Canine Physical Therapy: Ramps!

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. I am just a concerned physical therapist. I have had my share of patients with torn ligaments and injuries to the spine and extremity joints. These issues probably could have been avoided, if not for the repetitive trauma from vertical leaps and jumps.

Canine Physical Therapy: Ramps!
Indoor ramp. Image Golly Gear

There is an easy solution in these scenarios—a ramp that allows the dog to walk up and down at a reasonable incline.

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

Well, those are still stairs, even if small ones!  Climbing up and down steps is better than jumping. However, it can still produce dangerous torque forces on the joints. In contrast, an 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. Therefore, I will offer some suggestions and guidelines for making a custom ramp for your beloved dog!  

These will apply to the 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.

Dog ramp general guidelines

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

The 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 14 to 16 inches high, you need ramp length to be 3 feet 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.

Indoor ramp design examples

DIY simple ramp
Canine Physical Therapy: Ramps!

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 dog’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 on 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.

DIY ramp with a horizontal base
Canine Physical Therapy: Ramps!

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.

DIY collapsible ramp
Canine Physical Therapy: Ramps!

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

Outdoor ramps

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 rear 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!

Related articles:
The Ups And Downs Of Dog Ramps

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