If you’re wondering why dogs arch their backs, you’ve come to the right place.
You have questions. I have the answers. It’s that simple.
Here you’ll discover:
- 7 common reasons why dogs arch their backs.
- How an arched back can indicate health issues (+ how to spot it).
- And much more…
Table of contents
Why do dogs arch their back?
Dogs arch their back due to abdominal and spinal conditions. They arch their back as a way to alleviate pain, tension, and discomfort. In some instances, a dog’s arched back is a conformation to certain standards. But other than that, your dog could only be stretching leisurely.
7 reasons why dogs arch their back
#1: They are stretching leisurely
Arching the back is a good form of stretching muscles. Most people do this in the mornings when they wake up.
And dogs do this all the time, too.
You may notice your dog arching their back for a few seconds.
Sometimes it’s accompanied by back leg stretches. Or a play bow-stance where they stretch their front legs.
Dogs usually do this when they wake up. But they also do this after being immobile for a while.
Note: If dogs arch their backs and stretch and are fine after that…then you have nothing to worry about. Let them be and enjoy the sight of their casual stretching.
#2: They are in pain
According to Reader’s Digest, ‘arching the back’ means that your dog is in pain.
It’s like when humans have a stomach ache. They arch their back while hugging their belly.
This position could lessen the pain.
Aside from arching their back, dogs also exhibit other signs of pain. These include:
- Stiff walking.
- Tucked abdomen.
- Rear quarters lowered.
- Head and tail hanging low.
The pain could come from the neck, stomach, spine, and even legs. But they all evoke the same back-arching reaction from the dog.
Caution: If you have a senior dog, be extra observant of their behavior. You could mistake their pain for a mild case of limping due to their age.
Reading tip: Why Is My Dog Acting Weird?
#3: They have spinal conditions
A healthy dog has a straight back from shoulder to tail.
But several factors could cause them to assume ‘kyphosis.’ This is an abnormal curvature of the spine that appears in the cervical (or neck area) and thoracic (upper back if your dog was standing) regions.
Dogs find that this position lessens the pain from their neck or back.
And they would assume this position as long as they feel pain in the affected areas.
There are two causes of kyphosis:
- If your dog is less than a year old, kyphosis could be inherited.
- But in older dogs, the cause could be trauma or wear-and-tear.
For instance, dogs could experience a herniated disc in the lower back. A herniated disc is also called intervertebral disc disease or IVDD.
Now an inflamed disc puts pressure on a dog’s spinal nerves.
This is extremely painful…
As a result, dogs arch their back for some relief.
IVDD is more common in Dachshunds, Beagles, and Cocker Spaniels.
Aside from IVDD, congenital malformations of the thoracic vertebral bodies lead to kyphosis.
Other types of trauma can cause dogs to arch their back too. These include bites from other dogs or accidents that affect the spine.
Look for other symptoms such as:
- ‘Drunk’ walking.
- Crying out in pain.
- Loss of movements to the rear legs.
- Difficulty climbing up and down the stairs.
- Difficulty or hesitation to jump up or down the furniture.
#4: They have abdominal issues
Dogs arch their backs because it gives them relief from abdominal pain or discomfort.
Abdominal pain or discomfort can come from many factors. These include:
- Viral infections.
- Enlarged organ.
- Internal bleeding.
- Anal sac disorder.
Let’s discuss some of these things briefly.
Let’s start with an anal sac disorder. It occurs when your dog is unable to express fluid from their anal glands.
If they cannot express it, it leads to an impaction or infection. The dog reflexively tilts their hindquarters down to relieve tension.
When they tilt their hindquarters, they almost always arch their back. This is to further alleviate pain.
You know how dogs love to eat foreign objects. These could get obstructed in their intestinal tract.
If such happens, it leads to diarrhea and internal bleeding.
Viral infections, on the other hand, can cause vomiting. Take parvovirus for example. Dogs with parvo usually have bloody vomiting and diarrhea.
#5: They have spondylosis deformans
A dog arching their back can be blamed on spondylosis deformans. This is also called arthritis of the spine.
It appears when osteophytes (bone spurs) ‘bridge’ the disc space along the vertebrae.
The most common areas this appears are along:
- Lumbar spine (or lower back).
- Thoracic vertebrae (part of the upper back).
- Lumbosacral spine (end of the lower back, the beginning of tail part).
Spondylosis deformans is associated with aging. Greyhounds, in particular, are affected from middle to old age.
This is because the lower back of these dogs is strained when they are racing.
This implies that the discs between the vertebral segments are prone to premature degeneration.
A case study in 2019 was about a Greyhound with spondylosis. Gabe, a 7-year-old Greyhound, was observed licking and biting his tail, with a hunched stance.
His radiographs showed that he had spondylosis at the lumbosacral spine.
Vets put a treatment plan in action that included medication and acupuncture. They also recommended physical rehabilitation techniques.
Gabe responded well to the treatment plan.
Caution: Dogs with spondylosis feel pain along the lower back. It makes it painful to go up and down the stairs. Even jumping on the couch causes discomfort. You may also notice them wobbling or falling. It’s because their rear legs lose strength.
#6: They have GDV or bloat
GDV stands for gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). It’s also called bloat.
This condition refers to when a dog’s stomach is distended with air, food, or fluid. This can further lead to the stomach rotating from 90 to 360 degrees. This is called a volvulus.
As the stomach expands, the pressure inside increases. As a result, it obstructs blood flow to the body’s vital organs.
It could lead to shock and death.
These are the signs to look out for:
- Arched back.
- Abdominal pain.
- Distended stomach.
- Retching or gagging.
#7: They conform to certain standards
Once upon a time, a roach or arched back among German Shepherds was a fashion statement.
Take note, though. The ancestors of present-day German Shepherds did not have a roached back.
So why did it suddenly become a fad?
Blame it on excessive inbreeding and the popularity of dog shows. These dog shows focused more on the beauty of German Shepherds rather than their utility.
This was a far cry from the motto of the breed: ‘utility and intelligence.’
In addition, some ‘breed authorities’ promoted the extreme angulation of the back. Many of these dogs won, making other breeders copy the look without question.
Perhaps the most recent example of a German Shepherd with a roached back is Tori. Tori was 3 years old when she won Best in Breed at the 2016 Crufts.
Here is a video of that particular win:
However, her win was met with a public backlash. The backlash centered on two things:
- Tori’s ‘banana back.’
- The possibility that she might be crippled.
Note: If you’re planning on getting this breed, go to licensed breeders. They can give you a puppy that is healthy and has a soft temperament.
What to do about it
Making sure your dog is okay comes with the responsibility of owning a dog. That being said, one should be extra observant of their pets.
Know when something ails them by looking at the symptoms.
It also helps to puppy-proof or dog-proof your home. One way to do this is by keeping away small things that your dog might swallow.
Lastly, avoid giving your dog one major meal. They’ll have a hard time digesting all that food and it could lead to bloat.
When to go to the vet
As soon as you see the symptoms of spinal and abdominal issues, spondylosis deformans, and bloat, take your dog to the vet asap.
Some of these need immediate care, particularly if your dog is in pain.
In addition, a vet needs to do a thorough assessment. This is to rule out any problems or to start a treatment plan right away.
13 scenarios of dogs arching their back
#1: Dog arches back like a cat
Some people are fascinated by the fact that their dog can stretch like a cat. But it’s quite common among dogs.
Some dogs do it more than others, though. But this by itself is not an indication of a problem.
When it comes to old dogs, however, a hunched posture could be an indication of:
- Bladder issues.
- Kidney problems.
- Stomach conditions.
Keep an eye on your aging dog and see if their head is down while their back is arched up. If you notice this, you should have your dog checked by a professional so they can determine the exact cause.
#2: Dog arches back when standing
A dog will arch their back when standing if they have stomach pain. Then, they’ll walk stiffly.
Pay attention to whether the belly is tucked up and under.
This posture may indicate:
- Spinal injury.
- Pinched nerve.
- Full anal sack glands.
- Gastrointestinal issues.
My previous dog, Ejy, a Pomeranian Mini Spitz, has experienced this once.
He had an arched back while sitting. And when he stood, he’d move hesitantly, in a stiff way. His tail was tucked between the hind legs.
These signs were already alarming to me. Add to that his long face, and I was 100% sure something was off.
When we took him to the vet, it appeared the anal glands were full. The vet emptied them in less than 5 minutes and prescribed medicine.
Ejy’s vet explained that when the anal glands get full, they cause discomfort to the dog.
#3: Dog arches back when excited
Swollen glands at the base of the penis
That applies to neutered males, as they can become aroused like intact ones. It can happen when the male is near another female. But not only. Excitement can lead to this as well.
It’s normal. The good news is that it doesn’t last that long.
Look out for signs such as your dog licking his crotch. And whether the penis is swollen at the base.
Inform your vet about this. And keep an eye on how fast the swelling is gone.
#4: Dog arches back when getting up
One of the best things a dog can do after sleeping is to stretch. That includes arching the back too. It’s the natural response of your dog’s body.
The same goes for humans. For example, after meditation, you won’t jump back to a standing position.
Instead, the teachers tell you first to stretch. Slowly. Then, when you feel ready, to sit in a lotus position.
Dogs aren’t aware of this ritual. But they know it feels good to ease the muscles before jumping into your day.
My dog, Lissa, does it every morning. And after a long nap throughout the day.
#5: Dog arches back when eating
If your dog arches their back after eating, then they have a problem with their stomach. A dog who does this feels unwell.
#6: Dog arching back and not eating
If your dog arches their back and refuses to eat, it’s best to take them to your vet. Since these symptoms could appear for multiple conditions, your vet will run a full examination.
Depending on your dog’s condition, your vet may also do an X-ray and a blood picture.
#7: Dog arches back when petted
Your dog arches their back when you pet them because they’re enjoying the experience. They like what you’re doing and hope to get more back scratches.
#8: Dog arches back when walking
If your dog arches their back while walking, this is a sign of back or abdominal pain.
You should know that “abdominal pain” is a broader term. It puts under common denominator issues such as:
- Bladder issues.
- Stomach ulcers.
- Intestinal obstruction.
A twisted gut
When a dog arches their back while walking, they could have a twisted gut. This is fixable through surgery if spotted on time.
Big breeds are prone to this. Such as German Shepherds.
To protect your dog from such a fate, it’s best to not give them a significant amount of food at once. Also, refrain them from jumping and running one hour before and after eating.
Other signs to look out for are excessive drinking and vomiting immediately after.
Enlarged/inflamed prostates in male dogs
This condition can make your dog walk with an arched back. The rear legs will be stiff.
It’s more common in unneutered dogs.
Other signs to look out for are:
- Having difficulty urinating.
- Having trouble defecating.
#9: Dog arching back and walking off balance
Grand mal seizure
When dogs arch their back and start walking off balance it could be due to a grand mal seizure.
It’s also called a generalized seizure. It is characterized by loss of consciousness and severe muscle contractions.
Here’s what happens:
An abnormal electrical activity passes through the brain.
This could last several seconds or minutes.
The dog can fall over on their side. The legs could be moving while the other part of the body remains paralyzed.
Note: According to VCA Hospitals, seizures aren’t painful for your dog. Your pooch may panic, however, due to disorientation.
Here’s a video by a concerned dog parent who filmed his dog while walking and arching their back:
Keep in mind that even if you make a video of your dog, some vets might refuse to look at it. The reason is that they’re not allowed to diagnose a dog based on a video.
Still, it’s better to have a video, just in case.
Another possibility is damaged spinal discs.
A dog could damage slip a disc by jumping on and off the bed or falling off the couch for example.
Especially if the dog’s a smaller breed. For example, a Yorkie or a Dachshund.
Bear in mind that a slipped disc is a painful condition that could last for days.
Warning: If you notice such behavior as a result of falling or jumping on furniture, take immediate measures. The danger of waiting too long with treatment is that your dog could become paralyzed.
As a result, your dog might lose the sensation in their hind limbs. And the ability to move them.
#10: Dog arches back when pooping
It’s no secret that dogs squat while pooping. While doing so, their back is arched.
This is natural. They do it for ease of pooping.
Check out also: 9 Reasons Why Your Dog Suddenly Poops In The House (Again)
#11: Dog arching back and shaking
Something your dog ate
If your dog is arching their back and shaking, it’s best to immediately see a vet. This is an uncomfortable situation for your dog.
Shaking can be associated with something your dog ate. Look for additional signs such as stomach bloat and lethargy.
As to the curved back, monitor whether your dog has difficulty getting on and off furniture. An indication of pain would be yelping.
Bear in mind that if your dog has ingested something they shouldn’t have, they’d probably vomit or have diarrhea.
Be on the lookout for all these signs so you can report what you’ve noticed to your vet. If you can’t go to emergency care, you can try giving your dog something for the pain.
Warning: One baby aspirin could do the job. But don’t give anything such as Ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Muscle disorders that affect certain breeds
Some dogs experience muscle disorders specific to their breed.
Let’s take Scottish Terriers, for example. Exercise or excitement causes what is known as the Scottie cramp. This results in an arched back and stiff legs. The dog looks very uncomfortable.
Paroxysmal gluten-sensitive dyskinesia (PGSD)
This condition used to be called canine epileptoid cramping syndrome. A.k.a. Spike’s Disease.
Signs of this condition include:
- Being unable to stand.
- Muscle contractions of the limbs.
Such episodes could last from minutes to hours. The symptoms are commonly seen after excitement or exercise.
To help your dog deal with this, you can give them muscle relaxants. And a gluten-free diet. But first, consult with your vet.
You might also enjoy: 16 Reasons Why Chihuahuas Shake, Shiver & Tremble So Much
#12: Dog arching back in pain
Whenever a dog is arching their back in pain, there are two main reasons. They either want to protect their back, or their abdomen.
Pain in the back could be caused by a strained muscle. Or by a bulging disc.
Look out for signs of constipation. If your dog doesn’t go into a squat position, ready to defecate, then you can rule this out.
In case you cannot take your dog to the vet right away, try to keep your dog unexcited. With as little movement as possible.
Meaning, prevent them to go up and down stairs, or jump on and off furniture. Otherwise, this will worsen the pain.
You can carry your dog around. But you should be careful with how you position them.
Pick up your dog slowly and carefully. And support the butt while carrying them. Don’t press the chest or abdomen to avoid inflicting more pain.
#13: Dog arching back and crying
A dog arching their back and crying is either in pain or trying to get some attention from you.
You might also like: 17 Reasons Why Your Dog Is So Vocal + 5 Tips To Stop It