sunshine walked.

When he started having a hard time being mobile, Grim said Sunshine's vet recommended the physical therapy at MU.

"She suggested physically therapy as an option, and that they have an underwater treadmill and so I was like, ‘Well, let's just try it, he does well in my bathtub,'" Grim said.

Siddens said she normally works with dogs because cats are typically more orthopedically sound and don't need the therapy. This is Siddens' first cat patient and the hospital's second cat using the treadmill, but Siddens said she doesn't give Sunshine any special treatments.

"So, I try to push him. It's like going to the gym you gotta push a little farther every time," she said.

The session ends with some more stretches where Siddens puts Sunshine's joints through a full range of motion.

"Stretches a lot of them are going to be for their core, keeping their core tight, keeping their range of motion as maximum as we can make it to help keep their joints mobile," Siddens said.

Grim said she pays between $45 and $55 per therapy session and that it's all worth it.

"You have a commitment to a person, you have a commitment to a pet. And when I buy into a person or buy into a pet, it's a lifelong commitment regardless of the cost," Grim said. "I think any pet owner that has a pet with difficulties should check out all options and all therapies bc they will be surprised that there is something out there that will benefit them and their pet and give them a higher quality of life and longer lifespan."

For more information on the services MU's vet hospital offers, click here, and for additional information on the hospital's physical rehabilitation services, click here.