Arched Back In Dogs (Explained By Vet Tech)

Arched Back In Dogs

For some of us, our dogs are like our children. We take care of them and we watch over them like hawks. Sure we might overreact a little bit when they get hurt, but that’s all a part of being a good dog owner!

If you’re an overly observant parent or just a concerned owner, it might be difficult to tell when something is really wrong with your pup. Are they limping or did they hop over a crack in the sidewalk? Are they arching their back in pain, or could they just be stretching?

What causes an arched back in dogs?

While an arched back isn’t an immediate cause for concern, prolonged arching can be serious. Usually, when a dog arches their back and tucks their abdomen up it means they’re in pain. That pain might be caused by an abdominal issue like bloat, or a spinal issue like an acute injury.

In this article, we’ll get into the details about why your dog might arch their back. We’ll talk about what could cause spinal or abdominal pain and what you can do about it.

But first, let’s talk about what an arched back looks like and if there’s ever a normal time for a dog to arch their back!

What Does An Arched Back In Dogs Look Like?

When we talk about arched backs in dogs, we’re talking about a rounded humpback shape.

In humans, an arched back usually describes the lower back collapsing in a sort of c shape. The stomach is pushed out and forwards. In dogs, an arched back has the opposite meaning!

When a dog has an arched back, their lower back is rounded up and its stomach is sucked in towards its spine. Usually, this isn’t a good sign for a dog’s posture, but it’s not always a red flag.

Is It Ever Normal For A Dog To Arch Their Back?

Cats arch their backs a lot. For cats, arching their backs is actually a normal part of their communication system. When a cat arches their back they might be stretching or playing. They might also be trying to communicate alarm or aggression. Sometimes when a cat arches their back, their hair will also stand on end, giving a dramatic effect.

However, dogs don’t really use arching as body language. The only time an arched back is normal for your dog is when they’re stretching.  Dogs stretch when they wake up before they play, and throughout their days.

Usually, when dogs stretch, they lean their upper bodies backward and forwards, giving them a nice spinal movement, as shown in the video below. At the end of a stretch, it might look like your dog is arching their back, but that’s normal and should usually stop within seconds.

Besides stretching, an arched back in a dog is pretty abnormal. So if your furry friend has a humpback, let’s talk about what could be causing that.

Why Do Dogs Arch Their Backs?

When a dog arches their back, it’s usually indicative of some type of pain. With an arched back, that pain usually comes from two main areas, the spine or the abdomen.

While many things can cause your dog back or stomach pain, we’ll talk about some of the most common causes now. Hopefully, you’ll be able to start to understand why your dog is arching its back.

Spinal Pain

Spinal pain is something we’ve all probably experienced at one point or another. As you probably already know, spinal pain can vary in degrees of seriousness.

On the one hand, you might wake up with slight discomfort from sleeping wrong. On the other hand, you may have suffered a traumatic injury that caused chronic pain or even paralysis. Regardless of the severity, spinal pain is not comfortable.

For dogs, it’s the same. Just like us, dogs are vertebrates. This means that their spines and spinal cords are incredibly important to their quality of life. You’ll notice that a dog with a spinal injury might not only arch their back but might growl when adjusting their position because they’re uncomfortable.

Let’s talk about some of the things that can go wrong with a dog’s spine and make them arch its back.

1. Injury Related

One of the most obvious causes of spinal pain is an acute injury. Spinal injuries can occur during aggressive play or from other accidents. Sometimes, the injury is minor and heals quickly. During this healing time, you might notice that your dog is arching their back, if only because they’re uncomfortable.

In more serious injuries, your dog may damage their vertebrae or discs. In these cases, you’ll definitely notice your dog arching their back and it probably won’t be able to walk well.

Obviously, if you notice that your dog hurt their back while playing, it’s a great idea to take them to the vet. Something that seems small might escalate into a bigger problem. Plus, you might even get referred to a dog acupuncturist or a dog chiropractor, which can be greatly beneficial for your pup in the long run.

2. Neurological Issue

Neurological issues are often the root of spinal pain in dogs.

Not all neurological issues affect the spine, but many do. The spinal cord is an integral part of the nervous system and when things go haywire, the spine can be affected. When a dog is suffering from a neurological disease, you might notice other symptoms in addition to back arching like trouble walking and seizures.

Some neurological issues that might cause spinal pain are Invertebral Disc Disease, Meningitis, or Spinal Cord Infection.  This list is by no means complete as many other diseases can affect a dog’s spine and spinal cord. However, it would take years of study to fully describe and understand these ailments.

Neurological issues can be difficult to diagnose and treat. If you think your dog is arching their back because of some sort of neurological disease, you’ll want to take them to see a veterinary specialist as soon as possible.

3. Kyphosis

The last thing that may cause spinal pain and lead to an arched back in your dog is kyphosis. Kyphosis describes a condition where a dog is born with an abnormal curvature of their spine. Similar to scoliosis, kyphosis is present for a dog’s entire life.

However, this doesn’t mean that it has always caused them pain. Your dog might have a very slight curvature in their spine that only recently started causing them pain. Maybe they’ve gained weight or they’re getting older and that curvature is starting to take a toll on them.

Kyphosis can be diagnosed through radiographs at a veterinarian’s office. Treatment usually includes supplements to aid the joints, medications to reduce inflammation, and a diet!

Abdominal Pain

Sadly, spinal issues aren’t the only thing that could be making your pup arch its back. A good amount of back arching pain may come from a dog’s abdominal area.

Pain in this area usually causes muscles to tense up. These flexed muscles pull the stomach in and naturally form an arch in the back. So, if your pooch has an arched back, here are a couple more things that could be causing it.

1. Bloat, Upset Stomach, Diarrhea, Or Vomiting

Just like in humans, general stomach upset can cause abdominal pain.

If your dog ate something they weren’t supposed to, they might experience cramping or gas as their body tried to process the foreign snacks. Diarrhea or vomiting can also cause abdominal pain and cause your dog to arch their back.

The key to stomach upset is to figure out what is causing the symptoms and how to avoid it next time. Remember that even though most dogs can tell the difference between what is and isn’t food, some young dogs are curious and might eat something harmful.

Or, if you think your dog’s food might be the culprit, try switching over to a new brand or a new diet.

2. Bowel Obstruction

Bowel obstructions are a dangerous and sometimes life-threatening situation that many dogs are unlucky enough to experience in their lifetimes.

Bowel obstructions occur when an indigestible object becomes lodged in the bowels. When an obstruction occurs, it’s dangerous because food can’t be digested and will either become impacted or will be vomited back up.

Bowel obstructions can be caused by chewing toys like buffalo horns, goat horns, or even tennis balls! Obviously, these blockages can cause serious abdominal pain and cause a dog to arch its back. Obstructions almost always need to be dealt with surgically.

3. Internal Parasites

Another thing that can cause stomach pain and lead to hunching is parasites. Roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, and hookworms are all different types of internal parasites that can affect dogs.

Because many of these parasites are found in the lining of the intestines, they can often lead to diarrhea and cramping. These parasites aren’t usually a serious issue but can cause growth problems for puppies and stomach upset for adults. Again, this stomach pain can cause your dog to arch its back.

Internal parasites are easily diagnosed through a fecal examination and treated with antiparasitics dispensed by a veterinarian. They can also be prevented by giving your pup monthly antiparasitic protection.

4. Pancreatitis

One of the classic symptoms of pancreatitis is a hunched back in dogs. Pancreatitis is a condition in which the enzymes released by the pancreas start to break down surrounding tissue in a dog’s body instead of food. The pancreas and the organs nearby become inflamed and irritated.

Pancreatitis is incredibly painful and can cause arching or hunching almost instantly. Pancreatitis is usually noted in dogs that have a diet high in fat and eat plenty of treats and human foods.

Pancreatitis is a serious condition that should be addressed as soon as possible. If you think your dog might be arching their back because of a pancreas issue, go to the vet’s office right away!

Other Symptoms Combined With An Arched Back

There are actually so many different things that can cause your dog to arch their back. Pretty much any illness or injury that causes abdominal or spinal pain can make your dog hunch. Even though it might seem overwhelming, you can rule out a lot of these issues through the process of elimination.

Plus, your dog might also show some other strange symptoms while they’re arching. These other symptoms can give you hints as to what is really going on with your furry friend.

My Dog Is Arching Their Back And Shaking

If your dog is arching their back and shaking at the same time, it can be a sign of pain or strain. Pain can cause dogs to shake or tremble.

Since dogs can’t tell us they’re not feeling well, this is one thing you look out for when you’re observing your dog. Shaking can also be a sign that your dog is straining to poop. Constipation might cause them to shake as they’re trying to eliminate their bowels.

My Dog Is Arching Their Back And Whining

Is your dog whining while also arching their back? If so, this is not really a good sign. Unless your dog is already dramatic, whining indicates some serious pain and should be taken seriously.

Even if you think you might already know what’s causing your dog pain, you should get them medical attention immediately. Not only can a vet diagnose the problem but they’ll also be able to prescribe immediate pain relief.

My Dog Is Walking With An Arched Back And Tail Down

Usually, when the tail gets involved in your dog’s weird posture it’s indicative of a spinal issue.

For dogs, the tail is part of their spine. When a dog’s tail is crooked or bent at a weird angle, it can mean that something in its spine is causing them pain or just isn’t right.

So, any dog that has an arched back and its tail is angled downwards is probably dealing with some back pain or nerve pain.

My Dog Is Their Arching Back And Walking Off Balance

If you looked at your dog recently and you’ve wondered, “why does my dog arch his back and walk like a cat,” this paragraph is for you.

A hunched back and unstable walking are two strong signs that your dog may be dealing with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD). IVDD is a neurological issue that we mentioned briefly above. IVDD describes an issue with one of your dog’s discs like a slip, rupture, or hernia.

IVDD can cause a lot of pain and is common in dogs with long bodies and short legs. IVDD can start with minimal symptoms but can get worse over time and should be managed with the help of a veterinarian.

What To Do If Your Dog Has An Arched Back

For the most part, if your dog is arching their back, it’s not a great sign. While it might just be a stretch or something they were born with, chances are it’s an indication of pain.

If you notice that your dog is arching their back, you’ll want to try to restrict its movement as much as possible. Keep their environment calm and try to get them to stand still.  Then, you’ll need to try and take your pup to the vet as soon as possible.

Sadly, the conditions that might cause your furry friend to arch their back can be serious and it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on without a professional.

Even though an arched back usually isn’t a good thing, it’s no reason to panic! Many of the issues making your dog arch can be treated easily. So, don’t freak out and give your local vet a call.

Final Thoughts

Back arching isn’t normal in dogs like it is in cats. Dogs with arched backs are usually experiencing either abdominal or spinal pain.

These issues aren’t always serious but should be addressed as soon as possible. Hopefully, once you figure out what’s going on, you’ll have your pet back in perfect condition in no time at all!

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