Dog afraid of stairs
December 29, 2003 6:27 AM   Subscribe

'nother dog question. Last year my (now) 9-year-old dog (Lab/golden mix) became afraid to descend stairs. She stands at the top and woofs until you stand at or near the bottom and reach up to her, then she will come down unassisted but tentatively as you "glilde" her down with a sweep of your arm (OK, maybe I just do the glide because it's fun). Very occasionally she has a similar problem climbing.
My first thought was her eyesight, but if it were failing, how would I know? And the presence/absence of light seems not to matter. Can a vet diagnose vision problems?

The stairs are uncarpeted wood. Does anyone think it would help to put a carpet runner on the stairs?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
My 12 year old poodle doesn't care for stairs much without encouragement, and won't jump up into a car or onto any unknown surface by himself, because of cataracts. But the opacity in his eyes is visible to the untrained eye in the right light, and a vet can certainly see the problem when checking with an opthalmoscope. A standard vet visit should be able to rule out anything like cataracts quite simply.

But with a large breed that's worried about stairs, there's always the question of arthritis or hip dysplasia. Does the dog have problems sitting, lying with her legs tucked under or running? If so, it could simply be painful for her to deal with stairs unless she's given a good dose of encouragement. Those are also problems that a vet could start to ascertain with some simple in-office diagnostics.

In short, take your girl to the vet for a check-up and mention the problem. The doggie doc can make sure that she's okay or get her started on some treatment that will help make her life a bit easier. (Meanwhile a carpet runner may help if it's a musculoskeletal issue, if only to reduce the impact of the stairs a bit.)
posted by Dreama at 6:44 AM on December 29, 2003

She's very active in all other respects, runs, sits, stands, jumps, swims, etc., so I don't think it's an arthritis/dysplasia issue.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:00 AM on December 29, 2003

My hunch: see a vet, and regardless of the outcome, do put down a carpeted runner. Dogs frequently injure themselves sliding on slippery surfaces - perhaps she slipped one day when you weren't around, and this spooked her.
posted by stonerose at 7:23 AM on December 29, 2003

Just based on your description, I'd venture the guess that her eyesight is starting to fail her, at least enough so that she's having trouble distinguishing the individual steps. A runner might help, but if it's her vision, she might have a similar problem with a long run of carpet that's all one color. What about those 3M rubber "tread topper" things? They'd be a decidedly different color, plus non-slip for sure, plus you can fairly easily get them back up some day? Just a thought.
posted by JollyWanker at 7:47 AM on December 29, 2003

The tread toppers are pretty industrial looking, I don't think my wife would go for that solution. Maybe we can paint every other step some contrasting color or pattern, to help distinguish them. Thanks to all for your help--
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:11 AM on December 29, 2003

I would be very surprised if there was any visual connection, absent cataracts, as Dreama described. Traction is a dog's best friend. I think the angles and mechanical loading of going down stairs is different enough from running and jumping that the stairs could be a leading indicator of the troubles of advancing age and decpripitude that all flesh is heir to. We have a wild and extraordinarily athletic two-year-old who has injured herself with a mad rush down even carpeted stairs. And our nine-year-old boy doesn't like the particular linoleum of my wife's bathroom. So they can be very aware of, and suspicious of, surfaces.
posted by cairnish at 9:16 AM on December 29, 2003

Our dog (a 12 year old golden retriever) fell down some stairs once when she was young, and has been fearful of them ever since.
posted by xyzzy at 1:27 PM on December 29, 2003

I'm sorry I didn't think of stair treads before; you can find some that are fairly decorative, and even in colors which will compliment your decor. We have mauve and forest green treads which are a fairly thin rubber and add massive traction to our wooden stairs. (This is good for me, as I'm gimpier than my dog.) I'm fairly certain that we found them at one of the big box home improvement stores -- check at your local Home Despot or similar type establishment in the flooring section and see wha they can suggest.
posted by Dreama at 2:36 PM on December 29, 2003

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