9 Must Know Reasons Why Dogs Arch Their Backs & What To Do

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Why do dogs arch their backs like cats usually do? There are many reasons for a dog’s arched back. Sometimes, in healthy dogs, it’s a reaction to being petted or simply because it needs to stretch. Other times, the dog’s behavior may be due to a physical ailment and arching the back is a way to alleviate pain.

In today’s article, we’ll explore various reasons why dogs stretch and suggest solutions to your question: why do dogs arch their backs?

Signs That Something Is Wrong When Dog Is Arching Back

Full shot of a woman and her dog

Usually, you’ll see a dog arching its back like a cat when it needs to relieve some kind of pressure or pain in or near its midsection. However, if the arching is accompanied by one or more of the following signs, there might be a bigger problem:

  • A tucked abdomen
  • Walking stiffly
  • Hanging its head and tail downward
  • Lowered rear quarters
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Loss of movement in the hind legs
  • Panting, trembling, or shaking
  • Crying in pain

This one-minute video will give you a better idea of what it looks like when a dog arches its back.

9 Reasons For A Dog Arching Its Back

Stretching

If you see your dog arching back and stretching its legs for a few seconds, it isn’t a cause for concern. Generally, dogs arch their backs and stretch when they wake up from their sleep or after being immobile for some time.

The action helps them stretch their muscles and relieve stiffness, just as humans do when they wake up in the morning. If your dog is arching its back to stretch, it’s often accompanied by back or front leg stretches.

As A Reaction to Being Petted

If you’re wondering why your dog arches his back when you pet him, it simply signals that your dog likes being petted. A dog arches back when petted because it’s enjoying the experience and hopes to receive more pets by reach its back higher.

Nausea

A dog can develop nausea irrespective of its age, breed, or gender. It may experience nausea for many reasons:

  • Motion sickness
  • Swallowing an object that blocks its intestines
  • Eating a toxic object
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Parasites
  • Canine parvovirus (CPV)

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV) or bloating is a condition in which a dog’s abdomen expands with air, fluid, or food. It causes the stomach to rotate 90 to 360 degrees from its regular position and results in increased internal pressure and stomach pain. This causes a dog with GDV to arch its back in an effort to relieve the pain.

Other symptoms that may accompany GDV include gagging or retching. GDV also reduces blood circulation to the vital organs of the body and may lead to shock and death.

This condition is mostly seen in large-sized, deep-chested dog breeds like Saint Bernards, or older dogs like Old English sheepdogs, Great Danes, Weimaraners, and basset hounds.

So, if your dog belongs to a large breed with deep chests, keep an eye out for signs of GDV to ensure early treatment.

Abdominal Problems

Sometimes, a dog keeps arching back if it’s having abdominal pain or discomfort. This posture helps it get some relief from the discomfort and feel better. Stomach ache can arise from:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Internal bleeding
  • Viral infections
  • An enlarged organ
  • Anal sac disorder

Dogs love to chew on any object they spot which can become lodged in their intestines. This can lead to diarrhea and internal bleeding. Viral infections in dogs can also result in vomiting and diarrhea.

An anal sac disorder is when your dog develops an abscess or infection in its anal sac. It prevents your dog’s anal glands from releasing fluid which increases the tension. This causes your dog to reflexively bend its hindquarters and arch its back to relieve the discomfort.

Spondylosis Deformans

Spondylosis deformans or arthritis of the dog’s spine can make your dog arch its back. This condition affects the spinal vertebrae or backbones of dogs. It occurs in the form of osteophytes or bone spurs on the edges of the backbones.

Dogs with this degenerative condition may sometimes experience pain in the lumbar or lower back. This makes it difficult for them to navigate stairs and jump. Your dog may also wobble or fall due to reduced strength in its hind legs.

Spondylosis deformans appears to be breed-selective and affects certain large breeds like boxers more than others. Besides the breed, aging is another common factor of spondylosis deformans. It typically occurs in middle to old age and often develops by age 10.

Spinal Conditions

If you see your dog arching back and walking slowly, it could be suffering from spinal pain or spinal injury. Kyphosis (hereditary spinal abnormalities) is an anomalous spinal curvature that occurs in the thoracic (upper back) and cervical (neck) areas.

Back arching helps reduce spinal pain in dogs’. So, don’t be surprised if your dog assumes this posture when it feels pain in these body parts.

Kyphosis has two causes:

  • Kyphosis may be inherited by dogs that are less than a year old.
  • Wear-and-tear or trauma can cause kyphosis in adult dogs.

Some dogs may develop a herniated or inflamed disc — also known as intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) — in the lumbar. The inflamed discs between their backbones bulge and strain their spinal nerves. This causes unbearable pain in the spine and makes dogs arch their backs for relief.

IVDD can also lead to a loss of physical sensation and paralysis.

This disease is more prevalent in certain dog breeds like dachshunds, basset hounds, and corgis. Other breeds that are prone to IVDD include French bulldogs, Pekingese, beagles, cocker spaniels, Lhasa apsos, shih tzus, Jack Russell terriers, bichon frisés, Maltese, and miniature poodles.

Note that congenital malformations in the thoracic spine can also result in kyphosis.

Additionally, there are other kinds of spinal trauma that can arise due to external factors. These include motor accidents, bites from other animals, and other injuries that affect the spine and cause dogs to hunch their backs.

Pain

If you see your dog arching back and whining, it may be in pain. Arching its back while tucking in its belly may help alleviate the discomfort it’s experiencing.

Besides an upset stomach and or spinal problems, your dog could also be feeling pain in its neck or front or rear legs which is causing the back-arching reaction.

Pay more attention to older dogs as you may misread their pain and discomfort for limping because of old age.

Swollen Glands

A neutered male dog arches back when excited. When a dog feels aroused, the glands below its penis may become swollen. Neutered male dogs usually feel excited and arch their backs when they are near a female dog.

Arching the back relieves pressure on the glands. Dogs may also lick their crotch region when excited. Note that this is completely normal behavior and typically passes with time.

What To Do When Your Dog Arches Its Back

A dog walking with an arched back and tail down is one of the many cues that let you know how it’s feeling. If it’s arching its back to stretch after waking or when you’re petting it, you don’t need to worry.

But if the behavior is due to any of the other causes that we mentioned, you must take quick action. Depending on the severity, many of these conditions can be fatal and may need immediate medical care.

If you see any of the signs and symptoms we discussed, especially pain, you must take your dog to the vet right away.

Your vet will thoroughly check your dog to rule out any problems and begin the necessary treatment.

Vet with a dog

Nausea Treatment

If your dog has nausea, observe it closely for symptoms. Avoid giving it food and water for some time to see if the symptoms abate. If the symptoms don’t subside within a few hours, take your dog to the vet for a checkup. Even if the nausea is temporary, it may indicate an underlying illness.

Your vet will probably do a blood test to find out the exact cause of its nausea. 

  • If your dog has parasites, your vet may prescribe a short course of oral medication. 
  • If it’s due to parvovirus, your pet will need immediate IV fluids and a diet that’s easy to digest.
  • If your dog has an intestinal blockage, your vet may have to do surgery to get rid of it.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus Treatment

GDV requires immediate medical aid. Initially, veterinarians need to stabilize the dog’s condition by administering oxygen and IV fluids. Then, they will release air and fluid via a catheter, a tube, or a needle to decompress the stomach.

They will then perform surgery and recommend limited exercise, a special diet, and long-term monitoring to ensure complete recovery.

Abdominal Problems Treatment

If your dog has diarrhea, vomiting, or viral infections, your vet will prescribe a special diet and certain oral medications. If it has an anal sac disorder, your vet will release the excess fluid from your dog’s anal sacs by expressing its anal glands, flushing out its affected glands, or lancing its abscessed glands.

Your vet will then prescribe a course of antibiotics to keep infections at bay.

Spondylosis Deformans Treatment

Treatment for spondylosis deformans is only necessary when dogs experience pain because of it. If the osteophytes are painful, your vet may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other painkillers.

They may also recommend physical therapy, controlled exercise, and weight loss programs in certain cases. In rare instances, osteophytes can compress dogs’ spinal cords which may require surgery.

Spinal Conditions Treatment

Your vet will treat your dog’s spinal conditions depending on their severity. For mild cases of IVDD and other spinal disorders, your vet may recommend NSAIDs or corticosteroid drugs. However, severe cases may need surgery.

Pain Treatment

Your dog may experience pain in different parts of the body due to various reasons. Depending on the location and severity, your vet will prescribe NSAIDs, analgesics, physical rehabilitation, restricted exercise, supplements, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and other remedies.

Swollen Glands Treatment

Although swollen glands subside after some time, it is best to mention it to your vet during checkups. Also, share how quickly the swelling passes. This will help you and your vet monitor the condition.

How To Keep Your Dog From Arching Its Back

Keeping tabs on your dog’s health can prevent your dog from arching its back for reasons other than stretching and being petted. Here are some simple tips that you can follow to prevent illnesses and pain in your dog:

  • Ensure that your dog is fully vaccinated and has regular health checkups.
  • Keep your pet happy and calm as much as possible. If it seems stressed or anxious, take it to the vet for early treatment.
  • Avoid giving your dog huge meals as they are more difficult to digest and can cause stomach problems. Feed it at least two light meals a day that are spaced 12 hours apart.
  • Keep small objects that your pet may swallow out of its reach.
  • Ensure that your pet’s toys, dishes, and other belongings don’t break easily. They should also be devoid of small parts that are easily ingestible.
  • Keep away toxic substances from your pet.
  • Keep an eye on your dog’s environment and remove anything that may be harmful. If you cannot eliminate potentially harmful elements like insects from your yard, keep an eye on your pet when it’s playing or running in the yard.
  • If your dog meets other dogs, supervise those interactions as other dogs may carry life-threatening viruses that your dog may catch.
  • Learn how to express your pet’s anal glands with the guidance of your vet. Check your pet’s anal sacs frequently to prevent infections, impactions, or abscesses.
  • Keep a close watch on your dog when it’s outdoors to prevent car accidents and bites from other animals.

Conclusion

Dogs arch their backs when they stretch, are being petted, or when they’re experiencing discomfort. If your pet isn’t stretching or being petted when it arches its back, take it to the vet immediately for early care and treatment in order to prevent a medical emergency.