Stairs become difficult for older dogs to negotiate and pose high risk of injury or pain from balance failures. A dog in more control of her ambulation is more confident in her mobility and therefore, will prolong her mobility. At reasonable angles, ramps are a better option than stairs. The challenge with ramps, however, is ensuring a slip-proof surface for your dog. I’ve already put a lot of effort and consideration into non-slip surfaces so you won’t have to. For an ideal transition from stairs to a ramp, use 100% rubber with raised horizontal bars that improve balance and traction.
Dog joints become sensitive with age, medical condition, or injury. Each step of a staircase requires dogs to clear their front and hind legs over the height of each step. Lifting legs to these heights can be painful and uncomfortable for dogs with stiff or weak joints. Any miscalculation can mean tripping, losing balance, or falling, which causes additional pain and potential injury. Stairs require a coordinated transfer of weight at specific intervals spaced a certain distance apart, and are designed for 2-legged human limbs rather than 4-legged dog limbs. Often, dogs zig-zag up stairs because they are walking in a pattern more accommodating to their limbs.
Ramps, on the other hand, allow dogs with sensitive joints to determine a stride pattern least painful for them. Ramps don’t eliminate pressure on joints when traversing up and down but also do not require the dog to take steps in specific spatial patterns or at specific heights. There is more freedom of movement on ramps.
Takara walking upward in a pattern and stride more suited to her comfort. (29 Oct 2017)
Ramps help dogs distribute weight more evenly and reduce force on joints by allowing a smoother, continuous stride as determined by her comfort level. Many of the risks posed by stairs when a dog trips or lists are not as worrisome to the dog when on a ramp because they can recover easier on a level, albeit sloped, surface.
Imbalance on a ramp is easier to recover from than on steps. (19 Jul 2018)
While ramps are easier than stairs for dogs, ramps pose a challenge to humans of not creating a slippery slope that could result in injury or pain for the dog. In my attempt to prepare the surface of Takara’s ramp, I sought a product that would 1) provide her with plenty of grip (and thus, control), 2) minimize irritation to paw pads with frequent use, and 3) work well in slick rains, hot summer sun, and freezing temperatures.
Of four attempts, the product I found to be most suitable was 100% rubber mats with raised horizontal bars by trafficMASTERTM found at Home Depot (A dogease life is not paid to endorse products or companies; just honest opinions based on personal experiences here). The three other less successful attempts were artificial grass (synthetic lawn turf carpet), non-slip tape, and textured paint.
Click here for more details about pros and cons of other attempts.
Pros of trafficMASTER 100% rubber mats:
- Raised horizontal bars arranged perpendicular to the dog’s direction of travel act like tiny speed bumps for traction and control.
- Bars are spaced closely enough that a paw placed anywhere on the mat would have good surface area contact, reinforcing each step and increasing a sense of security.
- Bars are oriented in a single direction which means every step gets the same feedback from the ramp surface; no surprises to negotiate due to shifts in texture, shape, or direction.
- No holes which could cause a nail or toe to get jammed or pinched.
- 100% rubber is best for retaining grip in wet conditions. If your dog wears paw socks or booties, make sure they are also 100% rubber. Vinyl negates the grip of the rubber mats and can cause slipping. Rubber to rubber provides best grip.
- Black mats absorb heat making surfaces in direct sun too hot for paw pads. I kept a hose handy to wet down the rubber when it was hot to my touch (make sure the hose is not in direct sun). Dogs have rougher skin on their pads than we have on our feet but their skin is still sensitive to hot surfaces.
Other 100% rubber mats that I decided against.
Hot surfaces are not only dangerous but they force dogs to walk differently than they normally would which means less freedom (and more pain) to negotiate the walking surface in a comfortable manner. Always test the ramp’s surface temperature with your hand when in direct sun before your dog walks on it. If it’s too hot to keep your hand there for 10 seconds, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on.
The rubber mats held up to snow and ice in winter, but I still had to move snow off the surface before Takara used it. Plan to always shovel snow off a ramp rather than to outfit your dog with snow boots and walk down a snowy ramp (she won’t have as much control or solid feedback from the ramp surface). Depending on the snow texture, temperature, and moisture, your ramp can easily become a snow slide and her boots will have minimal traction. After shoveling, use pet-friendly ice melt on the ramp.
Always shovel snow from the ramp, even with snow booties, to prevent slipping. (31 Dec 2017)
Word of caution. Just because you build a ramp does not mean your dog will always opt to use it. Dogs challenge themselves, or try to prove to themselves that they can still accomplish stairs. They have done so all their lives, why not still? On two occasions, several months after having the ramp in place, I heard Takara fall down the deck stairs when I wasn’t outside with her. She opted not to use the ramp. It was heartbreaking for me and she was in pain afterward. If you can’t always keep an eye out, at least watch your pup descend the ramp and put a baby gate at the bottom of the steps so she has to use the ramp to return. Dogs have strong wills too. Better to assist their ambitions than risk more injury, especially as they age.
Always keep an eye out for when your pup opts to test her limits rather than use the ramp. (26 Jun 2017)
In our efforts to help our pups navigate every day life more comfortably, it’s important we pay attention to what truly benefits them. I hope this information about non-slip surfaces helps you save time and effort if you have a dog ramp or are thinking of installing one.
Other non-slip methods I attempted that were not as effective:
Artificial grass (synthetic lawn turf carpet)
- Works well traversing upward when dry
- Doesn’t get as hot as other materials in direct sun
- Low-cost and easy to install
- Better option for low-angle ramps
- Slippery when going down, even when dry
- Slippery when wet; very little traction
Non-slip tape (LifeGrip anti slip traction tape, 4inx30ft, adhesive, indoor/outdoor)
- Sandpaper texture is easy on paws and great for grip
- Likely better durability if applied to smooth surface (but adhesive integrity is questionable in cold weather)
- Adhesive did not stick to surface (so I stapled down)
- Ripped easily in wind, rain, and when pressure was applied along edges
- Cracks on edges lead to ripping
- Not likely to survive the first freeze and certainly not shoveling off snow/ice
DeckOver (by Behr)- textured paint applied with 3/8” nap. Applied until tacky to give more texture to surface, which increases traction.
- Easy to apply
- Made to be durable outdoors in any weather
- Better option for low-angle ramps and if touched-up frequently
- Texture wears down in just a few weeks leading to less traction and more slipping (possibly due to paw oils, dirt, and weathering)
- Somewhat expensive
- Requires frequent touch-up to stay effective