by chandra conway— Six months after Daley’s vet diagnosed him with likely Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), he was getting around quite well thanks to twice-weekly rehabilitation therapy appointments and twice daily exercises at home. At his appointments, Daley received acupuncture, laser therapy and gait training. He also walked on a underwater treadmill and performed balance and strengthening exercises. (You can see video clips of some of these therapies at California Animal Rehabilitation’s site, here.)
Yet, while we were doing our best to help Daley’s body adjust to and deal with the spinal cord disease’s phases, we knew his front legs and shoulders were consistently working overtime to compensate for his weakening hind end. With that it mind, one of the ways we tried to limit strain on his front end was to avoid stairs whenever possible.
We were lucky in that we lived in a one-story home. While there were a few stairs leading up to the front door, we could instead go through the side yard gate and walk around to the back yard, where there was just one step up to a patio before entering the family room through a sliding door. One day, however, I saw very clearly that even one step could be a challenge for Daley.
He had just finished up his afternoon sniff patrol of the ferns and the Camellia trees in the backyard and as he strolled back to the house, he stopped a couple feet from the back patio step and stood still for a few moments. Then, he made a left turn, circled around to a spot further back on the walkway and approached the patio quickly before climbing the step.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on with your senior dog when he’s dealing with a health issue and you find yourself thinking, “If only he could just tell me what’s wrong!” When I saw Daley decide that he needed to build up momentum before climbing the stair, I was at floored that I’d witnessed such a blatant example of what he was dealing with physically and just how he was coping with it.
I got the message loud and clear and thankfully, this was one challenge that I could take care of for him! Soon after that day, a friend built a simple plywood ramp that sat on the walkway, up against the patio stair. I covered it with a yoga mat—which provided a non-slip, weather-resistant and easy-to-clean surface—and after just a couple test runs, with a few cookies for encouragement, Daley began using his ramp.
DDY’s projects editor (also known as Daley’s grandpa!) has put together a do-it-yourself instruction guide for building a custom plywood ramp that works with a hard surface step. (You can see from the above photo that our backyard step was concrete.)
Note: While DDY’s instructions are suitable for anyone willing to pick up a drill, ramps for multiple hard surface stairs require additional carpentry skills, so please consult a professional. Recently, I posted a link to a column offering instructions on how to build a ramp for wooden stairs. Find that post here.
There are several types of ready-made ramps on the market. Find an example at Handicappedpets.com here. If your senior dog’s mobility is seriously impaired you’re going to want to have multiple ramps, one for the car and one or more for your house and yard. A DIY ramp allows you to customize size and cut down costs considerably—while a ready-made ramp can run around $200, a DIY version can can be made for around $30.
Note: Plywood is a slick surface so be sure to put down a non-slip cover before your dog uses the ramp. Ideas include a yoga mat, indoor/outdoor carpet or grip tape.
- Measuring tape
- One piece exterior plywood
- Two pieces Douglas Fir or similar wood
- Circular saw (or have have the wood cut to fit where you purchase it)
- Wood screws
- Non-slip cover