Why Do Dogs Arch Their Backs?

A cat arching its back is an everyday sight. You would expect a cat to do some back arching several times a day. But when your dog arches his back, it can become a puzzling moment for you.

So a cat catching makes sense – but why do dogs arch their backs?

Well, you assumed that dogs don’t. But, dogs do arch their backs, just not for the same reason as cats do, which is to look more intimidating or larger.

why do dogs arch their backs
So why do dogs arch their backs?

There are a number of reasons that dogs may arch their backs. Often, it can simply mean that they are stretching, are feeling itchy, or it could indicate a more serious health condition that you need to address. Here are the major reasons why a dog would arch his back.

They Want to Stretch: They Are Ready For Playtime

More often than not, this is the main reason our dog is arching his back. 

Every morning, you arch your back to stretch the kinks in your muscles. Dogs do this, too, for the same reason. Usually, they also do their back leg stretches and play bow-stance where they stretch their front legs at leisure to remove the rigidity in their bodies.

You might have observed that your dog tends to do this not just after waking up but also after being immobile for a long time. This is a natural response of your canine’s body. It makes them feel good, and it loosens their muscles.

Not only does stretching keep your dog’s muscles flexible and supple, it also helps with their blood circulation. While arching his back, your dog would usually look at you, and this is a silent invitation that they are ready for play time or for some fun activities with you.

If your dog could talk, he’d be saying, “Hey, human, I am ready to play!”

Other Reasons and Scenarios To Consider

Dog Arches Back When Excited

Neutered male dogs generally arch their backs when excited and aroused when near a female dog.

This would only last for a couple of minutes. Usually, this is called “air humping”, and people often shoo a dog away if they start arching their backs and getting excited.

In context, your dog will arch his back while making pelvic thrusting motions when dogs are mating. In adult dogs, you will notice that your dog’s penis is swollen at the base, and you might even come across your dog licking his crotch when this happens.

Again, this is a normal dog reaction. And believe it or not, even spayed females and puppies do this. You might have observed your dog humping your leg, the leg of a table, and even other objects like stuffed toys.

However, you should be concerned if the swelling of your dog’s penis doesn’t subside in due time. If this happens, call your vet immediately.

puppy at the vet with owners one adult one child
A cute puppy enjoying a Vet visit

Why Does My Dog Arch His Back When He Wakes Up?

Arching their backs specifically after waking up can be considered the dog’s greeting stretch. Usually, they stretch their backs while walking towards you and looking at you.

Based on Brenda Aloff’s “Canine Body Language, a Photographic Guide,” this kind of stretching that your dog does is “a posture used only towards someone the dog likes and with whom he is comfortable.”

Whenever your dog performs a greeting stretch, you will notice that your pet’s ears are relaxed and his eyes focused on you. The complete greeting is composed of your dog lowering his front legs while the back legs are raised with the elbows not touching the ground. This creates the arch back — a greeting stretch.

It is part of being a dog, and you can enjoy these rare moments when you witness some canine stretching. If, after their leisurely stretch, they shake their bodies a little bit and go on with their next activity without any signs of pain or discomfort, then there’s nothing for you to worry about.

Why Does My Dog Arch Her Back When I Pet Her?

If your dog arches her back when you pet her, it typically indicates that she is enjoying the moment with you. Your dog likes what you are doing and hopes you will indulge her with more back scratches.

Just like cats purr to communicate their pleasure, dogs arch their back to tell you the same thing.

Although dogs arching their backs when petted may also be your dog’s way to tell you that they need some serious scratching. Not the cuddly and gentle rubs on their back but for you to scratch them because something is itchy or even painful.

Your dog arching her back can be a way to tell you to check her back because it is causing her discomfort.

For your peace of mind, you can do a thorough inspection of your dog’s back and check for any signs of redness or flakiness. Keep an eye out for fleas. You can do this by checking for any signs of flea dirt on your dog’s coat.

If there are patches of red and irritated skin, make an appointment with your veterinarian so your dog can be checked thoroughly. You don’t want your dog to be further irritating or scratching the spots because it will just make it worse and make your pet more uncomfortable.

goldendoodle puppy
A happy Goldendoodle puppy thinking about rock climbing a wall

Dog Arching Back and Walking Slow

If your dog is arching his back and walking slowly, it is cause for concern. And if there are obvious signs of pain and discomfort, then you should be worried.

Dogs tend to arch their back to ease any tension or pain that they may be feeling. It is similar to us humans experiencing stomach pain. You arch your back while hugging your tummy. You do this because it reduces the pain, even if just briefly but enough for you to catch your breath.

This applies to your dog, too. And typically, apart from arching their backs, you would notice your dog exhibiting the following actions:

  • Walking stiffly
  • Abdomen is tucked
  • Back quarters are lowered
  • Head is hanging low
  • Tail is tucked between their legs

This pain may be resulting from your dog’s spine, stomach, legs, or neck. But any pain from these areas would indeed evoke a serious back-arching action from your dog.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common medical conditions that can cause your dog to arch his back.

1. Your dog is suffering from a spinal condition.

Healthy dogs should have a straight back from their shoulder down to their tails.

Unfortunately, some factors can lead your dog to develop kyphosis.

This is a spinal deformity specific to the posterior curvature, or the up and down curvature, of your dog’s spine. Your dog will assume this form when he feels pressure and pain in his back or neck. 

If your dog is experiencing this pain but he’s just a puppy and less than 12 months old, kyphosis could have been hereditary. In adult dogs, however, this spinal condition can be caused by trauma or excessive wear and tear.

Damage to the spine can also be due to a previous attack from another dog.

dog trying to steal a sock
A not very subtle attempt from this dog to steal a sock

2. Your dog may have abdominal problems.

Arching their backs is your dog’s way of easing the pain of a viral infection, diarrhea, an inflamed organ, possible internal bleeding, or an anal sac disorder.

Now, there’s no need to panic just yet because of all these potential abdominal problems. It’s better to understand how these conditions are interrelated so you can also re-evaluate some of the recent activities of your dog.

An anal sac disorder happens when your dog’s ability to express or discharge fluid from his anal glands is interrupted or blocked. If he can’t release these fluids, the fluid builds up and develops into an infection.

Infections radiate pain, and your dog will reflexively tilt down his hindquarters to get rid of the tightness he must be feeling.

Additionally, dogs eat anything and that includes foreign objects. These things can obstruct your dog’s intestinal tract. This blockage results in diarrhea and sometimes internal bleeding. So your dog will arch his back for the same reason — to reduce pain.

3. Your dog possibly has spondylosis deformans.

Another medical condition that may cause your dog to arch his back is arthritis of the spine, or spondylosis deformans. Usually, symptoms like difficulty going up and down the stairs and weakness in the rear legs go hand in hand with this illness.

This disease occurs when bony spurs develop along the vertebrae. Bony spurs are essentially unnatural bone growth that takes place along the edges of the bone. These spurs usually appear on your dog’s lower back (or lumbar spine), portions of the upper back (or thoracic vertebrae), and at the beginning of your dog’s tail at the end of his lower back (or lumbosacral spine).

This arthritis of the spine is associated with aging. Greyhounds are commonly affected once they reach middle to senior age. The reason behind this is that Greyhounds are used for racing such as track racing or coursing games for most of their lives, and their lower backs are always working double-time.

If your dog is arching his back because of a medical condition, it is better to get your vet involved. Apart from the conditions mentioned above, there is also the possibility that your dog, especially if it is a specific breed, is dealing with gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) or Paroxysmal gluten-sensitive dyskinesia (PGSD).

Some Dogs Arch When Scared

Scared dogs would also arch their backs. If they are frightened, helpless, or out of their comfort zones, their initial response would be to arch their backs.

Compared to cats that arch their backs to look bigger, dogs do it to look smaller. This is to communicate to the other dogs or animals that they pose no threat at all.

Usually, this is accompanied by behaviors showing fear like your dog tucking his tail between his legs, retreating to a corner, and avoiding eye contact.

can a dog eat a jelly bean
What to do if your dog eats jelly beans

Why Is My Dog Arching His Back Like A Cat?

If you are 100% sure that your dog is not just doing his standard stretches, then a dog arching his back like a cat may indicate a medical emergency.

Back arching, sometimes interchanged with abdomen tucking, is an indication that your dog is experiencing abdominal distress.

You must watch out for other symptoms and changes in your dog’s behavior when you notice your dog arching his back like a cat. One or a combination of these signs along with your dog’s back arching can be incredibly alarming:

  • Stiffness in your dog’s limbs and neck
  • Head is constantly lowered when your dog is standing up
  • Your dog is hesitant to make any movements
  • Crying or whining at the slightest movement and touch
  • Your dog is dragging his paws or paw knuckling
  • Paralysis in some of your dog’s body parts
  • Obvious pain and discomfort
  • Your dog is not able to walk or stand properly
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence
  • Loss of appetite

If your dog is showing signs of any of these issues, don’t waste time. Bring your pet to the emergency room.

My Dog Is Hunched Over and Panting

The hunched position and panting both indicate pain, and the likely cause of the pain is your dog’s abdomen.

Bouts of abdominal pain can cause your dog to arch his back. This can be due to your dog eating something spoiled or being given human food that is toxic to them (like artificially sweetened almond milk or even raw pork).

Ideally, abdominal pain will go away without the need for medical intervention. Still, as a general rule of thumb, you can always consult your vet to rule out pancreatitis, peritonitis, liver disease, and canine parvovirus.


Seeing your dog arch his back from time to time can be a comical experience. The juxtaposition between your dog and a cat arching their backs is too quirky, especially if you have both animals in your household.

But while it may often just be a stretch and nothing more, your dog may also be crying out for your help. Keep an eye out for unnatural actions along with the back arches, and if something feels wrong, don’t hesitate to bring him to the vet.