There are a lot of myths out there about large breed dogs and stairs. Some people say that stairs are always bad for large breed dogs. Other people say that it’s no big deal and that stairs are never a problem.
Whether you have a large mixed breed dog or a large purebred dog, here is what you need to know about large and giant breed dogs and stairs.
Beyond accidents, the biggest concern that large and giant breed dog owners should have about stairs is hip dysplasia, which is a deformity of the hip that can develop during growth.
Most people don’t know that hip dysplasia develops when dogs are puppies. That means that what they do as puppies makes a difference in whether or not they get this developmental hip condition.
There is evidence that stair use in very young puppies can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia.
Consequently, very young puppies should use the stairs as little as possible. A 2012 study showed stairs can cause hip dysplasia (HD) in puppies that are under 3 months old.
“Puppies walking on stairs from birth to 3 months of age had an increased risk of developing HD. Factors associated with a decreased risk of developing HD included off-leash exercise from birth to 3 months of age, birth during the spring and summer, and birth on a farm.”
If you want your puppy to have a decreased risk of getting hip dysplasia they must get plenty of off-leash exercise that is not associated with stairs. Research shows that dogs that get off-leash exercise early in life have a decreased risk of developing HD.
Avoiding stairs when your dog is very young is especially important if you have a purebred or mixed breed dog that is prone to hip dysplasia like a German Shepherd or Labrador Retriever as these breeds are more prone to developing HD.
“These findings could be used as practical recommendations for the prevention of HD in Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, Leonbergers, and Irish Wolfhounds.”
If you have a breed of dog that is prone to developing hip dysplasia, it’s also important to have them monitored by a vet monthly until they are about 10 months old. A qualified veterinarian will be able to catch the signs of developing hip dysplasia and advise you on treatments that minimize the effects.
In most cases, once your puppy is over 12 weeks old it’s safe for them to start using the stairs with supervision. Consult with your vet on your specific situation.
No matter what type of puppy you have, you will want to make sure they have proper supervision once you have them start using the stairs.
Puppies need to be over 12 weeks old to start learning how to use the steps, but even at this stage they are awkward and just getting to know the world. It’s not unusual for puppies to be a bit “slippy” as they go up the steps for the first time.
You should provide supervision as they navigate stairs until they are confident and not slipping while going up and down the steps. This will help to prevent accidents.
Wood steps can be hard for dogs’ paws to grip onto.
If you have wood steps, then you might want to consider a non-slip stair sticker or carpet runner to put on your steps.
There are several different options that can work to make steps less slippery than bare wood. Using a non-slip option will help your dog (and you) avoid accidents.
Once your dog has learned to navigate the steps properly then you are good to go until they start having trouble with the steps.
If your dog is having trouble using the stairs, watch what is happening. Often, if your dog has problems with the steps in your house this can be a sign of health problems that aren’t showing up in other places.
If you catch these types of problems early, you can often work with your vet on helping to relieve pain or fix the problems. When you go to the vet be sure to accurately describe your dog’s behavior on the stairs so that your vet can accurately diagnose the problem.
Dogs that have orthopedic problems with their hips, spine, or back will be able to go downstairs easily but will have trouble going back up. They may refuse to go up or bunny hop up the steps.
On the other hand, if the dog is having trouble going down the steps, but isn’t having trouble going up they may have problems with their elbows or shoulders.
Dogs that hug the wall of the steps while going up or down may struggle with vestibular disease which can affect balance.
If you see any of these behaviors on the steps make sure to consult with your veterinarian.
Sometimes, like humans, dogs start to have trouble with stairs if their health is poor or if they are older.
When that happens it’s time to make accommodations for your pet. If you have a small dog you may just carry them up and down the steps, but it’s not always possible to carry a large dog, so you have to take other measures.
Block off the stairs with a baby gate so they aren’t tempted to follow you up the steps. Do what you can to spend time with your dog downstairs, and install ramps in areas with just a few steps.
Make sure that your dog has everything they need to be comfortable in your house without going up and down the steps.
You don’t want to aggravate health problems by forcing your dog to climb steps when they are no longer able to do so safely and comfortably.