Help me build a special dog ramp
April 3, 2011 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me design a ramp to fit over a staircase for a dog to go up and down. My parents’ dog has arthritis. My parents house has a hardwood floor staircase that she can’t go down comfortably. She slips and frequently falls down the stairs and it’s obviously painful and stressful for her to go down. I’d like to build her a ramp with some ridges (i.e. pieces of wood set up as crossbars so her feet don’t slip). Two catches inside.

I can figure out how to build the ramp itself. However,

Catch #1: My mom has arthritis, too. When she goes up and down the stairs she has to lead with one leg, which means she has to up one side of the stairs and down the other. So the ramp has to be easily moveable from one side of the staircase to the other, by someone with arthritis, which means it shouldn’t require great strength and it should be do-able without bending over (bending over at the top of a staircase is a bad idea for anyone, anyway).

Catch #2: No modifications to the staircase/wall etc. themselves. This should be something that sits on top of the staircase and can be removed/put back etc. (though this need not be doable by someone with arthritis).

The staircase is not wide enough to just put the ramp in the middle. It is 8 or 9 stairs tall with walls on either side. Straight (no turns or landings).

Any ideas on how to do this? Triple super-duper bonus points and best answers for any actual plans/pictures of a system like this (or like part of this, since it’s a pretty peculiar request).
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I thought of something, help me judge if it will work:

Put casters (the kind the roll only one way) under the ramp touching stairs at three points along the stair case (top, bottom, middle). At the same points, but legs under the ramp with some non-skid material on the bottom of the foot. Make the legs a tiny bit too short to touch the stair case. The ramp will slide across easily on the casters. However, since there will be some give/flexibility, when the 45 lb dog steps on the ramp, it will weight down ramp and the legs will touch down and lock the ramp in place so it doesn't slide across.

Does this sound workable or a terrible idea?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:23 PM on April 3, 2011

That's effectively what I'd do. there are wheels available that are more or less for exactly this purpose. They've got springs in them so once a certain amount of weight is added, they are pushed down. So I'd basically build the ramp so that when weight is on it, the frame/sides are pressed down onto the stairs.

A quick sketch (PDF). Existing stairs in red.

I'm not sure where to source the wheels, maybe Lee Valley or someone similar.
posted by jjb at 6:36 PM on April 3, 2011

I don't have experience with ramps, but a friend of mine has her arthritic dog wearing dog boots. They have no slip bottoms and give her the traction she needs for their hardwood floors.
posted by cecic at 6:37 PM on April 3, 2011

A couple more possibilities on the casters.
posted by jjb at 6:41 PM on April 3, 2011

Response by poster: jjb, Yes, I'd thought of the special wheels but can't seem to find them. Lee Valley has regular casters and the kind with the little lock on them but doesn't seem to have the ones that lock with weight. From your diagram, can you explain the bit that follows the shape of the stairs (and looks like it has a hole in it for the wheels to come out)? I was planning on just building the flat part more or less. Do I need those bits that follow the shape of the stairs? Are those just legs in a different style than I was imagining? I would only put the legs on the same stairs as the wheels. Is there a reason to put them on every step?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:43 PM on April 3, 2011

I would do a frame to follow the shape of the stairs - at least where the wheels will be - in order to get a more secure footing for the ramp to rest on.
posted by jjb at 6:52 PM on April 3, 2011


Try Conveyer & Caster - If they can't get you the caster you need, it doesn't exist.

Full disclosure: This company was a client of my web company at one point
posted by starvingartist at 7:10 PM on April 3, 2011

If nothing else you could get the casters from one of these rolling stepstools.
posted by bendy at 7:26 PM on April 3, 2011

I would be most worried about the human maneuvering the ramp from the top of the stairs, to the point where I vote that you break your second parameter and attach the ramp to one wall; specifically, screw hinges to the wall so that your ramp can flip up and away against the wall -- scring-loaded hinges? (when your mother needs to use that side of the stairs), or flip down for doggy use.

The holes in the wall are easy (toothpaste as spackle) compared to your mother injuring herself on account of your intervention to attempt to make her dog more comfortable.
posted by misterbrandt at 7:37 PM on April 3, 2011

Response by poster: misterbrant, I totally agree that obviously the most important thing is my mom not injuring herself, not that the dog be comfortable. And in fact, a ramp would help my mom too since she DID injure herself trying to carry the dog down the stairs so the dog would be comfortable. She should have known better, I know, she knows, and everyone knows, but she did it anyway.

Anyway, the plan on making it easy for my mom to move is to have an upright handle so she can just slide across while standing upright at the top or bottom of the stairs. I really don't see any danger here, and flipping the ramp up (either bending over to do it, or balancing on foot to do it with a foot) would be much more difficult.

Anyway, on casters, I'm in Canada and international shipping is slow, expensive and results in big customs charges, so I'm really looking locally. I will go to Lee Valley and a couple of other places in person to see if they have the weight-sensitive casters ones or otherwise do feet.

Dreadnought, who will be helping me build, says having legs too short and counting on weight to bring them down won't work because it won't steady the top and bottom at once. I saw that if the casters are the kind that don't swivel, this isn't an issue since if the top don't move, and the bottom can't swivel, then the bottom can't move either. Am I wrong?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:46 PM on April 3, 2011

Understood. Maybe you want some "directional" casters? Sort of like those "library ladder" casters, but those are usually so ridiculous. But basically, get non-swivelling casters, and orient them sideways. That way the ramp can easily move left/right (perpendicular to the dog's path of travel) but won't slide down the stairs or anything.

It looks like Grainger has a Canadian presence, so that may be a possibility for sourcing?
posted by misterbrandt at 7:59 PM on April 3, 2011

Response by poster: But basically, get non-swivelling casters, and orient them sideways. That way the ramp can easily move left/right (perpendicular to the dog's path of travel) but won't slide down the stairs or anything.

Yes, that's exactly the kind of casters I plan to get (and they're quite gettable if I don't want weight-sensitivity). However, having the thing move sideways while the dog is on it would probably be bad, too, so I would like it to lock somehow, which I think the short feet will do.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2011

If this thing is 7 or 8 feet long and built to be pretty rigid, I would be surprised if it floated effortlessly on its casters :) . But it's hard to know until you build it, I suppose.

but based on the rough geometry of jjb's sketch, I would be surprised if those retractable casters really stayed retracted when pooch is at mid-span -- the dog is so light relative to the actual ramp, and those casters are a bit sticky - you really need to be right on top of them pressing straight down to get them to move.

So I guess all I can say is that you might need to just start building, and experiment a bit.
posted by misterbrandt at 8:11 PM on April 3, 2011

I know the engineering is fun, but could you put down s carpet runner?
posted by advicepig at 8:17 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think this ramp is kind of a bad idea arising from good intentions, see the end for a preferred solution.

(If I absolutely had to build a ramp I would build a dedicated ramp on one side and add a few banisters and a handrail to the side in the center of the stair so that you're effectively dividing the stairs in two, but there will still handrails on both sides of the human area.

This may look slightly odd but there is almost no way in the world a 9' long, 100# ramp is going to glide from one side to the other without racking; for it to be stiff enough to slide side-to-side it's going to be too stiff to flex enough under the dog's weight so it may not secure itself as you imagine.

Also consider while that's not a very steep stair it's a very steep ramp, even with cleats.)

I would vote for stair-tread carpets held down with special double-sided tape. Something like this looks good and has the bonus of securing your mom's footing as well.
posted by maxwelton at 8:45 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also consider while that's not a very steep stair it's a very steep ramp

This is important. If you build the ramp at the same angle of (typical) stairs, it will essentially be a slide, and the dog might not have enough control to come down without skidding. It also will be too steep for an arthritic dog to walk up comfortably. You would have to make the ramp significantly longer than the stairs for it to be an effective ramp.
posted by sageleaf at 9:48 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Racking is going to be a serious problem, I think, for any ramp. It's basically guaranteed that when you try to push it to the side from the top, the bottom will lag behind. The only way I can see around this is to make it really light, with no coasters. That way you push it to the side, it skews, and you just shove it into place as you climb.

If you're lucky you might be able to prototype this with extruded polystyrene (aka pink foam structural insulation, available in 8'x2" boards at every big home improvement store in the world. Should be stiff enough to support the dog and light enough to boss around. You might even get away with the 1" stuff, which would cut the weight in half.

I also wanted to point out that putting anything on the steps is going to raise the risk of mom-injury. Not having the whole tread available alters a person's gait and creates a probably-major penalty for a mis-step that hits the ramp.
posted by range at 10:26 PM on April 3, 2011

I would not recommend a ramp. We had a 16 yr old lab we built a ramp for for 3 steps on our back deck. It made it much harder for her and the ramp was able to extend out to a lesser grade than the steps. I would go with something like maxwelton suggest.
posted by lannanh at 12:37 AM on April 4, 2011

I'm with the last few posters; it is extremely unlikely that this idea is going to fly. The ramp will be very difficult to move back and forth, will be hazardous for your mom, and won't work well for the dog either.
posted by jon1270 at 3:59 AM on April 4, 2011

Response by poster: Ok, perhaps greater thinking (or giving up) required. My mom worries that carpet (i.e. runner) would be more slippery for humans since hardwood on rubber-soled slippers is pretty skid proof and does not want to risk ruining the wood stairs the the tape or glue required for treads.

Thanks for the advice all.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:50 AM on April 4, 2011

I asked a question about this a couple of years ago.

in the end, the solution was to apply traction tape near the edges of the stair treads. Once she got used to it, she was fine. The sandy texture acts as the ridges in your design and gives her just enough grip that she doesn't need to worry about slipping. They sell it at Home Depot in rolls abbot 6m long. I've got some leftover packages in my workshop and check the brand name. Get the black colour because the beige gets dirty over time and looks unsightly.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:39 AM on April 4, 2011

Gaaa! Linked to the wrong question. Here it is...
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:42 AM on April 4, 2011

I have built a ramp over a few stairs. It mostly stays put, but can be pulled aside if needed. The underside follows the contour of the steps and the floor. It's sturdy enough.

Here's the thing: unless the staircase is limited to ~4 steps, building a ramp will be unfeasible because you need a much, much longer horizontal run (like, 3x as long for a ramp that still feels steep). There's no way to make it work in a normal home with a one-story flight of stairs. When I was growing up, my family had an old bloodhound that we had to carry down stairs for the last couple years of her life, so I sympathize.
posted by adamrice at 8:01 AM on April 4, 2011

I built a set of steps for my arthritic dog that used a carpet runner with a rubber bottom that I picked up at Home Depot. The carpet is not quite all-weather carpet in texture, a little nicer. The texture really helps my dog use the steps, and seems like it would still work well for a person barefoot or wearing rubber-soled shoes. The really grippy rubber on the bottom seems like it ought to stay in place on hardwood pretty well. (Since mine were single-use stairs, I staplegunned it in place, but the grippy rubber impressed me before I tacked it down.)

A rubber-backed carpet runner is worth investigating, perhaps?
posted by galadriel at 10:23 AM on April 4, 2011

As cecic says, you want non-skid dog boots.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:27 PM on April 4, 2011

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