Why Do Dogs Arch Their Backs? (7 Reasons Explained)

One day, out of nowhere, one of my dogs began to arch his back. Puzzled, I was wondering what was going on? Should I be concerned, or was this behavior normal? Finally, after several visits to the vet, here’s what I found:

Why do dogs arch their backs? Dogs will arch their back to have a nice stretch or because they are in pain, and that’s their way to alleviate the pain and discomfort. Dogs arching their backs can also indicate a sign of stress and nervousness.

dogs arch their backs

As you can see, the reasons for your dog’s arched back can be good or bad. But before we jump to the conclusion, let’s take a look in more depth at each possible cause of back arching in dogs. And later on, I will share what warning signs you should look out for to determine if your dog needs immediate medical attention or not.

7 Reasons Why Dogs Arch Their Backs

1. Stretching

Just like cats, dogs arch their backs to stretch their muscles. Sometimes this stance is accompanied by back, or front leg stretches. If you notice your dog does this after waking up or before exercise and see nothing unusual after that, then you have nothing to worry about.

Yet, unlike cats, you should be concerned if your dog starts doing this too many times as it can be an alarming sign of something wrong inside his body.

2. They Are Scared

Dogs can also arch their backs when they are scared of something. This is a strategy that smaller dogs often use to appear non-threatening when meeting bigger dogs, as in the case when a puppy is introduced for the first time to an existing older dog. When the owners are around, this can also be a way for the dogs to communicate their fears to the owners.

If you suspect that the cause of your dog arching his back is related to anxiety or fear, you can confirm your suspicion by examining other anxiety-related signs and symptoms in dogs, such as:

  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Paving
  • Tucking in his tail
  • Lowering his head
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Shaking
  • Attempting to hide or cower

3. Heritage or Conformation

In some dogs, arched or roach back is a result of heritage or conformation. Let’s take, for example, German Shepherd dogs. At one time, roach back was considered a fashion among German shepherds enthusiasts, and to tap on this trend, many German shepherd breeders started to develop this type of shepherds intentionally. Hence, many GSDs from that period and their offspring have a roached back even though their ancestors did not have one.

Whether these show dogs are healthy or not is another point to discuss. I would argue, however, many people breed dogs for shows without an afterthought for the repercussions. There are some health risks associated with show dogs, and owners need to decide whether showing a dog is worth the potential problems their dogs may suffer later. If you intend to get a dog for showing, then try to find a reputable, ethical, and conscientious conformation breeder.

Another example is Greyhounds. An arched back is an inherited and necessary feature in this dog breed to achieve their top speed potential. They need to stretch and contract their backs constantly while running, which is not possible without their arched backs.

4. They are in pain

In the majority of cases, the main reason why dogs arch their backs is that they feel pain and want to relieve it. If you notice that your dog’s back arching occurs much more often than the usual coupled with one or several pain-related symptoms, then there’s a very good chance they are in pain and require immediate veterinary care.

Here are some pain-related signs that you should be aware of:

  • Yelping
  • Limping or walking with an altered gait
  • Stiff walking
  • Growling
  • Crying out
  • Shallow breathing and panting
  • Shaking
  • Tucked abdomen
  • Low hanging head and tail
  • Being quieter and less active
  • Being lethargic and not eating
  • Rear quarters lowered

Now let’s take a look at some of the causes that could trigger this back-arching reaction from your dog.

5. Abdominal Issues

Abdominal pain is the most common health-related cause of dogs arching their backs. Usually, you have nothing to worry about, as most often, it will go away on its own. 

However, this pain can also be caused by certain medical conditions that require immediate medical treatment, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat)
  • Anal sac disorder
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver disease
  • Viral/parasite infections
  • Internal bleeding
  • Peritonitis
  • Enlarged organ
  • Canine parvovirus
  • Intestinal intussusception
  • Cystitis
  • Gastrointestinal obstruction
  • Gastritis
  • Obstipation (severe constipation)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Distension of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Prostatitis
  • Gastrointestinal ulcer
  • Cancer

Let’s briefly highlight a few of these ailments.

Nausea

No matter what breed, age, or gender your dog is, all dogs can develop nausea, with a variety of causes, including but not limited to motion sickness, eating the wrong foods or the wrong quantities of foods, consuming something toxic.

While in most cases, nausea is not serious and goes away in a day or two, but in rare cases, it can be a sign of serious or life-threatening health issues, such as parvovirus or gastroenteritis. 

Gastric-Dilatation Volvulus

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), also popularly known as bloat, is a rapidly progressing and life-threatening condition that develops mostly in large breed dogs with deep chests. This condition occurs when the dog’s stomach becomes bloated with gas, food, and fluid. As a result, the stomach dilates and twists into an abnormal position, causing significant discomfort and pain. 

At some points, this condition will cause the spleen and major blood vessels inside the stomach to twist as well, resulting in reduced or halted blood flow to the stomach and other organs near it. This can cause major tissue damage and, over the long run, will lead to stomach rupture and inflammation of the abdominal lining (peritonitis).

The most visible signs of GDV are regular retching and gagging, bloated abdomen, shortness of breath, and difficulty of laying.

Anal Sac Disorders

Anal sac disorders can occur in any dog due to the inability of the dog to express fluids from his anal gland, which will make his anal sac becomes overfilled and blocked, causing tension/discomfort. The dog will reflexively tilt his hindquarters down, followed by arching of the back to relieve this tension.

Left untreated, anal sac disorders can lead to more severe problems such as infections and abscesses.

Swollen Glands

Castrated dogs can still get excited when they are around female dogs. And when they are aroused, the glands in their groins can become so painful and swollen that, at times, they arch their backs to relieve the tension.

Inflamed Prostate

As in swollen glands, dogs arch their backs to try to relieve the tension and pain produced by inflamed prostate. 

6. Spinal Conditions

Spinal problems are the worst problems of all that dogs endure. If the causes of back arching in your dog are spinal conditions, you can often clearly see an abnormal curvature of the spine that appears in the neck and lower back of your dog’s body. In veterinary terms, this is called kyphosis. 

There are two types of kyphosis, one is an abnormality that is passed down, and the other is a condition that is caused by trauma, such as bites, car accidents, and other injuries. In senior dogs, spinal problems can also result from aging and wear and tear. In some cases, inherited kyphosis can be fatal and can eventually cause dogs to lose their walking ability for good. 

One of the most severe back conditions that your dog can suffer from is Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). Intervertebral disc disease is a condition where a dog has a herniated disc in his lower back. The inflamed disc then puts pressure on the dog’s spinal nerves, causing unbearable pain. 

IVDD is common among:

  • Beagle
  • Corgi
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Dachshund
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Pekingese
  • Shih Tzu
  • Shih Tzu

7. Spondylosis Deformans

Lastly, it could be your dog arching his back because he has spondylosis deformans, which is also called arthritis of the spine. This condition occurs when the dog’s intervertebral discs begin to degenerate, resulting in abnormal growth called bone spurs which can put pressure on your dog’s spinal nerves and cause large amounts of pain.

As you may imply from the description above, spondylosis deformans is an age-related disease; and thus, it occurs more frequently in middle-aged to older dogs. Some studies suggest that Boxers, German Shepherds, and Airedale Terriers are the most common breed affected.

Again, this condition will likely be accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty in walking and moving
  • A reluctance to go up and down the stairs
  • Loss of strength in legs

What To Do If Your Dog is Arching His Back?

If your dog arches his back in the morning, just after waking up without him showing anything alarming afterward, then you can relax and not worry about it. On the other hand, if the arching is accompanied by signs of pain or other related symptoms, then you should take your dog to the vet right away.