What To Do When Your Senior Dog Has Problems Going Up Stairs

If you're here, chances are you have been watching your older dog start to struggle with stairs. Old dogs might stumble, or seem unsteady; or they may seem too weak or too stiff to climb the stairs. A is very common... but provided the dog still has a good quality of life otherwise, it's a problem that the family can work around to help make life easier for their aging furry friend.

Why Does My Old Dog Struggle With Stairs?

Many illnesses or medications can cause weakness in a dog's hind end. Some examples include like ; ; ; or neurological issues.

When going up the stairs, dogs need to be able to "power off" their back legs to help propel them upwards. Weakness in the hindquarters makes this much more difficult and the dog may balk when faced with stairs, or refuse them entirely.

It's not just climbing up the stairs that can cause problems for senior dogs. Many older dogs also find going down the stairs to be daunting as well. Dogs who have balance issues in particular can find it scary to head down the stairs, when they could wobble to one side or lose their balance and fall.

Strengthening the Back End

  • If a medication condition is causing weakness or stiffness in the dog's hind end, treating the underlying issue may help the dog regain some of its strength and flexibility/mobility.

  • If medication is causing the weakness, talk to your vet about trying an alternate drug or using the absolute minimum dosage that's still effective in treating the medical condition.

  • Consider taking your dog to canine physiotherapy / rehabilitation. The physiotherapist may have your dog do exercises in the facility, or can show the owner some exercises that can be done at home.

  • Consider visiting a veterinary acupuncturist. If stiffness is part of the reason why the dog is having trouble with stairs, acupuncture treatments may be able to relieve some of that stiffness.

Tip: Building and maintaining strength is important; so, too, is simply trying to prevent soreness. A dog who's comfortable is more likely to move around more than one whose joints or muscles ache. A good, supportive orthopedic dog bed can help an arthritic dog feel better, too, even if it doesn't directly affect his ability to climb stairs.
Pictured above: Better World Pets 5" Thick Orthopedic Dog Bed

Making Adjustments For Your Dog

Eventually, most of us have to accept that stairs and jumps are simply something the dog can no longer manage. Short of lifting and carrying the dog up and down the stairs or lifting them into or out of the car all day long, here are some adjustments that can be made around the house to make your dog's life easier:

  • Put his food & water bowls, beds, etc. all on the same level so that he won't have to do stairs very often. An elevated feeder can be useful for taller dogs who have trouble bending down.


  • A ramp with a gentle incline can make it easier for your dog to get into the car, while also saving your back!
    Pictured here: Pet Gear Tri-Fold Ramp 71" Extra Wide Pet Ramp (holds up to 200 lbs)
    Get a ramp. Most ramps these days are fairly light-weight, and some fold up or telescope so that they're not too unwieldy to store. A gentle incline is easier for elderly dogs to navigate than attempting to climb stairs.

    Note the words gentle incline... the ramp needs to be long enough that it's not too steep for your dog to climb. If, for example, you're using the ramp to help your dog get into the car, and your vehicle is fairly high, try to back up to the curb or near the door so that the incline isn't so steep for your dog.

    It's also very important to steady the dog as he climbs the ramp. Ramps generally don't have sides or railings, so dogs could potentially slip off if they're not particularly steady on their feet. Make sure the ramp has a good, grippy surface (not slippery). Here are a few popular ones:

    • The Solvit Deluxe Telescoping Dog Ramp is light and strong, and has little or no bounce. The regular size can be extended from 39 to 72 inches and can hold up to 400 lbs. Storage is a breeze since it's a telescoping ramp. My neighbor, who has a 130-lb Bernese Mountain Dog, uses the XL version with a wider walking surface and a longer extension. She says her dog uses the ramp easily. There's also the Solvit UltraLite Bi-fold Ramp, which is the most economical of their models.

    • The Pet Loader is a set of steps rather than a ramp. Some dogs simply won't use ramps so this is a great option. The PetLoader is sturdy and folds into a suitcase-sized square so it's easy to carry. The ramp width ranges from 12" to 18". It's pricier but very well-made.

    • The PetSTEP Folding Pet Ramp has a non-slip rubberized walking surface, rather than using sandpaper or carpet. It's sturdy and a nice, wide 17". They also offer a shorter version suitable for cars, called the PetSTEP Half Step. These ramps hold up to 500 lbs.

    If you're handy you can build a wider ramp so you don't have to worry as much about the dog accidentally falling off the sides.

    Ramps should also be anti-slip. A textured surface is better than a smooth one. You might also be able to add anti-slip tape to help with traction.


  • A mobility harness lets you lend your strength to your dog when he needs help. It also helps to keep him stable.
    Pictured here: GingerLead Dog Support & Rehabilitation Harness
    Use a mobility-aid. There are many types of dog support or rehabilitation harnesses that can help owners help their dogs up the stairs. If your dog is seeing a physiotherapist, ask him or her for a recommendation as they have likely seen and worked with many types of harnesses before.

  • Cover stairs with carpet. Dogs with limited mobility often find hard flooring like hardwood, laminate, or tile too slippery to manage safely. Covering the steps with carpet can dramatically help dogs who still have the strength and coordination to climb stairs - just not slippery ones! You don't have to completely re-do your home, though; carpet stair treads are a quick, easy, and affordable way to install carpet on staircases.

A small senior dog having problems going up the stairs is much more easily manageable than a large dog. Either way, though, it can be difficult for both the owners as well as the dog. So long as the dog continues to enjoy life (minus those pesky stairs), there are ways us pet owners can work around the issue and help our dogs continue on their happy way.