Dogs and Hardwood Floor Safety – A Rehab Perspective

As a mobile rehabilitation therapist, I have the opportunity to visit dogs in their homes. This privilege allows me the ability to really evaluate a dog’s living space first hand. Since your dog spends all their time on the floor, this surface is one of the most important parts of your home to consider. With respects to floors, any type of “slippery” floor has a similar effect – whether it is bamboo, basic hardwood, or tile (surfaced or not). Many dog guardians have seen their dogs slip out on these floors on occasion – whether coming in from outside or playing indoors. Dogs do not have great traction on slippery surfaces per se, and hairy feet are even more slippery. Imagine walking on a curling rink, and imagine how you might walk and compensate to prevent from slipping and falling! Options and solutions for addressing these concerns is presented below, along with special concerns for various aged dogs, or dogs with orthopedic (bone) or nervous system disorders:

1. Senior Pets. Senior dogs often have joint disease including osteoarthritis. Joint arthritis can lead to secondary muscle issues (disuse, weakness and atrophy or loss of muscle mass), and senior dogs have to compensate by really tensing the muscles that hold their legs “in” to their bodies to avoid slips and falls. Senior dogs may also have various eye conditions like cataracts or loss of vision, and hardwood floors can be shiny, and very scary to senior dogs since they have a difficult time judging “depth perception”. You may see senior dogs choosing to walk from mat to mat, using them like safety “islands” to walk on. They may also appear to be walking on glass (short stepping very gingerly), or you may see them hesitate them trot quickly across the floor, to avoid the “shiny” or scary surface down below. Arthritic joints often benefit from gentle activities that help promote healthy range of motion. Slippery flooring prevents a dog from getting enough traction to adequately bend and move their joints normally, thus increasing the chances of loss of joint mobility (loss of knee flexion, elbow flexion and loss of hip extension). Slips and falls on these floors can also result in painful spinal issues too, potentially contributing to spinal disc issues (cervical or neck area, or upper, mid or lower back and pelvis).

2. Puppies. Puppies are basically loosey-goosey gumby-like creatures, and they are very prone to the effects of slippery floors. Ligaments especially are a little more lax than an adult dogs, meaning puppy joints are inherently less stable, until the ligaments “mature”. Puppies sliding around on hardwood floors have a greater chance of moving their joints beyond the physiological limits of joint motion (ie. tearing cruciates is an example). The sacro-iliac joint (the joint that basically attaches the hind limb to the pelvis) could also experience issues if the sacro-iliac ligament experiences a strain \from excessive movement of the joint such as the back legs splaying out on slippery floors. Dogs with hip dysplasia would also have a more difficult time on these floors since the hip can have varying degrees of instability (depending on how “shallow” the hip socket is). I’ve often had guardians tell me their dog’s wobbly (luxating) patellas seem to get worse when they move into homes that have hardwood. Shoulder instability (as with some herding breeds) can also be worsened on these floors too. Play and ball toss is not recommended on hardwood floors, and slipping/skidding out on floors should not be seen as funny (a $5000-$6000 TPLO surgery + extra money for rehab is not really funny).

3. Populations of Special Concern. Small dogs often jump up onto furniture, and jump off. Area rugs below furniture can help, but the best option is to train your dog to use a set of firm stairs or an intermediate slighter lower-than-the-couch option (like an ottoman) to get off the couch. Jumping onto a slippery floor, as you could imagine could be disastrous – leading to splaying out with their front legs or slipped discs in their backs (intervertebral disc disease). Dachshunds (prone to disc protrusion) with their long backs should not be allowed to jump off high furniture, and certainly not onto hardwood or tile. Dogs rehabbing from orthopedic injuries like knee or hip surgery or neurologic injuries like back surgery should have a restricted area (that can include an x-pen) or foldable pen if their activity is still restricted in the early stages of healing, and certainly mats on the entire floor surface to prevent slipping and injury to surgical site.

4. Hesitancy – Is it Behavioural or Orthopedic? As a rehabilitation therapist, I’m convinced that not all hesistancy to use hardwood floors is behavioural, and some of my observations from years of treating dogs who have lived on these floors suggests otherwise. Common sense applies. If your floors are newly installed, your dog may have some anxiety regarding walking on them, and could use some help, and if they are younger, older, or have an orthopedic condition, this should be evaluated and considered as well. A thorough physical examination by your veterinarian or rehabilitation therapist will help you determine any underlying physical issue that may be causing the anxiety (like sore hips, poor eye sight). I wouldn’t recommend “training” or forcing your dog to use hardwood floors if there is a possibility of a non-behavioural reason for the hesitancy.

Options to consider include placing rubber backed mats on floor areas in all high traffic and feeding areas, and areas where you and your dog enter and leave the house (icy, snowy paws on tile or hardwood act like skates). Hardware stores sell mats by the roll, and this mat does not look out of place in most homes, even modern ones. Double sided tape may be used to secure mats to the floor as well for extra slippage protection. Footwear options for indoors should include a breathable, fitted boot that does not restrict circulation. I do not endorse certain products per se, but I do love Neopaws boots (www.neopaws.com), because they are fitted, they do not “spin” on the foot like some boots, and have options that are more suited to indoor or summer use (look for the mesh variety). Trace your dog’s foot carefully and measure to find the right size. Customer service at this company is wonderful. Ruffwear (www.ruffwear.com) make great footwear as well.

A Note About Hardwood Stairs. I generally DO NOT consider stairs covered with hardwood or tile to be safe, and many injuries to knees and backs and necks have occurred on them. Runners (applied safely by a professional) may be applied. Some stick-em varieties of carpet overlay may be applied to the top of the step, but care to ensure that these pieces of carpet do not slip out or loose their stickiness, spelling disaster for any human or canine walking on them should they stop sticking and slide out. If runners cannot be applied, then barricade the stairs to prevent your dog from using them needlessly, and ensure when your dog uses the stairs (try footwear, but ensure it fits well), they do so in a controlled manner).

Here’s to joint stability and musculoskeletal happiness!

This document may not be reproduced, distributed or copied without permission from the author. Copyright October 2013 Dr. Shannon Budiselic Equilbrium VRC Ltd.

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