Choosing the Best Dog Ramp for Older, Larger Dogs

If you've ever tried to heft a big dog into the car, you know what an awkward, often back-breaking task it can be. 'Lift with your legs' isn't always as easy as it sounds, and if your dog doesn't enjoy being carried, the task is even more difficult - both for you and for your dog! Dog ramps are a blessing for those of us who regularly deal with hoisting our furry pals into the vehicle. There are lots of different designs and plenty of variety. Finding the might feel a little overwhelming, but here are some tips on how to choose a ramp for your senior dog.

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What Large Dogs Need in a Ramp

  • Wider ramps are easier for large dogs to use. In general, bigger dogs have bigger paws and a wider stance. A wider ramp gives them confidence that they won't accidentally fall off, making them feel more secure.

  • Little or no bounce to the ramp. The ramp should be sturdy enough that it shouldn't have too much 'give' when a large dog walks (or runs) up it. You don't want them to feel like they're going to be bounced right off the ramp! Look for a ramp that's rated for your dog's weight - ideally more, if you can find one. This helps to ensure that the ramp was designed and built specifically with large dogs in mind.

What Older Dogs Need in a Ramp

  • Textured ramps are better for traction. Many old dogs don't have good stability on their feet when on slippery surfaces. It's best if the ramp has a textured surface built right in, but if need be, you can also add traction on your own as well, using anti-slip tape or safety tread. Outdoor carpet treads are another great option, especially for dogs who are familiar with carpet and feel secure on it.

  • A gentle incline. Senior dogs often lose muscle in their hindquarters, making it harder for them to do things like climb stairs or inclines. Look for a ramp that's long enough that the incline isn't going to be too difficult for your dog when the ramp is propped up against the vehicle.

  • A slight lip along the sides of the ramp can help pets stay on the ramp and prevent slipping (or stepping) off it inadvertantly.

One thing to note is that some dogs simply don't like ramps. They find them scary, or hard to navigate. Some of these dogs are still okay with stairs, so there's a review of a set of stairs below.

Older dogs who aren't stable on their feet (for example, dogs with degenerative myelopathy) might also find the use of a mobility harness helpful when they're going up or down a ramp. Keep a good, firm grip to help the dog feel secure.

What Dog Owners Need in a Car Ramp

  • Easy set-up and take-down. Let's face it: it's still a big item, so there's going to be some degree of awkwardness involved (but not as awkward as hoisting a big dog into the car!). But the ramp should be simple to operate and shouldn't take more than a minute or two to set up.

  • Reasonably light-weight. Big, older dogs need long, sturdy ramps, which means that the ramp isn't going to be feather-light - but it also doesn't have to break your back either. Look for a ramp that you can manage on your own.

  • Easy to store or transport. A telescoping or folding ramp can help to preserve space.
  • Suited for where you want to place the ramp - side door or back of vehicle? Most are meant to be placed against the back of the vehicle. If using against a side door, make sure there's enough clearance that the ramp can be placed securely against the back seat. Some vehicle side doors don't open fully - ramps may have to be placed at an angle, which is okay if it's still secure. Otherwise you may have to look for a stabilizing attachment to make sure the ramp doesn't move.

  • Rubber grips at the head and foot of the ramp to prevent slippage, as well as prevent the vehicle from getting scratched.

  • Easy to clean. Ideally you'd be able to hose off the ramp without damaging it, and then let it air-dry.

  • Carry handles may seem like a small thing, but they're very helpful when you're lugging the ramp around.

  • Locking mechanisms are also helpful to hold ramps (or stairs) closed when you're not using them.

Top Performing Ramps for Larger, Older Dogs

  Solvit Ramp PetSTEP Pet Loader
COMMENTS Lots of different versions of the Solvit ramp are available. Since we're talking about big dogs, this review is about the Deluxe XL Telescoping model. Offered in a full size version as well as in the PetSTEP Half Step for smaller vehicles. This is actually a set of steps - for dogs who don't like ramps. Some dogs find climbing stairs more natural then climbing up a ramp. You choose how many steps you want (the more steps you have, the less steep it is). You also choose the width of the steps.
WEIGHT RATING Over 300 lbs 500 lbs XL version can support up to 250 lbs
LENGTH 48" to 87". Extra length gives a gentler incline, which older dogs will appreciate. 70". Shorter length can mean a steeper incline on a higher vehicle, such as an SUV or truck. Gentler angle: 44" to 78" (step rise: 7.5")
Steeper angle: 36" to 51" (step rise: 9.25")
These are steps, not a ramp, so the length isn't a direct comparison.
NON-SLIP? Yes - non-slip surface is attached with adhesive. This could potentially be an issue if the surface peels or gets scratched off by the dog's nails. The traction grip can also wear out over time and make the ramp more slippery and harder to climb. Some dogs may also find the sandpaper-like surface abrasive on the paws. Yes - non-slip, ridged rubber surface that's built right into the ramp. Softer and more comfortable on paws while also providing decent traction. Yes - washable carpeting. Many dogs are familiar with the feel of carpet and will readily walk on it. Using carpeted steps in the rain may cause it to trap moisture, so it needs to be dried out thoroughly.
WIDTH 20" 17" 12" to 18"
WEIGHT OF RAMP Approx. 20 lbs Approx. 20 lbs 16 to 40 lbs
EASE OF USE One-person operation, but easier with two people. Only folds in half, so somewhat bulkier and awkward to handle on your own. Easily set up by one person.
STORAGE Telescopes down to approx. 48" x 20" Folds in half to 36" L x 17" W x 5.75" Folds into a suitcase-sized square
ADDITIONAL NOTES Has a carry handle and a safety latch to prevent ramp from opening accidentally. Also designed to float! Has handles for carrying. Can add/remove steps, if needed.
BUY ONLINE Buy the Solvit XL Ramp from Amazon Buy the PetSTEP Ramp from Amazon Buy the PetLoader Steps from Amazon

Teaching Dogs to Use the Ramp

As with teaching any new behavior, positive reinforcement is key. Go slow. Purchase the ramp a couple of months ahead of when you'll need it, if you can, to allow time for your dog to get comfortable with it. It's helpful to choose both a verbal command and a hand signal (just in case your senior dog loses his hearing) to use consistently when you want your dog to use the ramp.

  • Start by placing the ramp flat on the ground. Make sure the ramp is on a surface that has grip (like carpet, or grass) so that it doesn't slip when your dog walks on it. Lead your dog onto the ramp, and give lots of encouragement and treats. Keep doing this until your dog will readily walk across the length of the ramp.

  • Once your dog is comfortable with using the ramp flat on the ground, put it at a slight angle - for example, up against one or two steps (again, make sure the ramp won't slip). Make the incline very gentle at this point; if it's too steep to begin with, the dog might try to jump off.

    Lure him up the ramp, one paw at a time. It's okay if he's initially only comfortable going one or two steps up the ramp. Reward, praise, and try again the next day to encourage him further.

  • Gradually increase the incline of the ramp until you can place it up against your vehicle. Remember, some senior dogs are a little weak or shaky in the back end - these dogs might benefit from the use of a mobility harness to help them up the ramp. If your dog has a regular harness, you can also keep one hand on the harness to help steady your dog.

Hope you've found this guide helpful in choosing the best ramp for your large, older dog. A car ramp helps us to improve the lives of our senior pets by making it easier for them - and for us! - to continue to go places together.