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Dog Ramps: Why You Might Need One And What To Look For
December 19, 2021
About 47% of American's have a dog over the age of 7. Just like us, older dogs can experience joint and back pain. Even a puppy can experience issues with back pain or have mobility issues, depending on the breed.
Dog ramps can be an essential piece of pet gear, and a great way for your dog to get down from their favorite couch or bed without hurting themselves in the short or long term. In this blog post, we will talk about:
Medical reasons why you may want a ramp for your furry friend and how it helps them
What you may want to look for in a dog ramp or dog stairs, or how to construct a DIY pet ramp
How to make the best use of your dog ramp, and how to train your furry friends to use it
Why you might want a dog ramp
The obvious reason you might want a dog ramp or dog steps is for convenience. Ramps or stairs can make living with smaller pups easier as you won't have to constantly pick them up to put them on high beds, the sofa, or a vehicle. However, even for medium-sized dogs or large dogs, you may not want them jumping up and down even onto low surfaces. Your dog may have or be at risk for general mobility issues, joint pain, or back pain.
Mobility issues in senior pups
Generally, as your pet gets older they'll have trouble climbing or jumping onto furniture or into cars. This just comes with age. There may be an associated ailment, such as arthritis or they may just not be as agile or mobile as they used to be.
Arthritis is surprisingly common in most dogs with 80% of dogs showing signs of arthritis by age 8. As your pup gets older, like humans, they may experience this ailment which is characterized by painful inflammation of the joints. This can make it hard to move around.
Around 7% of puppies have issues with patellar luxations. This applies especially with small dogs such as terriers or chihuahuas. Hopping up and down from high surfaces or in and out of the car, while possible for them, can put undue stress on their knee cap and could result in pain or loss of function.
Hip dysplasia is hereditary and usually occurs in larger dogs. Certain factors around exercise and diet can affect whether or not it becomes a problem. Hip dysplasia can result in a several issues such as decreased activity, loss of function in the hind legs, grating in the joint, or just general pain during movement. Your vet will let you know if they suspect hip dysplasia is an issue.
Intervertebral disk disease
Intervertebral disk disease, or IVDD, is a degenerative condition that can affect any breed of dog at any age but is especially common in small breeds. IVDD is caused by the herniation of the disks in between the vertebrae in your dog's spinal cord. This can cause pain, weakness, or paralysis. Signs of back pain can include a hunched back, whining or crying, shaking legs, or behavioral changes. Preventing your dog from hopping up and down from their favorite spots or climbing stairs can help prevent or exacerbate IVDD, especially if your dog is an at-risk breed. Back braces are available for dogs suffering from IVDD.
What to look for in dog ramps or dog stairs
Ramp or steps?
The first choice to make is whether you want a dog ramp or dog stairs. If you are getting a solution to enable your healthy dog to access a higher surface then steps are a perfectly good option. You'll just need to make sure the steps are deep enough to allow easy access. Indoor stairs for pets usually take up less space than ramps. If you have a dog with mobility issues then a ramp with a gradual incline is a better option. Pet steps can be bad for your dog's back, especially if they are at risk for IVDD.
Store-bought or DIY pet ramp?
There are several options when it comes to purchasing a ramp. You have the option of getting a pet ramp from an online store or building your own from materials you can find around your home. If you choose to build your ramp, there are many different plans available online with varying levels of difficulty. You can check out a list of 20 DIY dog ramps here, or just find inspiration through your own quick search on google. If you don't want yet another project around the house, you can purchase premade ramps at many retailers.
What to look for in a store-bought ramp
When looking for a store-bought ramp, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The ramp should be wide enough that your dog feels comfortable walking on it and navigating it. It is also important that the ramp has a gradual incline, so as not to cause your pet any discomfort or difficulty when ascending or descending.
Not just for small dogs: Weight Limits
The ramp should also be sturdy enough to hold the weight of your dog. Ramps are often made for smaller pets but can easily be used by larger breeds as well. If you have a larger dog then you'll need to pay careful attention as many of the ramps on the market today only support around 45 pounds or so.
The type of ramp you will purchase will depend a lot on how you intend on using it. The height can vary though many of them are adjustable to an extent, to allow you to find the perfect height regardless of the surface height.
If you plan on moving the ramp around or putting it away when others come over you'll want one with easy storage. The adjustable ones usually are also collapsible which is convenient. If you plan on using it to help your pet get up into a car or truck then you may want a car ramp built specifically for that purpose. These ramps will usually be designed to be easier to store in the car's trunk.
As mentioned earlier, you'll want a ramp that can support the weight of your pet. You'll want one with a non-slip surface. Many ramps advertise a non-slip carpet surface but in fact have issues with your dog's paws slipping. You'll want to make sure you research the particular ramp and its customer reviews. Ideally you should find one with a rubber surface, as rubber grips the paws better than even a heavy-duty carpet material. Some owners event modify existing off-the-shelf ramps with rubber matting.
Most ramps are made out of solid wood. Some of them, especially for cars are made out of metal. You'll want one with rubber feet to make sure to keep the ramp steady wherever you put it. If the ramp shifts your pet may become scared of the ramp and then become uninterested or anxious about using it. You may want a ramp with side rails if you are worried about your pup falling off.
Aesthetics and utility
When shopping for ramps, you'll notice they range in niceness a lot like furniture. You have cheap foldable ones all the way up to solid custom-built ones that feature built-in storage, or full carpeting or upholstery. If you foresee using a dog ramp for a long time you may want to consider investing in one that looks particularly nice and fits your décor or building it yourself.
How to use a dog ramp
The first thing to do when getting the ramp home is to make sure that the height adjusts sufficiently so that it's not more than a few inches away from the landing area at the top. You'll also want to make sure there's enough floor space so that the pet can navigate efficiently. If either of these are issues you may want to return the ramp and look at other ramps.
Training for ramps
Training to use dog steps or dog ramps is easy enough. You first want to make sure they know and are comfortable crossing the ramp. You can leave the ramp completely flat or at a slight incline and let them cross it naturally. You can use treats or other incentives to positively reinforce them going across the ramp. If they don't want to cross the ramp, you can reward any behavior of interaction with the ramp and work towards the crossing.
Once they are comfortable doing this, that is a sign that you can progress to using the ramp in-situ and can continue rewarding them until they completely climb up. Even the best dog may have trouble with training, make sure you are a patient pet parent and don't reward jumping off the ramp.
Training for stairs
One option for training with steps is to put treats on the steps for your dog to follow. Make sure you train your dog going up and down the steps. Training for steps is usually easier than training for the ramp, but a similar methodology applies.
A dog ramp or stairs is a great investment for those with older or injured pets, dogs or cats. It can help keep their muscles active and prevent any further injury from occurring. Ramps come in all shapes and sizes, so it's important to do your research before purchasing one. Make sure the ramp is sturdy, has a non-slip surface, and is easy to store and use.
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