Dogs with arthritis struggle with movement because of the pain resulting from the condition. As the dog parent, your part can be to ease movement as much as possible. That may mean that the area where the dog moves about should be as easy as possible to navigate. However, some structural alterations of your living space are virtually impossible. For instance the stairs – it’s difficult to upend them all together for the dog’s sake; and since more than 80% of dog owners likely have some form of stairs in their apartment or home, let’s look at whether stairs are bad for dogs with arthritis.
Are Stairs Bad for Dogs with Arthritis?
Yes, stairs are bad for dogs with arthritis. This is because stairs may strain the areas of the body that suffer pain during movement – mainly the joints of the limbs. Stairs are also a potential accident hazard – one that is more real because the motions of the arthritic dog are not properly controlled. One benefit of using stairs is that they may help the arthritic dog to exercise when climbing up the stairs. But the shortcomings of using stairs far outweigh this benefit. Ultimately, stairs are not the end of the world: the arthritic dog can use ramps to go up the stairs or you can make the first floor cozy enough for him or her.
Why Stairs Are a Bad Idea for Arthritic Dogs
It may depend on the kind of stairs you’re dealing with. But the bottom line is that stairs were made for humans and not dogs. In the case of arthritic dogs, they pose the following threats:
1. Worsening the arthritic condition
Arthritic dogs tend to compensate for pain in one joint by shifting body weight to other limbs that are not affected. This is particularly the case with hip dysplasia, which is one of the leading causes of arthritis in dogs.
Anyway, the steps of the stairs can fasten the progression of arthritis by causing more friction in the affected joints and causing imbalanced or wobbly movements.
2. Climbing up and down the stairs is painful for arthritic dogs
Arthritic dogs are exerting themselves when climbing up and down the stairs. Even though the condition may be in its earlier stages, the pain will increase as the condition worsens.
So, it can be good in the long run to limit movements up and down the stairs.
3. Increased risk of accidents
There is always the imminent danger that the arthritic dog may fall down the stairs. Such an accident may cause additional trauma to the limbs or other parts of the body, which is catastrophic.
Some people suggest training arthritic and older dogs to go up the stairs when a non-slip material is placed on stairs to help with the grip. However, the success of that strategy may depend on the extent of arthritis in the dog and how steep those stairs are.
A likely result to keep in mind is that trying to train an arthritic dog to move up and down the stairs may make him or her less motivated to do any movement at all. A better strategy might be to make the areas where the arthritic dog moves about easier to navigate without the need for training.
That’s a perfect segway into a discussion of stair alternatives.
Helping an Arthritic Dog with the Stairs
Below are some of the approaches that can solve the stairs problem for your senior or arthritic dog:
1. Installing a ramp
This is a compromise for the adventurous dog that wants to know what is going up there despite his condition. It is also beneficial since it makes the dog confident to move up and down other ramps such as a ramp onto the car, a ramp one or two steps off the front porch, among others.
The surface of the ramp should be non-slip and the edges should cover the steps of the stairs neatly. Be patient and supportive with the dog as he or she learns to use the ramp to move up and down the stairs.
2. Use a lifting aid harness
Another approach is to use a lifting aid harness. There are harnesses in the market that are designed specifically for dogs that have degenerative joint diseases such as arthritis. They are designed to ease pain and improve mobility especially for large breeds of dogs with degenerative diseases.
A dog harness will help you take some weight off your arthritic dog’s affected limbs, hence, it will ease mobility, improve your dog’s stability, balance, and provide support. In case you are exercising your arthritic canine friend a dog harness will help to eliminate slipping which may cause more injury to the affected joints.
Types of harness includes:
Rear support harnesses-basically designed to help dogs with arthritis in their hip and hind legs. It is normally fitted around the dog’s waist. A well designed rear support harness can help a person without a lot of upper body strength offer support to a large breed of dog.
Front support harnesses – basically designed to offer support on the front side of the dog. It fits a dog’s chest or belly area.
Full body harnesses – These harnesses are designed to offer support for dogs that are suffering from arthritis in both of their legs. You should be very careful when choosing this harness since they will need to fit your dog perfectly to be effective.
3. Make downstairs home for the dog
Sometimes, it would be easier to limit movement to the first floor. Move the sleeping area, food, and water downstairs – where the arthritic dog can roam free on flat surfaces.
These surfaces should ideally have some grip to them, and carpeting is one easy to achieve that. Carpets also give the bonus of maintaining a cool temperature of the surface, an important benefit to arthritic dogs.
Also, you can consider raising the food and water containers so that the dog can reach them without straining.
You can install a stair gate to prevent the dog from moving up the stairs when you’re not nearby. Then, if your dog needs to go with you upstairs, you can carry him up there.
Considering the ease of movement for a dog with arthritis is very important. Stairs are not recommended for a dog with that condition. They may end up worsening the condition by causing increased pressure, inflammation, and pain.
Therefore, although stairs may be touted as a good way to exercise, the best overall course of action is to prevent movement up and down the stairs. Admittedly, causes and cases of arthritis differ, and hence do the limitations of movement. So, you can ask a licensed vet to assess how your dog may be affected by such movements, depending on the causes of arthritis in your dog and its progression.
Keep the dog motivated by assuring him of his good mobility on flat surfaces downstairs and his mood will be beneficial in dealing with the limitations of arthritis.