Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Ups And Downs Of Dog Ramps

by Jerry Rade

When you have an injured dog, a dog after surgery, or a dog suffering from a disease affecting mobility, you need to think accessibility.

Getting in and out of the vehicle, in and out of the house, even up and down a couch, all these things can become a challenge.

After Jasmine's knee injury, we tried towel-support but that didn't go over well with her at all. That's when she got her first ramp, for getting in and out of the house. She took to that immediately and it has served her well all the way to the end. It was big, wide and heavy duty. We didn't have to worry about moving it.

For a ramp to serve its purpose, it needs to be safe, stable and comfortable for the dog.

Earlier this year, after her neck events, we were taking Jasmine to a local vet for an intensive laser therapy. They also happen to have an underwater treadmill, so we took advantage of our visits there by having Jasmine get some hydrotherapy too.

Their treadmill is a different brand than the one we had previously used, and there is a drain pipe which is protruding a few inches from the door by which the dogs access the treadmill. Plus there is the normal 12-14 inch jump up into the doorway.

In the video, 0.12 mins, notice the pipe as it's sticking out, as well as the height. The ramp is at the back; from there it made its way into the adjacent closet room.

That’s quite a jump for a dog needing the treadmill for therapy.

Now, the treadmill came with a ramp to allow easy and safe access. Good plan, right?  Most definitely.

The ramp looked quite spiffy, made of plastic (ABS or polyethylene) so it was light, easy to clean, and basically waterproof with indoor/outdoor carpeting well glued to it.

The ramp looked good, but there was a problem with it. 

It flexed quite easily. The vet technician could make it bend just by putting some pressure on it with her hand. Not good. A dog with an insecure stance is not going to feel comfortable walking up a ramp that’s bending in all directions.

So, the ramp was put in a closet and was collecting dust, since the dogs simply didn’t like it.

Smaller dogs were lifted in and out, larger dogs had to jump, while avoiding the pipe sticking out at the same time.

From our own experience we found that dogs like ramps. 

At least they like them much better than steps. But they won't like a ramp which is too steep, too narrow, or slippery. They also don’t like it when they bend, fold, or sag in the middle.

When, after Jasmine's first neck event, we (read: Jana) wanted a ramp to get our dogs into our mini-bus, we (read: I) built one that was simply made from a piece of 5//8” plywood with 1.5 x 1.5 x 3/16” thick aluminum angle carriage bolted to the sides. The plywood was then covered with pickup box protective coating for traction.

The reason for the aluminum angle on the sides was to stiffen the plywood along it's length. 

The width was sufficiently rigid, but the plywood would bend along it's length.

The thing to remember here is that thickness is of much less benefit than height. 

I could have used thicker plywood, but that the ramp would have been much heavier and would still flex. The aluminum gave me 1.5 inches of height along the edges and was light. I could have easily had the same strength it the aluminum had been 1/8" thick, but I didn't have any readily available.

It worked well, and both of our dogs readily used it.

The ramp held 200 pounds of dogs and it was stable.

There’s a couple of things to remember about a ramp like this.

You need to be able to carry it, and it needs to fit in your vehicle. 

I could have built it a bit lighter, but it only weighed about 60 pounds which I can handle myself. We had the room in the mini-bus for it, so that was good for us.

Getting back to the ramp at the vet’s, the technician showed it to us, and we (read: Jana again) offered to fix it. In other words, I got voluntold once again. Do you see a pattern here?

The design of the ramp is just simple bends with lots of flat, flexible plastic. If was formed plastic, not molded. If it had been molded, it could have had reinforcing ribs built into the bottom of it to add rigidity.

As it was, something needed to be added.

Once again, weight and water resistance had to be considered. I build a simple frame out of 1” x 1” x 1/8” aluminum angle. In looking at the pictures you can see how it was welded together. This frame was then fastened to the existing ramp using ¼” stainless steel carriage bolts.

After bolting it all together I gave it the “acid test” and stood on it myself. 

This proved that it will support a 100 pond dog. Okay, two 100 pound dogs. Alright, two 100 pound dogs and food for month.

The dogs are using the ramp to access the treadmill now, and are comfortable using it. All for a few pounds of aluminum.

Whether you purchase a ramp for your dog, or build it yourself, don't forget it needs to be functional.

Requirements from dog's perspective:
  • comfortable width for your dog's size
  • angle that is not too steep
  • non-slip (don't forget it needs to remain non-slippery even when wet)
  • stable (wobbly ramp does not a happy dog make)

Requirements from your perspective:
  • weight (unless it's a ramp that stays put, you need to be able to carry it)
  • size (no point of having an awesome vehicle access ramp that doesn't fit into a vehicle or other designated space)

Tip: to determine the desired length, run a measuring tape from the point your dog needs to access and pull out to the ground until you get an angle that is reasonable for your dog. Then you'll know how long your ramp should be. You may or may not need to opt for a design that folds.

Related articles:
Jasmine's Disc Injury: Spanking New Ramp


  1. Thanks for this post. Having senior dogs we struggle with this all the time. I've bought more ramps that are gathering dust because they just aren't sturdy enough or the slope was too steep for the dogs to be comfortable. We built one off our deck for Sally and all the other dogs have used it since. Jack & Maggie don't need it for the car...yet, but they will. I'm considering a different car other than an SVU which are hard to get in and out of. This is helpful.

    1. Glad you find it helpful. The little trick with the aluminum frame is really amazing and made all the difference for the ramp at the vet's. And hardly adds any weight.

      Ramps are an awesome thing, when they work right.

  2. We've been using a ramp with Titan to get in and out of the vehicles for 2 years now. It's a HUGE help. Now I just got a new pit bull taxi and we won't need the ramp cause he can get in via the side door, however, I'm saving the ramp in case we need it possible to get in and out of the house. Ramps are awesome have and definitely save on wear and tear of the dogs joints. Love the one you made!

    1. Ramps are great, the dogs certainly approve. Jasmine certainly didn't like stairs much, particularly those without the solid back.

      It's certainly good to keep the one you have, just in case.

  3. Mom is thinking to get a ramp for me. I am a healthy active Senior Dog. But lately jumping into the car is a bit harder. We are in search for a ramp that can used in both car (reg/suv). Golden Thanks for this post. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

    1. Great to hear you're healthy and active, Sugar. But some things can get harder, and there is no need to strain the joints when they don't need to be, right? A ramp for you is a great idea.

      Remember the criteria, so it really works for you well. You might need a design that folds, particularly to fit it in a regular car. Do make sure it's long and stable enough.

  4. Good to know. I was thinking about getting a ramp for our dogs. They have no trouble jumping in and out now, but I thought a ramp would be useful on days when their arthritis pain was troubling them.

    Thanks for giving me more to think about; I wouldn't have given it this much thought.

    1. Ramps are certainly very useful when pain is a problem. Often one doesn't think of everything until they see a dog trying to use a ramp that is not good for them.