Some canines arch their backs for a few seconds.
Like a Halloween cat.
While others may do this too many times.
Which makes you wonder,
“Is this normal? Or should I be concerned?”
Continue reading to find out:
- What does it mean when a dog arches their back.
- When you should start to be alarmed by this behavior.
- 9 common situations of canines with hunched backs explained.
- And many more…
Table of contents
- Why do dogs arch their backs?
- 13 reasons why dogs arch their backs
- 9 common situations
- #1: Dog arching back and shaking
- #2: Dog arches back when petted
- #3: Dog arches back when walking (with tail down)
- #4: Dog arches back when waking up
- #5: Dog arching back and vomiting
- #6: Dog arches back when pooping
- #7: Dog arching back in pain
- #8: Dog arching back and crying
- #9: Dog arches back when eating
Why do dogs arch their backs?
Dogs arch their backs to stretch their muscles or show enjoyment. But, they may also do this because of pain. It can be due to gastroenteritis, blockage, worms, bloat, toxins, or viruses. As well as problems in the spine, anal sacs, or bladder. While other canines have naturally roached backs.
13 reasons why dogs arch their backs
First off, a dog hunching their back could be normal.
This is more likely if canines do it after sleeping or lying down. And if they also yawn and stretch like a cat afterward.
“So, is it like a ritual?”
Kind of. But, there’s a scientific explanation for this.
This routine is called ‘pandiculation.’
It’s an instinctive stretching that most mammals do after not moving for a period of time.
So you’ll often notice this with dogs and cats. And we, humans, do it too after resting.
But, do you ever wonder why stretching makes us feel so good?
Based on a study, it restarts the central nervous system. Which makes us more alert and ready for our daily activities.
So our furry friends can also arch their backs for a few seconds in preparation for exercise.
Yawning is a form of pandiculation too. This is why animals and humans do it while stretching at the same time.
It affects the muscles in the mouth and upper spine. As well as the respiratory system.
And all of these actions are said to be helpful in the ‘fascia.’
“What is it?”
It’s a thin tissue that acts like glue.
It connects the muscles, blood vessels, and organs in the body.
And pandiculation relieves any tension there. While also supplying it with oxygen. Which makes us move easily.
So if this is your case, put your mind at ease. Because it’s only a natural behavior.
Interesting fact: Did you know that yawning is also contagious in dogs? One research found that canines also yawn after seeing their parents and strangers do it. And they did it less when people faked it.
Aside from dogs, National Geographic says that this is also observed in baboons and chimpanzees.
And as for the canines, experts believe that it’s a product of domestication.
Some dogs might not also arch their backs because they want to.
But because their sloped ‘topline’ is a part of their normal body structure.
“What’s a topline?”
In a canine’s body, it starts from the top of their neck down to the base of their tail.
This is a crucial thing for working dogs.
And it’s because each part of their body must be in the ideal size and shape. So they can perform better.
According to a study, certain breeds have straight and sturdy toplines. Such as Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers.
The first German Shepherds (GSDs) were also bred to have level backs.
But as years go by…
Sloped toplines became a ‘thing’ in show dogs of such breed.
Because it’s said that roach backs look more graceful while moving. And it puts more strength in their stride.
However, there’s no scientific research about its real benefits in GSDs.
Note: The slope of some GSDs’ backs is extreme nowadays. Which could make them more prone to back and leg problems.
Next, if a dog does this occasionally. And it’s usually during a petting session…
It could be that they’re only enjoying the back scratches.
Just like when cats arch theirs due to pleasure.
Some canines might also be feeling itchy on the top of their back.
And since they can’t do it, they may be sending signals to their parents to rub it for them.
This is more likely if they hit their humans with a paw once the petting stops. Or if they let out some grunts or groans.
And also, if they’re still as lively as before. And act like their normal selves during the rest of the day.
Which means that they’re not in pain.
In other cases, dogs can also hunch their backs because they’re ‘guarding.’
“What are they protecting?”
This is mostly seen in canines with abdominal pain.
They’re tucking their abdomen – especially when touched. Which results in an arched back.
And dogs do this to avoid getting hurt any further. While also trying to relieve the discomfort in the area.
One common cause of this in canines is ‘gastroenteritis.’
It’s the swelling of the stomach and intestines, according to VCA Hospitals.
This can be ‘acute’ or a temporary condition. Which may be resolved once they’re rehydrated.
It’s usually caused by eating:
- Heavy meals.
- Raw or spoiled food.
- Table scraps (frequently).
- Non-food items (e.g., trash, foreign objects, molds).
Or it might also be a sign of another illness, like:
- Liver diseases.
- Kidney problems.
- Endocrine disorders.
- Pancreatitis – swelling of the pancreas (organ near the stomach).
Apart from arching their back, you’ll know if your dog has stomach issues if they show these common signs:
- Reduced appetite.
- Diarrhea (or sometimes, constipation).
While other symptoms to watch out for are:
- Weight loss.
- Dry heaving.
- Looking up frequently.
- Jumping after lying down.
- Excessive licking of surfaces.
#5: Gastrointestinal obstruction
Another reason for this odd posture in dogs is blockage. Either in the stomach or intestines.
“What are its causes?”
PetMD says that this is common in canines. As they tend to shove everything with their snouts.
And consume things they’re not supposed to be eating. Say, rocks or small parts of their toys.
But, besides ingesting foreign bodies, an obstruction can also be a result of:
- ‘Intussusception’ – a part of the intestines slides into the adjacent part.
Because of the blockage, dogs will experience pain in the abdomen. Plus, they may lose their appetite or eat slower.
And they’ll also struggle to poop for days. So they’ll assume this position.
#6: Intestinal parasites
Worms can also cause severe stomach pain in dogs.
Based on experts, this is more probable if your pooch displays some of the other signs below:
- Hookworms: Eczema.
- Roundworms: Having a pot belly.
- Heartworms: Coughing, fatigue, and having a poor body condition.
- Whipworms: Weight loss and chronic diarrhea (with or without blood).
- Tapeworms: Scooting, constantly looking at their behind, and small rice-like segments in their poop or back end.
“How can dogs get these?”
Worms could be transmitted through:
- Flea bites.
- Infected soil.
- Infected animals.
- Mother (e.g., uterus, placenta).
“Is this a life-threatening condition?”
If you have a young puppy, yes.
Doctors warn that hookworms may not only stunt their growth and development. As these can result in anemia as well.
And if they have many worms in their system, it might also lead to intestinal blockage.
But, these rarely happen in adult dogs.
Unless they’re infected by heartworms. Which could impair their heart and lungs.
Interesting fact: One study shows that cockroaches are also a source of parasites. It was found that 63.06% of 130 cockroaches are hookworm carriers. And it’s also possible for them to transmit roundworms.
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#7: Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV)
This is another term for bloat in dogs.
According to vets, ‘gastric dilatation’ is the expansion of the stomach due to fluids or gases.
While ‘volvulus’ is the twisting of it. Which traps its contents and raises the pressure inside.
And this can disrupt blood flow to the organs. As well as damage the stomach walls.
Due to this, dogs could tuck their abdomen because of so much pain.
And they may show other symptoms too, such as:
- Rapid breathing.
- Excessive drooling.
- Distended stomach (creates a drum-like sound when lightly tapped).
“How do dogs develop this?”
Specialists say that this can be due to:
- Physical activity after heavy meals.
And it was also observed that it’s common in dogs that are:
- Eating fast.
- Large or giant in size.
- Fed 1 heavy meal a day.
- Have deep and narrow chests.
- Old (risk gets higher as they age).
- Have a relative with a history of GDV.
Warning: This is a life-threatening condition. Meaning, it needs immediate medical attention. As it progresses fast in only a matter of minutes or hours.
Viral infections also affect dogs’ stomachs and intestines.
The most common one is parvovirus.
It’s a highly contagious disease. And dogs can get it by having direct contact with infected canines. As well as stools, humans, or surfaces.
This could also affect dogs of all ages.
But, it can be fatal to those who are unvaccinated. And to puppies below 4 months old.
“What are its signs?”
Same with the symptoms of stomach issues.
However, dogs may also have ‘hypothermia’ or low body temperature. As well as blood in their loose stools.
Warning: If your dog exhibits any of these signs, call your vet right away. This is because fatalities usually happen after 2 to 3 days. But with early treatment, canines can survive at a 90% rate.
If a dog is also acting weird all of sudden. Say, they’re restless and drinking excessively…
They might have ingested a toxin. And their body’s reacting to it.
“What are the things that may have caused this?”
Dogs are said to have ‘strong’ tummies.
Experts claim that a canine’s stomach releases 100 times more acid than ours. So they can digest things that we can’t.
Not all food items that are for human consumption are safe for our furry friends.
Some of them cause toxicity to dogs. And when they ingest high amounts of these, it can lead to organ failure or death.
- Macadamia nuts.
- Products with xylitol.
Caffeine from coffee and tea is dangerous as well. And canines could also get toxic ‘ethanol’ from:
- Rotten apples.
- Uncooked bread dough.
While ASPCA listed down some common dangerous household items for dogs.
And most of them are also toxic to us when consumed. Such as:
- Essential oils.
- Fabric softeners.
- Petroleum jellies.
- Carpet fresheners.
- Drugs (e.g., adderall, Ibuprofen, Naproxen).
Check out this article: Why Is My Dog So Calm (All Of A Sudden)? 11 Weird Reasons
#10: Soft-tissue injuries
Aside from stomach pain…
Dogs can also stiffen their abdomens to aid their aching necks or backs. Which can be due to a soft-tissue injury.
Especially if they don’t have any signs like vomiting and diarrhea. And if their shoulders also look stiff.
“Wait. What’s a soft-tissue injury?”
It refers to the damage to soft muscles, like:
- Sprains: Traumas to the ligaments or tissues which connect two bones.
- Strains: Injuries of the tendons or tissues that attach muscles to the bones.
So what happens is…
When a dog’s back tissues are injured, the affected bones stick to each other as they contract.
And they remain that way even though the muscles are already relaxed. Which results in an arched back.
Injured muscles will also swell and ache a lot.
So most dogs may whine while moving. Avoid using the part that’s in pain. Or hunch over to alleviate the pain.
And these can be caused by:
- Existing trauma.
- Accidents (e.g., slips, falls, collisions).
#11: Spinal problems
This behavior might also be due to an issue in the spine.
There are many possible conditions. But, let’s start off with the most common one.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
In the spinal column, there are ‘discs’ that act as cushions between the bones.
And as dogs age, these can also deteriorate, vets say.
Which causes the compression of the spinal cord. As well as the pressing of nerves.
Other of its signs are:
- Sudden crying.
- Walking wobbly.
- Weakness in the legs.
- Not wagging their tail.
Note: This is painful for dogs. And it could also result in nerve damage or paralysis.
IVDD could also lead to another decline of the spine in senior Fidos.
It’s called ‘spondylosis.’ And it’s common in large breeds and dogs above 10 years old.
Which is the reason why it’s also known as ‘spine arthritis.’
This occurs when bone spurs grow on their spines. As a result of the damaged discs.
“Where do these usually grow?”
- Lower back.
- Hind limbs and hips.
This is a spinal deformity. Like a canine version of scoliosis.
It’s characterized by a tucked abdomen. And a curved upper part of the spine.
“What are its causes?”
- For puppies: Genetics.
- For older dogs: Spinal trauma or wear-and-tear.
Note: Based on experts, the 1st sign of this condition is ‘ataxia.’ Or the lack of control over the muscles.
Other spinal issues
- Spinal tumors.
- Rickettsial diseases.
- Lumbosacral syndrome.
- Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH).
#12: Anal sac disorders
It’s also possible that dogs have discomfort in their rear-end area. Specifically in the ‘anal sacs.’
“What are those?”
These are 2 small pockets inside a dog’s anus that hold an awful-smelling liquid.
Canines release it whenever they defecate. And it’s also used for marking territories.
But when the sacs aren’t drained…
These can be impacted. Or worse, infected which could lead to pus-build up.
“How will I know if my dog has an anal sac problem?”
You may see them dragging their bum on the ground. Say, frequently rubbing their bottom in the carpet, a.k.a scooting.
- Looking at their behind many times.
- Excessively licking at the base of the tail.
- Acting like they’re being bitten by something.
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#13: Urinary and bladder issues
Lastly, if a dog hunched their back. And they also struggle to pee…
This might be due to urinary or bladder problems, such as:
- Kidney issues.
- Prostate problems.
- Bladder stones or tumors.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI).
And PDSA says that dogs who have this will show any of these signs as well:
- Blood in the urine.
- Increased water intake.
- Incontinence – or loss of bladder control.
9 common situations
#1: Dog arching back and shaking
There are many reasons why a dog hunches over and shakes.
The first one is…
Fear or anxiety
This is if a dog doesn’t seem in pain when touched. And if they go back to their normal posture once the trigger is gone.
Canines can be spooked by sudden loud noises from the outside. Or if there are nearby dogs, animals, or people.
Apart from being cold, this is also the reason why most Chihuahuas tremble so much.
Note: Avoid petting them. As this can reinforce the behavior. Reassure them by speaking in a soft voice instead. Then lead them to their ‘safe place’ to calm down. Either a crate or a quiet room with their bed and toys in it.
This is more likely if they’re also lethargic and panting heavily. Along with vomiting and diarrhea.
The dog might have eaten a toxic substance. Which also causes convulsions or tremors.
If this is the case, bring them to the vet asap.
Look around them and see if you can find remnants of the thing they ate. Then bring a sample of it to help with diagnosis.
They may have ingested a foreign object too. And this might irritate and obstruct their insides.
But, the trembling could also be due to related diseases, like:
- Upset stomach.
- Kidney diseases.
If the dog isn’t vomiting nor has loose stools, an injury is more probable.
This might be a case of a strained or sprained muscle. Or a spinal problem like spondylosis or slipped disc.
Aside from shaking, look for other signs of pain, like:
- Refusing to walk.
- Avoiding the stairs.
- Hanging their heads low.
- Loss of senses in their feet.
- Sudden yelping – especially when touched.
Note: Shivering is usually a sign of serious pain. So bring your dog to the clinic right away. To know their real condition as there are many possible ones.
#2: Dog arches back when petted
If your dog doesn’t yelp or flinch when touched, an arched back could only be a positive response from the rubs.
They like what you’re doing. And they’re telling you, “Please, go on.”
Or, “Up here, hooman. Scratch my back for me, will ya?”
Also, a dog may grunt or groan as well due to contentment.
But, they might do this too if they’re in pain. Especially when stroked in the affected areas.
A tender and swollen abdomen could be due to:
While pain in the other parts can be a sign of an injury. Or arthritis in senior Fidos.
What to do?
Inspect your dog’s body first.
- Look for wounds or bites.
- Gently touch them in all areas while applying light pressure.
- Feel for any lumps or soreness.
- Watch their reactions.
Warning: Be careful. Even the calmest pooch may bite if they’re in pain. Halt the inspection if yours become aggressive. And consult an expert at once. Especially if other signs appeared (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, or limping).
#3: Dog arches back when walking (with tail down)
Some breeds who have roached backs might arch theirs while walking. Like German Shepherds.
And also to dogs who have ‘kyphosis.’ Which is a spinal deformity.
But, a lowered tail can mean that a canine is stressed. And this is probably due to pain.
First, dogs might hunch their backs while walking due to stomach aches.
And to relieve it, they might do the ‘praying position’ as well. (Raised rear end. While their head and forelegs are close to the ground.)
Second, dogs with back problems may also tighten their abdomen. To hold up their tender backs. And this causes their hunched posture.
While canines with blocked anal sacs can also walk this way. With their hunched backs and tail between their legs.
These pouches could be expressed to drain the fluids. But, better leave this to an expert. Because these are sensitive.
If these are infected, vets will flush them out. And put your dog in sedation. Then give them antibiotics.
Note: Dogs who are in pain can also act withdrawn. And lay down in places where they don’t usually stay. Like sitting in corners.
Further reading: Why do dogs walk slowly with their tails down?
#4: Dog arches back when waking up
If your dog bends their back for a bit after a nap, don’t worry much.
They’re only stretching their muscles. As they weren’t moving for a couple of minutes or hours.
And it’s basically the same thing that we do. As well as other mammals.
Because according to experts, stretching improves our:
- Muscle strength.
- Blood circulation.
#5: Dog arching back and vomiting
Vomiting is one of the common signs of stomach distress in dogs.
So, you may exclude injuries or back pain for this.
Oftentimes, a dog’s stomach might be irritated by the food they ate.
And if yours is also constipated, they can also have an intestinal obstruction. This is why they curl their backs due to the discomfort.
But, canines who are poisoned throw up as well. Plus, they’ll also drool and tremble.
Aside from these, there are more serious ailments that need to be considered.
- Liver or kidney issues.
- Stomach ulcers/tumors.
- Viral infections (e.g., parvovirus).
What to do?
Dogs who vomit many times, especially puppies, are at risk of dehydration. And it may occur quickly if this lasts for more than 24 hours.
While toxicity and parvovirus can progress quickly. And put a dog’s life in danger.
So if your Fido vomits, trembles, and has bloody diarrhea, seek help immediately.
But, if your adult dog only throws up once or twice…
They might have an upset stomach. And here’s what you can do:
- Vets advise not to give them any food or water within 6 to 8 hours.
- If the vomiting stops during this time, give your dog some water.
- Then continue offering them water if they’re not throwing up.
- After 8 hours (or 12 hours – once vomiting is gone), you may now feed your dog.
Experts say that a bland diet works best for them.
It can be a meal of plain boiled chicken meat and white rice. As well as tofu or cottage cheese.
Feed this to them in little amounts after every hour. To reduce their pain and calm down their insides.
Vomiting is also often accompanied by loss of appetite and diarrhea.
So, take note of these things:
Motivate your dog to eat. Entice them with canned dog food. Or a pre-warmed meat-based baby food.
Which has the same kind of protein that they usually eat. To avoid further stomach irritation.
Add some fiber to their diet. Like pumpkin or carrots. As fiber absorbs excess water in their colon – making their stools firmer.
Note: Once your dog’s vomiting and diarrhea stops, gradually return to their normal diet. But if not, have them checked by a vet.
To have a smooth transition, specialists advise using this ratio:
- 1st day – 75% old food and 25% new food.
- 3rd day – 50% old food and 50% new food.
- 5th day – 25% old food and 75% new food.
- 7th day – 100% new food.
#6: Dog arches back when pooping
It’s normal for canines to squat or hunch their backs while taking a dump.
But, if they’re straining to poop or only producing ribbon-like stools…
They might be constipated. And dogs who have this may also appear weak and refuse to eat.
“What are its causes?”
- Lack of fiber.
- Intestinal tumors.
- Swollen prostate.
- Intestinal blockage.
- Enlarged lymph nodes.
Defecation is also harder for canines with injuries or joint pains.
Because exerting force while pooping makes their body ache even more.
While impacted anal sacs can become swollen and painful. Which could also affect their bowel movements.
What to do?
Mild constipation is often resolved by making your dog drink plenty of water. And by giving them a high-fiber diet.
Say, adding canned pumpkins to their meals. (PetsWebMD recommends 100% pumpkin puree.)
And do this until their bowel movement returns back to normal.
Your vet may also prescribe a laxative to soften up your dog’s poop.
But in serious cases, the impacted stools need to be removed manually by an expert.
Note: Massaging your dog in the right areas can also help them poop.
#7: Dog arching back in pain
Does your pooch yelp and bend their back?
And does this intensify whenever they’re trying to move or jump?
If so, they might be guarding a part of their body that’s aching.
This is why your dog hunches over and seems in pain.
Excessive running or jumping can injure soft muscles. As well as improper landing when getting down off the bed or couch.
Injured canines might also start limping or avoid using the affected part.
While a slipped disc may put stress on their spine or nerves. Which hurts a lot.
So dogs who have this will be reluctant to move.
Urinary issues are also possible if they’re also leaking urine. And these are:
- Kidney issues.
- Prostate problems.
- Bladder stones or tumors.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI).
But again, if this comes with vomiting and other stomach issue signs…
They might be suffering from abdominal pain.
What to do?
For soft tissue injuries: Vets recommend applying ice packs to the injured area. To reduce the swelling. And do this twice a day for 15 minutes each session.
If this occurs for more than a day or comes back again after, see a vet at once.
But for all possible conditions, restrict your dog’s movements for the meantime. And schedule an appointment at the clinic.
Cage rest is needed to avoid further injuries. So prepare their crate and make it as comfy as possible.
#8: Dog arching back and crying
Canines are good at concealing their illnesses.
Because they’re known to have high pain thresholds.
In fact, vets and most people believe that this varies per breed.
And in one study, small dogs were said to be most sensitive to pain. Say, Chihuahuas and Maltese dogs.
While larger breeds are seen to be the least sensitive. Like Rottweilers and Boxers.
Plus, dogs can’t tell us exactly where it hurts. So it’s our duty as dog parents, to notice whenever something’s off about them.
So if they have an odd posture, act weird, and cry…
They might be in so much pain. That they can’t even hide it anymore.
“But what makes a dog cry out in pain?”
This could be due to stomach problems. And other ailments connected to it like pancreatitis or viral infections.
As well as arthritis or spinal disorders. Such as intervertebral disc disease or spondylosis.
But, infected anal sacs are also possible.
What to do?
Softly examine your dog’s body to see where it hurts. But if they growl or snap, stop right away.
Call a vet or the emergency clinic. Then take note of these tips from AVMA on how to properly transport an injured dog.
- Be alert and gentle as canines in pain tend to bite.
- Avoid comforting your dog. This may only scare or hurt them more.
- If your dog isn’t vomiting, put a muzzle on them. (Alternatives you can use: gauze rolls, towels).
- If you know the injured part, bandage the area. Use a splint (rigid material) to protect it.
- To transport them, place them in a dog carrier. But if you have a large dog, find something similar to a stretcher. Say, thick blankets or boards.
Read also: Why does my dog cry in the morning?
#9: Dog arches back when eating
An arched back while eating is a sign of pain in the abdomen.
Your dog might be feeling nauseous. And they’re about to vomit. So they tend to hunch over.
Their stomach can be upset due to food allergies. Or by ingesting something they shouldn’t. Like toxic materials, table scraps, or trash.
Bloat is also possible. Wherein a dog’s stomach expands and is filled with gas.
And certain breeds are said to be more prone to this. Such as Great Danes, Weimaraners, and St. Bernards.
Warning: Bloat can lead to a serious condition that needs immediate surgery. And there are also many causes of gastrointestinal problems. So for your dog’s safety, consult about this with a vet.