Dog Arching Back and Walking Off Balance: What to Do Next

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Is your dog arching its back like a cat? When this behavior persists outside of your pup’s regular stretching routine, it could actually indicate a medical emergency. Back arching, also called kyphosis, can alternatively be described as abdomen tucking, which makes sense, as it often suggests gastrointestinal distress.

However, it is also an extremely common sign of spinal pain. This is especially true if your dog is arching its back and walking off balance, panting, or shaking. The awkward posture apparently lessens the discomfort.

Dog arching back and walking off balance

Dog Arching Back Due to Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain can be caused by anything from a dog simply eating something that doesn’t agree with its system to an obstruction, bloat, toxicity, pancreatitis, parasites, viruses, or even tumors. Most of these possibilities are quite serious.

Fortunately, you should be able to quickly identify gastrointestinal distress, because it will usually be accompanied by other more obvious symptoms of stomach upset, such as vomiting, unproductive retching, diarrhea, constipation, or a visibly distended abdomen.

Dog Arching Back Due to Spinal Pain

On the other hand, if your dog is not exhibiting any of the more obvious gastrointestinal symptoms, it’s more likely that your dog is arching its back due to a spinal problem. Neck and back pain are fairly common in dogs, but there are several possible causes ranging from injury to an array of neurological conditions.

Unfortunately, since spinal pain in dogs is typically not associated with a known traumatic event, it can be harder to recognize.

What Does It Mean When a Dog Is Arching Its Back and Walking Off Balance?

That said, a dog arching its back and walking off balance is a telltale sign of Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). Without question, IVDD is the most prevalent spinal disorder in dogs and one of the most common diseases diagnosed in veterinary neurology. You have probably often heard it referred to as a bulging, herniated, ruptured, or slipped disc.

Intervertebral Disc Disease occurs when the shock-absorbing discs between spinal vertebrae deteriorate. It can happen to any dog as it ages, but obese dogs and chondrodystrophic (short legged) breeds, like Dachshunds and French Bulldogs, are more prone to be affected earlier on in life.

IVDD is treated either medically or surgically depending on its severity. Also dependent on its severity is the prognosis for recovery. IVDD can actually cause permanent spinal cord injury without timely treatment, so it is important to get professional help right away.

Dog arching back

Besides a dog arching its back and walking off balance, other possible symptoms of IVDD are:

  • Lowered head when standing
  • Stiff neck or limbs
  • Reluctant to move
  • Shivering, shaking, or muscle spasms
  • Whining when moved or touched
  • Paw knuckling (dragging paws)
  • Paralysis
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe pain
  • Inability to walk
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence

What to Do if Your Dog Is Arching Its Back and Walking Off Balance

If you notice your dog arching its back and walking off balance, or any of the other warning signs above, immediately limit your dog’s activity to crate rest, and see a veterinary neurologist as soon as possible. In the case of Intervertebral Disc Disease, every hour is critical to your dog’s recovery.

At Southeast Veterinary Neurology, our IVDD experts are ready to comfort you and treat your dog 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Why It’s Important to See a Veterinarian

Both abdominal and spinal pain can indicate serious underlying health conditions in dogs. Prompt identification and treatment allow not only for relief of your dog’s pain, but in many cases, prevention of a disease advancing to a more severe, irreversible, or even fatal state. However, since abdominal and spinal pain can both cause back arching in dogs, they can sometimes be difficult to tell apart.

Only a veterinarian will be able to evaluate your dog thoroughly enough to precisely determine the source of pain. Once the source of your dog’s pain is established, diagnostic exams and imaging should be performed to rule out trauma and illness. Any medical care will include a pain management plan, but depending on the diagnosis, treatment will vary from a period of strict rest to surgical intervention.

So if your dog is arching its back and/or walking off balance, please begin your quest to comfort your canine companion by visiting a veterinarian.

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