Almost all dogs exhibit strange behavior from time to time, that’s a given. However, how do you know when it is an indicator that something more serious is going on? One trait often encountered in our furry companions is back arching.
What does it mean when your dog arches his back? Dogs will arch their back when they wake up to stretch. A dog with an arched back can also mean that they are scared, or a persistent arched back could be the sign of a health issue including spinal problems or GI issues.
Whilst most dogs will arch their back when they wake up, and give a nice stretch, back arching should be rare. Unlike cats, aside from when you dog wakes up, arching of the back is not as common in canines.
As a result, it can send alarm bells ringing for dog owners if it occurs. The concern can often be warranted, as prolonged back arching in dogs can be a sign of serious health issues and as such, should always be investigated and swiftly taken care of.
As with anything like this, if you are worried about what it could mean when your dog arches his back, consult with a vet. But, for your information, below I’ve listed some of the causes of back arching (including when waking up).
Why dogs arch their backs
It can be difficult to judge if your pooch is arching his back out of habit or whether it is a one-time occurrence. After all, all dogs are different, and some behave weirdly when compared to others.
1. Arches back after waking up or before exercise
Back arching in dogs – when is it not a problem? In the main, just after they have risen from a slumber.
Although back arching in dogs is often a sign of health-related issues, there are instances where it is completely normal behavior.
Why does my dog arch his back when he wakes up? Well, just like us humans, dogs often stretch for a few seconds after waking up or just before exercise – back arching is one such stretch that they absolutely adore.
You have probably seen your pooch do this countless times, usually before joining you on a walk or just after being let off the leash for a run. Therefore, you should not take this behavior as a cause for concern when it is observed in this manner.
Interestingly, dogs have inherited this stretching habit from their ancestors, wolves, who will stretch to ready themselves for territory-related fights and long hours spent hunting for food.
Although dogs no longer need to hunt for food or partake in other survival-based behaviors, they have retained this habit to protect themselves from injury during vigorous exercise and other strenuous activities.
Nowhere is this more present than in working breeds, many of whom will spend long periods of their lives herding sheep, working with law enforcement, and tracking scents over rough terrain.
2. Arches back when scared
The act of back arching is also commonly seen in nervous dogs. Arching his back can mean that your dog is scared of something as many canines will arch their backs when frightened or out of their comfort zone.
They do this in an effort to appear smaller, thus indicating that they are not a threat. This is often observed in puppies and younger dogs, especially during their first introductions to pre-existing canines in family households.
Similarly, dogs with nervous dispositions will often arch their backs when approached by unfamiliar dogs at the local park, helping them to avoid fights and other dangerous altercations.
Furthermore, this behavior is usually accompanied by other signs of anxiety or fear, such as the tucking in of tails, lowering of heads, avoidance of eye contact, and the rapid retreat of said dogs into quiet corners or isolated areas in the home.
Although back-arching is not serious for a dog’s health in this context, regular fearful or stressed behavior could be a sign that your pooch is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
If you suspect this is the case, talk to your vet and find out what the necessary measures to take to help your pooch deal with this problem.
3. Arches back due to breed and heritage
Certain dog breeds are born with naturally arched backs. For example, this feature is common in Greyhounds, who are bred for their extreme agility and incredible bouts of speed.
Without their arched backs, Greyhounds would not be known as the famously fast racing dogs they are today. Essentially, their arch allows them to stretch and contract their backs while running, helping them to reach the insane speeds needed to compete in races.
Unfortunately, as a result, it can sometimes be difficult to spot when greyhounds are arching their backs out of discomfort.
4. Arches back due to a health condition or pain
Now that we have taken a look at non-serious reasons why dogs arch their backs we can better understand when this behavior should be a cause for concern. First and foremost, you should immediately take your dog to the vet if he is constantly arching his back or is stuck in an arched position.
Generally, in terms of posture, healthy dogs should have straight backs that align from shoulder to tail and anything out of the ordinary, such as an arched back, could be a sign that your pooch is experiencing significant pain and discomfort.
In the majority of cases, dogs will round their backs in an effort to alleviate pain in their neck or backs and comfort themselves, similar to how we hunch over when experiencing an upset stomach with bad gas.
If you notice your dog is arching his back, try to pay close attention to whether he is showing any other closely related symptoms of pain.
For example, shaking, low hanging head and tail, limping and lameness, stiffness, and swelling. It is worth noting that it can be hard to spot these signs in older dogs, so make sure to spend some significant time observing your older pooch if you suspect there is something amiss with his health.
Veterinarians have a name for this condition, kyphosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine that appears in the cervical (neck) and thoracic (lower back) areas of the body.
Trauma and associated injuries are often the biggest culprits for causing kyphosis in younger dogs, whilst wear and tear on the spine play a role in older canines.
Unfortunately, this condition can also be inherited from birth, and certain breeds (such as French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, and Pugs) are more at risk of developing this problem than other breeds.
Sadly, inherited kyphosis can be quite severe and in some cases, dogs can eventually lose the ability to function their legs properly.
The Kennel Club explain how it’s more common in brachycephalic breeds:
“Some brachycephalic dogs, specifically those with coiled, very short or absent tails, are at an increased risk of abnormally shaped vertebrae that do not align correctly, which may lead to deformity of the spine, including curvature and twisting (kyphosis and/or scoliosis). This can lead to instability of the spinal column, which in some dogs leads to the spinal cord or the nerves arising from it becoming squashed and damaged.” (view source)
Dog will often arch their backs when experiencing bouts of abdominal pain, too. Often, this pain will arise in dogs after eating something spoiled or unsuitable for their diets.
Although in most cases, abdominal pain is nothing serious and will usually go away on its own, conditions such as pancreatitis, liver disease, peritonitis, canine parvovirus, anal sac disorder, and cancer can also cause this pain.
In addition to this, dogs will normally show other symptoms alongside severe bouts of pain, such as diarrhea, vomiting, hypersalivation, restlessness, and irritability.
Similarly, GDV (gastric dilatation and volvulus), also known as bloat, is a serious condition that occurs when a canine’s stomach becomes distended with fluid, food, or air. Urgent veterinary assistance is required if this happens to your dog, as bloat can quickly lead to death unless treated rapidly.
Dogs suffering from hernias or ruptured discs will also arch their backs in a response to pressure on their spinal nerves. These conditions can be extremely painful for dogs, causing them to whine or yelp in distress.
Additionally, the most affected dog will struggle to walk, becoming reluctant to move for fear of aggravating their injury.
Therefore, you should book an appointment at the vet if you notice your pooch is having trouble getting up the stairs, lowering his head, struggling to jump down from the sofa, or arching his back regularly.
Lastly, spondylitis (arthritis of the spine) can also affect older dogs in the same way.
Canines with this condition develop bony spurs along the edge of their spines. In most cases spondylitis is painless, however, some dogs do develop stiffness and lose flexibility in their spines.
The VCA Animal Hospitals website say this:
“Spondylosis deformans is a condition that affects the vertebral bones of the spine and is characterized by the presence of bony spurs or osteophytes along the edges of the bones of the spine. A bony spur may develop in a single spot on the spine; more commonly, there will be multiple bone spurs in several different locations along the spine.” (view source)
Bone spurs can sometimes grow near nerve roots, inflicting pressure on the affected areas and causing large amounts of pain.
Fortunately, most cases of spondylitis can be treated with a combination of physical therapy, medication, and weight loss.
I see my own dog arch his back every morning when he wakes up his bed. It’s a funny quirk to see him stretch in a similar way to how I do.
Thankfully I have never seen him arch his back aside from that, but if you have it naturally will lead you to questioning whether back arching means something is wrong with your dog.
If you are the owner of a dog who arches his back or are just curious about what causes this unnatural posture, I hope my guide has helped you… but I can’t stress enough – if you are at all worried, please call a vet.