Why Has My Dog Stopped Going Upstairs?

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It can be confusing when your dog suddenly seems unable to do something they managed easily before. One of the most common problems of this nature is when a dog stops going upstairs or seems reluctant even to try to negotiate the steps.

The crucial question is why the dog does not want to go up the stairs. If this can be answered, a solution can be found. 

Dogs stop going upstairs due to pain from arthritis, joint abnormalities, and spinal degeneration. Vision loss, balance problems, and loss of proprioception will result in a dog being reluctant to try stairs. Anxiety and fear can also add to the problem making the dog uncertain about the task.

The dog owner must think carefully and investigate any clues to pin down what underlies the dog’s disinclination to climb the stairs. 

If you’re scratching your head asking, “Why has my dog stopped going upstairs?“, here are some important possible causes to rule out:

Reasons Why My Dog Has Stopped Going Upstairs

Why has my dog stopped going upstairs?

Various reasons can make your dog reluctant to go upstairs. Each one must be addressed differently, and therefore it is critical to identify the underlying cause correctly.

  1. Pain from arthritis.
  2. Pain from joint abnormalities.
  3. Undiagnosed fractures and sprains.
  4. Spinal problems.
  5. Neurological issues and changes in proprioception.
  6. Ear infections and disturbances in balance.
  7. Visual deterioration.
  8. Anxiety and fears.

1. Arthritic Pain May Cause Difficulty Climbing Stairs

Arthritis is most typically seen in older dogs. Giant breed dogs and large breed dogs may show arthritis earlier than small breed dogs. Their weight is much greater, and the pressure on the joints is significantly more than a smaller dog’s. 

Arthritis can occur in any joint from the toes through to the shoulders and hips. Dogs that have been very active in dog sports with repetitive concussions on the joints may have early onset arthritis.

Often pet owners miss early symptoms of arthritis. They may say the dog is just getting old and lazy, but the reality is the dog is in pain. Other symptoms of arthritis are:

  • Dogs that are slow to get up after lying down
  • Dogs that seldom sit – they only lie down or stand up
  • Disinclination to chase or fetch balls and toys
  • Limping and showing signs of lameness, particularly after a long walk or play session
  • Crying or yelping from pain when bumped

Arthritis can be managed by using joint supplements and anti-inflammatories. Veterinary surgeons may remove bony growth in younger dogs and reshape the joint. The risks must be carefully weighed before deciding on surgery. 

Arthritic dogs can be helped to go upstairs by using lifting harnesses or building interim steps to lessen the height of each step. Ideally, dogs with arthritis should avoid stairs altogether, but this is not always possible in some homes. 

2. Pain From Joint Abnormalities May Prevent Climbing

Developmental joint disorders such as hip and elbow dysplasia are seen more and more commonly in dogs. The first signs can be seen anytime from four or five months to three to four years, depending on the severity of the dog’s disorder.

The bones that make up the joint grow asymmetrically, causing the joint to become malformed, weakened, and unstable. This causes pain as the dog’s bones grind against each other, joint cartilage, and other delicate structures in the joint.

The first symptom is usually that the dog is lame in one or more limbs. As this disorder usually presents in younger dogs, they often push themselves and continue their regular activity. Afterward, limping and unsound walking is noted. 

As the joint breakdown continues, the dog will be disinclined to negotiate the stairs. The reluctance to move may be worse in the morning when the joints are stiff after sleeping or in the evening after a long day of play. 

Limit the dog’s stair use until a veterinarian can assess him. Gradually sloping ramps, small intermediate steps, and lifting harnesses are helpful. Orthopedic veterinary surgery has made great strides. It may be possible to significantly improve the dog’s joint health with surgery.

3. Undiagnosed Fractures And Sprains

Dogs play roughly, and they can injure each other or themselves, causing bone fractures or muscle and ligament sprains. Undisplaced minor fractures and sprains may be missed initially but are seen when the dog tries to climb the staircase. He will usually yelp sharply and hold up the offending limb.    

Keep the dog from walking up the stairs until he has been assessed by a veterinarian.

4. Spinal Problems

Long-bodied dogs such as basset hounds and dachshunds are prone to spinal arthritis and degeneration through wear and tear. They are very often seen for herniated spinal discs, which are acute, extremely painful events. 

Modern German Shepherds with a sharp angle in the lumbar spine are at risk of developing early arthritic changes. Spinal strokes are a sudden onset of paralysis that will prevent the dog from climbing the stairs. 

Spinal problems can present as slow or rapid onset. The animal is often very sore and will cry when pressure is placed on the back or if the back twists. Use a lifting harness to help dogs with spinal problems. Ramps and intermediate steps may not be helpful and must be used under veterinary recommendations.

5. Neurological Issues And Changes In Proprioception

Neurological incidents such as stroke or trauma can lead to obvious paralysis or lameness. They can also lead to limited or no proprioception (awareness of position in space), which can cause difficulties climbing stairs. 

Some dogs have inherited degenerating neurological diseases, resulting in muscle weakness, gait abnormalities, and other mobility impairments. 

Any dog with a neurological disorder should be assessed by a veterinarian who will advise on the best way to help the dog move and negotiate stairs. Physical therapists play a vital role in rehabilitating mobility or providing compensatory strategies. 

6. Ear Infections Can Disturb Balance

Ear infections are typically seen in dogs with ears that flop down and dogs that swim a lot. Moist, dark areas inside the ear give rise to the growth of fungal and bacterial infections.

When ear infections become severe, they can compromise the structure and function of the inner ear, giving rise to balance issues. 

A blow to the head and infectious causes can also compromise a dog’s balance, making him unhappy about dealing with stairs. These dogs may also have a head tilt and an unsteady gait when walking. Use a lift harness to assist the dog on the stairs and get veterinary advice as soon as possible. 

7. Visual Deterioration

Dogs are prone to visual deterioration due to aging, cataracts, and degenerative diseases. The dogs may first show their reluctance on the stairs when the light is poor. Dogs with visual issues are at a huge risk of falling as they cannot see the danger but still feel good in their body.

They may move forward, not realizing there are stairs or a drop. 

Dogs with visual deficits benefit from ramps, but they must be taught to use them. They should be prevented from going up and down stairs unless the owner is there to manage the process. 

8. Anxiety And Fears Can Create Problems With Stairs

Dogs live in social structures, but sometimes one dog may bully another in the home. Stairs are a favorite site for the dominant dog to maintain his stand on a higher stair and growl menacingly at the submissive dog who wants to go upstairs. 

The dog being bullied may eventually give up and stay downstairs constantly. Be aware of interactions between the dogs. Usually, bullying also occurs around food and other resources such as toys or attention from the owner.

Some dogs develop fear associated with a negative event on the stairs. This may be something that hurt them on the stairs, a loud noise that occurred when the dog was on the stairs, or even falling down the stairs. The dog is afraid and wants to avoid the steps at all costs.        

Anxiety and fears should be dealt with using behavioral techniques. Animal behaviorists that use positive reinforcement will assist with managing and rehabilitating dogs with fears and anxiety around stair climbing. 

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