If you’re a dog owner, you’re used to looking for signs of unusual behavior in your dog. Since dogs can’t talk, we use their body language and behavior to determine if something is wrong. So what does it mean when a dog arches its back?
Normally, a dog arches its back to stretch and lengthen its spine. However, sometimes dogs arch their backs to express fear or pain. An arched back could signify a genetic or health issue, and you should be on the lookout for additional symptoms.
There can be many reasons for a dog to arch its back, and you should be on the lookout for other symptoms that may signify something more serious. If your dog is constantly arching its back or whimpering, it could indicate serious health issues.
Why do Dogs Arch their Backs?
While there are many natural reasons that a dog might arch its back, several signify poor health or dangerous physical conditions. Most commonly, your dog stretches after waking up or before taking off to run in the yard, which is normal behavior.
However, there are times when other symptoms accompany back-arching. These symptoms could cause your dog immense pain and lead to serious disease, injury, or even death. Arching could be a sign of underlying pain and should be dealt with as soon as possible. Some of these diseases include:
- Neurological conditions
- Spinal arthritis
- Kyphosis, or spinal issues
- Herniated spinal discs
- GDV, or the bloat
- Anal sac disorder
- Food poisoning or stomach pain
There’s no need to panic, however. Just because your dog is arching its back does not mean it’s something immediately life-threatening. It’s not the back arching you need to watch out for, but the other symptoms that could accompany it.
If your dog has other unusual symptoms, ranging from lack of appetite to struggling to walk, you should contact your veterinarian. A medical expert will be able to diagnose your specific dog much better than any article on the internet can, and it could save your dog’s life.
While a dog with symptoms of pain or illness can be scary, know that it could just be a bad meal or a stretch. Here are the ten most common causes of back arching and what to do to protect your dog and keep them healthy.
1. They are Stretching
The most common reason that dogs arch their backs is to stretch. Of course, this is natural and normal and shouldn’t cause concern. For the most part, if you see your dog arching its back after a nap or playtime, you shouldn’t be worried.
Dogs stretch for the same reason that humans do–it keeps the muscles healthy after laying in one position for too long. Stretching also gets the blood flowing through the body and makes it easier to wake up.
Of course, if your dog stretches a lot, it might mean that they need more exercise than you’re currently giving them. However, stretching is normal behavior for the most part, and an arched back during a stretch just means that your dog enjoys lengthening its spine and getting ready to wake up.
2. They are Afraid
Like cats, dogs arch their backs when they are afraid or feel threatened. Often this is accompanied by a tucked tail and flattened ears. Whimpering or hiding is also common for worried dogs, especially if they were shelter dogs or had a traumatic past.
Whether there’s an unexpected loud noise, a new dog in the house, or a personal fear, every dog is afraid at some point. If your dog is arching its back, tucking its tail, and hiding or making itself as small as possible, it’s probably afraid.
Approach your pet cautiously because some dogs will lash out if you are abrupt while they are scared. However, if your dog trusts you, they are likely to come to you for comfort if you sit on the ground and call to them.
As a puppy becomes less afraid, its posture will straighten, and its tail will untuck. This back arching is only temporary and should rarely happen with a confident, safe, happy dog. Once your dog is comfortable again, you won’t need to worry about its back position.
3. They Have Anxiety or Neurological Conditions
While a confident dog will only be scared under frightening conditions (whether intentional or not), trauma and past hurts can affect a dog, dogs with chronic anxiety or past trauma might arch their back out of habit.
Dogs are incredibly hardy creatures–they can bounce back from bad experiences. However, many dogs carry some residual fear from the past.
If your dog is constantly arching its back in fear, you might talk to your veterinarian about anxiety medicines to help it feel less fearful. These medications calm your dog’s nervous system.
4. They are Hurting
Another very common reason dogs arch their backs is that they are in pain. Two main types of pain cause a dog to arch its back: spinal pain and gastrointestinal pain. A dog will let you know that he is in pain, whether by whimpering or with his body language.
Symptoms, like whimpering or trouble walking without pain, can arise from gastro or spinal conditions.
In any case, it’s always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian. Vets know the health and history of your particular dog.
5. They have Spinal Arthritis
Spinal arthritis is common in older dogs, especially smaller breeds with longer spines (like a dachshund or a spaniel). While it is relatively painless, arthritis affects the bones on the spine and can lead to arched back or stiffness while walking.
If your dog has issues walking and an arched back but doesn’t seem to be in any pain, she might have spinal arthritis. Like any arthritis, the bone spurs created will lead to stiffness in the joints. Your dog might not be in pain, but it could benefit from some arthritis treatment.
Spinal arthritis can affect any part of the back. It commonly only affects the top of the back, middle, or end of the back (near the tail), but in older dogs, multiple spine areas can develop arthritis. The older your dog is, the more likely it is to have chronic arthritis.
Arthritis isn’t curable, but you can make life easier for your dog by giving them warm baths and making your home more friendly to older dogs. Leave their beds on the floor and help them onto couches. If your vet approves, you can take them to a doggy massage to loosen their joints and help them relax.
6. They have Spinal Issues
There are other spine issues associated with a perpetually arched back. Arthritis is more common in older dogs, but younger dogs can have a herniated or slipped disc, intervertebral disc disease, or kyphosis. Whichever it is, you can discover it and treat the cause.
These issues can be inherited or be a result of injuries or trauma. If your dog suddenly starts walking with a limp, struggles to climb stairs or jump onto couches, or cries out in pain when walking, it could indicate a deeper spine issue.
Genetic spinal issues are more common in brachycephalic breeds (such as the English Bulldog, Pug, or any breed with a flattened snout). These dogs can have long-lasting spinal problems that worsen with age, depending on the breeding and development of your particular dog.
As with any abnormal or concerning behavior, contact your veterinarian immediately. If your dog is in pain, you want to fix the problem as soon as possible, and the vet is a great first stop. They will be able to set you up with tests for definite answers.
7. They have Stomach Issues
Dogs often arch their backs when they experience stomach or back pain. If your dog is arching their back and dry-heaving or scooting on the ground, it might have some stomach issues.
In some cases, dogs are nauseous or in stomach pain because they ate something they shouldn’t have. It’s nearly impossible to always keep pups out of things they shouldn’t eat. If a dog can throw it up or poop it out, it will probably feel better.
When the arched back, tummy issues, and nausea become a common problem, you need to address the problems. If your house is puppy-proofed and you watch them pretty well, constant arching back and whimpering is probably the sign of a more serious digestive problem.
Keep an eye on a dog in pain. If the symptoms go away after a few days, the odds are that the pup just ate something wrong or is constipated. However, persistent symptoms could be a sign of a deeper problem.
8. They are Bloating
Bloat or GDV (gastric dilation volvulus) is one of the most dangerous stomach issues your dog could have. This condition happens when air gets trapped in your dog’s stomach, and they can’t release it. As it progresses, the stomach can twist on itself.
Bloat is a serious condition and can lead to extreme pain and even death if it’s not taken care of promptly. If your dog lacks appetite, is retching, or their stomach is distended, get them to a pet hospital immediately. You could save their life and get them out of pain sooner.
GDV is a very serious condition. It is most commonly seen in larger dogs with deep chests, like mastiffs. However, any dog can be affected. The more they weigh, the greater the chance your dog could develop GDV. Watch your older and larger dogs especially close for signs of it.
You can prevent GDV by providing a safe home for your pet. Dogs who only eat one meal a day or eat very quickly might have a higher chance of bloat. Feed them at least twice, and if your dog is a fast eater, provide them with a dish that slows them down. Male dogs are more at risk than females.
9. Their anal sacs need to be expressed Disorder
Unfortunately, bloating is not the only negative digestive issue associated with an arched back. An anal sack issue is when your dog can’t express fluid from its anal glands, which can make digestion and going to the bathroom incredibly painful.
In addition to an arched back and obvious pain, nausea and lack of appetite are signs of an anal sac disorder. If your dog is scooting across the floor after going potty, it might be anal sac issues.
If your dog has these symptoms for more than a few days and is in obvious pain, take them to the veterinarian or animal hospital. Without relief, your dog could be in immense pain.
10. Breeding or Heritage
Of course, some dogs have naturally arching backs due to breeding or heritage. Greyhounds, for instance, were bred to have arching backs so they could race faster around the dog tracks.
If your puppy has an arching back but doesn’t seem to have any accompanying health issues, it might be a breeding or heritage trait. In this case, it shouldn’t be worried about. However, if your dog came from a puppy mill or was a result of inbreeding, you might need to watch for further health issues later on in life.
What Should I Do If My Dog is Arching its Back?
Unless your dog is uncomfortable and showing other signs of illness, you don’t necessarily need to do anything for a dog with an arched back. Carefully watch your pup and see if anything changes over the next few days, and talk to your vet at the next appointment.
However, if your dog shows signs of pain, physical discomfort, or struggling to walk or poop, it’s time to get reinforcements. Medical professionals will be able to diagnose the exact problem and relieve your dog of whatever pain is forcing them to arch their back. You could even save your pet’s life.
No matter the reason, you should always be observant of your dog’s movements. Make sure they’re comfortable and happy, and you’ll be able to enjoy your dog’s natural stretches without worrying.