Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps!

by Susan E. Davis, PT 

It’s all about guiding and empowering you to help your pet avoid injury, provide practical solutions and achieve rapid restoration of health and function!   

The thought of a small to medium sized dog jumping down from a sofa or bed makes me cringe! The sight of a large, older dog leaping out the back of a truck or van makes me gasp as their joints come in jolting contact with the hard ground. Am I just the “nervous type”?  Well, that’s for another discussion……no, I’m just a concerned physical therapist who has had more than her share of patients who have sustained torn ligaments and injuries to the spine and extremity joints that probably could have been avoided, if not for the repetitive trauma from vertical leaps and jumps.

There is an easy solution in these scenarios: placing a ramp to allow the dog to walk up and down at a reasonable incline.

What about those prefabricated boxes with small stair steps for the pet to climb? 

Well, those are still stairs, even if small ones!  Climbing up and down steps is better than jumping, but it can still produce dangerous torque forces on the joints, so the angled walking ramp is the best way to prevent injury.

Ramps can be expensive, bulky, and it might be tricky to find just the right size, so I am going to offer some suggestions and guidelines for making a custom ramp for your beloved dog!  

These will apply to toy, small and small/medium sized dogs, for negotiating on/off furniture such as beds and sofas. Medium/large and large breeds that have sufficient limb length to climb on and off furniture without needing to jump will not need a ramp. These dogs will only need a ramp for getting in/out of a truck or van/SUV with a high rise platform.

Here are some general guidelines:

Ramp width should be about 11-12 inches for toy and small dogs, and 22-24 inches for medium size breeds.

Rise of the ramp should allow an angle of incline at roughly 18 to 25 degrees. A toy or small dog will need 18-20 degrees and a medium size dog 22-25 degrees. That might seem steep, based on ramp specs used for humans in wheelchairs, but canines have a lower center of gravity and have a mechanical advantage as “quadrupeds”.

For a sofa or bed measuring 14 to 16 inches high vertically, you will need the ramp length to be 3 feet, in order to achieve the correct incline angle.  For a vehicle loading platform of 24-30 inches high, you will need a ramp length of 5 to 6 feet.

This ramp is used indoors and made with Pine, ¾ inch thick. It has been sanded, stained (can try to match with your furniture) and finished with a clear satin outer coat.  It can be painted instead of using a wood stain. I recommend adding vertical “sides” to ramps for the pet’s sense of security and protection.  They will appreciate seeing or sensing a boundary on each side, when negotiating the ramp. This ramp has a 1.5 inch lip in each side.  You can also add a carpet runner (find a carpet sample with a short nubby nap) and tack it down, driving the tack heads deep.

For added security, build a horizontal base and attach it to the ramp at the far end, with two plain butt hinges, like the ones used on doors. Build a smaller vertical flap 1 foot in length, attached with a hinge, just inside the near end of the ramp.  You will need to place a small 2-inch high stop at the near end of the horizontal base, so that the flap sits at a bit of an angle, not fully perpendicular to the floor.

Now for the cool part, this ramp can be collapsed, folded and stored under the bed or couch, when needed.

For ramps used outdoors or for the van/truck, you probably do not need a horizontal base or hinges (unless needed for folding, storage and space-saving purposes), but if you decide to use them, make sure they are stainless steel hinges.

I recommend using an 8 inch aluminum kit build for ramp tops, attached to the near end of the ramp.  These are found in automotive stores, vendors that sell hauling equipment, trailers, etc. Use outdoor artificial “carpet green” for the ramp surface.

Your efforts in building a proper ramp will be well rewarded in an injury-free, safe and happy dog!


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery

Related articles:
Jasmine's Disc Injury: Spanking New Ramp
The Ups And Downs Of Dog Ramps