While dogs seem to not have any problems walking up and down stairs when they are young and healthy, when a dog won't climb stairs anymore, this is often a sign of something not right going on in the health department. Don't just assume your dog has become suddenly lazy or that he got scared of something and has therefore become wary of the stairs. Dogs often have a good reason to stop climbing stairs, and most don't like being left behind, therefore it's important to rule out medical conditions with the help of a vet before guessing and making assumptions. Causes for a dog who won't climb stairs anymore may range from mild to severe disorders that may require immediate veterinary attention.
About Dogs Climbing up Stairs
In order to understand why a dog won't climb stairs anymore, one must take a closer look at what happens exactly when a dog climbs up stairs.
Whether it's a whole flight of stairs or just a couple of steps, climbing stairs requires the dog to lift up the legs, often much higher than he normally would when just walking around and it therefore requires the coordinated effort of muscles, tendons, bones, joints and vertebrae of the neck and back.
The walking up stairs movement also tightens the dog's skin over certain parts of the body that are in motion.
A dog who is showing a reluctance of climbing up stairs may therefore be having a problem with any of these body parts. Pinpointing what part is hurting though may often be a challenge.
A Back Issue
When a dog is reluctant to climb up stairs or jump, a common cause for this is a back issue. When a dog is climbing up a flight of stairs, the forces applied on the dog's back may cause discomfort and soon the dog associates the stairs with pain, and therefore, will start avoiding them. A dog avoiding stairs may therefore point to a back/disc issue, explains veterinarian Dr. Bruce.
A common problem is a herniated disc which is quite similar to the problem seen in people. In medium to large dogs, the disc bulges and puts pressure on the spinal canal; whereas, in smaller dogs, rather than bulging, the disc tends to rupture. With a bulging disc, the affected dog may develop lameness and pain when jumping, climbing steps and even when lowering the head or getting up from from a sleeping position.
Fortunately, a vet may pinpoint a back problem by carefully manipulating the dog's back and looking for signs of tension, spasms and pain responses.
Affected dogs often get better with rest along with anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids meant to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the disc. Severe cases that do not resolve with conservative management may require surgery.
A Case of Arthritis
A problem especially seen in older dogs is arthritis which can cause pain in the dog's joints. The dog may have coped for days, weeks or months with this problem, but at a certain point, the pain of lifting the legs to climb stairs may just be too much.
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In a dog having problems climbing up stairs, the arthritis may be localized to either the level of the spine or the hips, says veterinarian Dr. Gary. In such a case, rest for 1 to 2 weeks may help to see an improvement and some glucosamine/chondroitin supplements may help keeping the cartilage in good shape as well as slowing down the progression of degenerative joints disease as seen in older dogs.
Anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medications may help reduce the pain and inflammation seen in dogs with arthritis. If you suspect your dog has arthritis, consult with your vet for medication.
Anal Gland Problems
As discussed earlier, going up the stairs often puts pressure and tightens the dog's skin as the dog moves. Another issue that can elicit a pain response when a dog is walking up the stairs is an anal gland problem.
Dogs have anal glands around their rectum which are meant to drain fluids. It takes firm stools to be passed in order for these fluids to be successfully excreted for such glands, so sometimes if a dog's stools happen to be too much on the soft side, the dog's anal glands end up getting clogged.
Affected dogs often keep their tail down, as raising the tail upward can cause pain, they may lick their bottoms and feel uncomfortable sitting down. A dog scooting after having diarrhea or after having soft stools is another sign.
Fortunately, in many cases clogged anal glands in dogs just need to be squeezed and a veterinarian, veterinary technician or a groomer may do this. The procedure is called "anal gland expression" and dogs often feel immediate relief. Dogs who have impacted anal glands with an infection may require a course of antibiotics.
A Pulled Muscle
Sometimes a pulled muscle may cause a dog to be sore for a few days, and going up the stairs can exacerbate the pain. The pulled muscle may have happened when the dog romped at the dog park, jumped to play with a Frisbee or any other high-impact activity that can cause muscles to become sore. A dog may also pull a muscle by bumping into some object inside the house, explains veterinarian Dr. K.
Often, all the dog needs to feel better is some rest and the soreness should decrease and the dog should be getting better in a few days. However, if the pain seems to persist or increase, it's best to see the vet.
There are other possible problems in a dog refusing to climb stairs such as strained muscles, bruised bones, torn ligaments or tendons and even some serious issues such as swollen lymph nodes and fluid in the chest.
In some cases, dogs may stop climbing the stairs because they are weak either from anemia, low blood sugar, imbalances of electrolytes or other underlying problems. Vision problems can also make a dog reluctant to climb stairs.
And of course, then there are behavioral causes, such as dogs scared of stairs for the simple fact that they are frightened. Perhaps, the dog had a negative experience or started associating the stairs with some scary stimulus.
Because of these many possibilities, it is important to see the vet. Your vet will likely ask you about your dog's symptoms and may palpate your dog all over to determine the source of pain. X-rays may sometimes be needed to identify the underlying cause. Treatment obviously varies depending on the vet's findings.