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 senior dog having problems going up stairs
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
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
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.
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
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.
Get a ramp.
Most ramps these days are fairly light-weight, and some fold up
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.
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.