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Why Do Dogs Arch Their Backs?

Do you have a dog that occasionally, or frequently, arches his back?

Has this behavior become a major cause for concern of late?

If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, the following article may help you make sense of the condition.

Here we will discuss, in detail, the many reasons why a dog may arch his back, and explain the steps you should take (if any) to address this conduct or condition.

Why Dogs Arch Their Backs:  Some Reasons and How to Deal with Them

There are many potential reasons why a dog may arch his back—conditions and circumstances that may lead him to do this.

For example, if your dog merely arches his back every once in a while, while also flexing different muscles, he may be simply stretching out.

Obviously, this behavior is usually not cause for concern.

But what if your dog regularly arches his back?

Does your dog only seem to arch his back in certain situations?

And what does it mean if your dog’s back takes on a permanent arch of some type?

In these situations, the conduct could point to a larger health or behavioral issue.

And if this is the case, you may need to take your pet to the veterinarian to be evaluated.

To help you understand the potential causes behind your dog’s arched-back posture, below we have listed and explained the different reasons for why this might occur, and highlight some of the steps you can take to address them.

Arching the Back as Part of a Stretching Routine

As humans, we are regularly stretching our muscles and flexing our joints, either consciously or without thought.

Throughout the day, we roll our heads in a circular motion to stretch our necks, lift our arms high above our heads to relieve stiffness in our backs, and bend our feet up and down whilst sitting to keep our ankles loose and functional.

It is a very common and useful practice—a practice that is also routine for our four-legged pals.

Therefore, when you see a dog arch his back to the sky, temporarily resembling those pets in the feline class, he may just be stretching the muscles in that part of his body.

When dogs arch their backs for this reason, it may be part of a comprehensive stretching routine.

Your dog may also lift and stretch out their back legs (alternately) to relieve tension, or push their front legs far in front of them while sitting on their haunches.

This is 100 percent normal, and it tends to occur only a couple (or a few) times a day.

After your pet awakes from a nap, for example, you may see him arch his back as part of this overall stretching regimen.

The behavior is also common after your dog has been lying still for a long period of time; and it may be the first thing he does before getting up to move about the house.

These are instinctive and protective measures in which almost all dogs employ to keep their muscles loose and functional.

So what should you do if your dog sporadically arches his back (in conjunction with other stretching maneuvers)?

The answer, as you might have guessed, is nothing whatsoever.

Stretching in dogs is as common as it is in humans, and the occasional arched back after waking from a nap or prior to walking is perfectly and completely normal.

An Arched Back Could Be a Sign of Pain

When we say a dog’s arched back could be a general sign of pain, we realize this statement potentially poses more questions than answers.

That’s because pain is a relatively “general” term, and there are a limitless number of injuries and conditions that can bring about pain and discomfort.

However, while in this section we will admittedly deal with “pain” more generally, you can rest assured that in the two sections that follow we will drill down more on some of the specifics that may prove very beneficial in your quest to identify possible reasons for your dog’s odd posture.

An arched back in dogs could be a sign of pain in their neck, back, abdomen or somewhere else in their torso, and when dogs take this posture in response to pain, the behavior is completely normal.

Humans, too, often arch their backs when pain is present in their core.

Back pain or stomach pain could result in this type of bearing, and sometimes we may not even realize we are doing it.

And when dogs arch their backs like this—just as we do—they are simply trying to alleviate some of this pain, although in many cases the action will prove less than fruitful.

If an arched-back posture becomes a regularly sighting in your dog, you can probably rule out simple stretching as the root cause.

In more cases than not, it is probably due to some type of pain.

Often, an arched back is just one of the symptoms your dog may be exhibiting in response to discomfort.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Rigidity while moving.  If your dog seems to be walking stiffly or gingerly, he may be doing so because moving normally has proved painful.
  • Abdomen abnormalities.  An abdomen that is either tucked or distended could be a sign of gastrointestinal pain.
  • Low posture.  A “low posture” could describe many physical changes or abnormalities in your dog, all pointing to some type of ache.  If he is carrying his head and neck lower than is typical, or dragging his hind quarters, it is probably due to pain.

It goes without saying that a frequently arched back in your dog, especially when it is accompanied by any of the other aforementioned symptoms, should be a major cause for concern.

In order to get to the bottom of what exactly is ailing your dog, it is crucial that you schedule a visit with your vet—sooner rather than later.

Fast action on your part can help stem the suffering of your beloved pet.

An Arched Back Could Be a Sign of Gastrointestinal Issues

As promised, in this section—and in the section that follows—we will get more specific about the various conditions that may be causing pain in your dog—and the resultant arched-back posture.

Just like us, there are many conditions and circumstances in dogs that can wreak havoc on their gastrointestinal system.

Each of these conditions can cause pain or massive discomfort, and each can bring about an arched back in an attempt to relieve that aching agony.

For example, problems or swelling with relation to any of the organs that make up a dog’s abdomen—stomach, liver, pancreas, gall bladder, etc.—could result in major pain and an arched back; as could viral and bacterial infections in the stomach or intestines.

Diarrhea or a nauseated feeling in the gut could also lead to these symptoms, and conditions such as anal sac disorder or issues that cause internal bleeding could also be potential culprits.

One specific gastrointestinal problem that tends to regularly result in dogs arching their back is a disease commonly referred to as GDV, which stands for “gastric dilation and volvulus.”

In dogs, this condition is also simply entitled “bloat.”

GDV or bloating could be the result of excess fluid, air or food in a dog’s stomach, leading that organ to become extremely extended or pushed out.

In more severe cases of GDV, this massive bloating can sometimes cause the stomach to actually rotate from its normal position, thus worsening the distension in the abdominal cavity.

When this happens it is called stomach volvulus, and it almost always causes dogs to arch their back as a way to alleviate some of the discomfort that accompanies it.

If you fear GDV may be the cause behind your dog’s arched back, you should first look for other symptoms that may bear out this diagnosis.

These symptoms can include:

  • Extended period of abdominal distension.  Abdominal distension that does not resolve after bowel movements is one of the hallmarks of GDV.
  • Loss of appetite.  When the stomach rotates it can prevent food particles from leaving the organ and moving into the intestines.  This can cause your dog to display a noticeable apathy for food.

GDV is a serious condition that can be fatal if not treated.

Therefore, it is paramount that you act quickly to get your pooch to the vet and resolve the issue.

An Arched Back Could Be a Sign of Spinal Problems

There are a whole host of spinal conditions and deformities that can lead to an arched back in your pet.

Sometimes, inbreeding between dogs, or innate conditions that lead the spine to be distorted, can cause permanent arching.

This permanent arching is known medically as kyphosis—a curvature along the spine, from neck to tail, that leads to a subtle arch along the back.

In most cases, kyphosis is painless and should not prevent your dog from leading a completely normal life

Trauma can also bring about an arched back or kyphosis in dogs.

Certain forms of trauma, such as bites to the back or falls, can cause inflammation along the spine and in specific spinal discs.

These can lead to both pain and spinal deformities, either permanent or temporary.

If your dog has encountered trauma, and seems to be arching his back in response to it, be sure to have him checked out by the vet ASAP.

Lastly, a dog’s arched back could be the result of arthritis along the spine, a condition that will normally present almost exclusively in older dogs.

When dogs have this type of arthritis, which causes bone spurs to develop in the spaces created by discs along different parts of the spine, it is technically called spondylosis deformans.

Spondylosis deformans is more common in certain dog breeds, such as greyhounds and some of the dog breeds used for hunting.

It can be very painful and can drastically decrease a dog’s mobility.

Although there is no cure for spondylosis deformans, the symptoms can be treated and there are medications that can ease your dog’s suffering.

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National Canine Research Association of America