It can be very adorable when animals perform similar behaviors to humans. Stretching is a common one and there’s something about a dog enjoying a good stretch that is always comforting to watch. But why do dogs stretch so much?
Dogs can stretch due to health issues, because it feels good, to alleviate pain, to show submission, or as a mating behavior. Stretching is totally normal and usually nothing to worry about, but always consider your dog’s overall health as excessive stretching could be a warning sign.
We’ll look at the most common reasons dogs may stretch, as well as the common issues that excessive stretching may be signaling. We’ll consider some strategies to help your dog stay healthy and head off common issues that stretching may be masking.
Health Issues That Can Cause Dog Stretching
A dog stretching combined with moving the head upwards are normally signs that you should be paying more attention to their overall canine health. Certain dog breeds suffer from breathing issues, congestion and narrow airways that they try to alleviate by moving their head.
If you notice your dog constantly moving their head up, sniffing and sneezing and taking deep breaths, this could be the sign of several serious conditions including congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and pleural effusion.
Unless you notice your dog looking like they’re in pain when they stretch, there’s nothing wrong with your dog stretching multiple times a day.
In particular, if you notice they continually stretch the same part of their body over a sustained period, this could be the sign of illness or muscle issues such as a strain.
Other symptoms such as diarrhea, bleeding, vomiting, pain or other common signs of illness in conjunction with the stretching are the times you should be paying close attention to excessive stretching.
If your dog has recently gone onto medications containing ibuprofen, they may cause ulcers. As they are internal, your dog will likely try and stretch to help with the pain. In a similar vein, inflammatory bowel disease causes pain that a downward dog stretch may help with.
Before giving any medications to your dog for pain, consult with your vet to see what pain meds you can safely give your dog. There are a variety of prescription meds, natural remedies, and therapies that can be effective, but they must be suitable for your individual dog and their specific issues.
Reasons for Stretching
Stretching is best thought of as the specific area that is being stretched rather than the mere act of stretching.
The most common stretch you’ll see dogs doing is a prayer bow, front legs down and chest towards the floor while keeping their rear end up.
A prayer bow will stretch across their stomach, abdominal and to a lesser extent their shoulders. Attempted stretching out of the alimentary canal and other parts of the digestive system may suggest the dog having discomfort with food or other conditions.
Although this may range in seriousness, unless you notice other symptoms it’s unlikely every stretch your dog does is a surefire sign of serious disease. Constant stretching to relieve pressure or pain in the abdomen could be linked to swelling including pancreatitis.
Bloat, or gastric dilation, causes pressure on the stomach which prompts a dog to stretch. If you have a large or barrel-chested dog, such as German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Greyhound, Great Dane, Labrador or Golden Retriever, keep an eye on your dog’s belly as these breeds have a greater propensity for bloat. Keep in mind, however, that any dog can develop bloat.
Excessive swelling or bulging combined with stretching and low appetite could be a sign of bloat. If your dog is sporting a larger than normal belly that causes them discomfort and they avoid laying on it or allowing you to touch it, you should contact your vet immediately. Bloat is a serious and potentially fatal condition that needs to be addressed immediately.
Acid reflux or vomiting also signal digestive or stomach issues. Keep in mind that dogs will vomit occasionally, especially if they eat their food too quickly, and this isn’t always a serious issue. But if vomiting persists for more than a day, call your vet.
Pancreatitis is another illness that may cause a dog to stretch in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort it can cause. The symptoms of pancreatitis are similar to bloat, and if you observe them, a vet should see your dog immediately.
Other common reasons to stretch are the same between humans and dogs; they have been lying down in the same position for too long and need to stretch out.
Just like us, dogs get stiff or cramped muscles, strains, and other basic muscular discomforts that they instinctively try to stretch out.
Other common causes for stretching can be part of a mating routine. If your dog is in heat or there are other sexual partners around, this could be a clear sign of increased sexual actiivity.
Dogs that haven’t been neutered are much more likely to engage in this behavior.
Stress causes all kinds of issues in dogs just like it does humans. As stretching is a way for a dog to relax, if you suddenly notice an increase in stretching behavior, consider other environmental changes or factors that are contributing to the increase in stress.
Some of the most common triggers in this instance are new members to the household, including new pets or the addition of a brand new baby. Stress reduction normally involves giving your pooch a quiet place to lie down and relax where they aren’t disturbed.
Stretching As a Way To Burn Energy
Little to no exercise can make your dog bursting with energy and they need to get rid of it. If you’ve ever spent time around working dogs like a border collie, german shepherd or blue heeler, these dogs need a solid hour of exercise a day to stay healthy and happy.
Without enough exercise, dogs will even get sore muscles and in turn they might start stretching to counter muscle pain.
Plan ahead with the goal in mind to give your dog a solid 30 minutes to hour walk a day. Early walks get can both you and your dog awake for the day so that you can get on with everything else.
If your dog naturally loves to fetch, use nearby hills or slopes to increase the difficulty of the chase. Too much running down hills can be bad for their joints in the long term however.
Puzzle toys are a great way to keep your dog occupied as well as getting their brain engaged and some light physical activity all in the one fun package. The JZXOIVA Dog Treat Ball can be filled with a treat of your choice and be rolled around to get them out one by one.
If your dog is older, you may consider hydrotherapy as a form of exercise. Swimming is a great low impact exercise that can be a great complement to a diet meant to help with aging joints or arthritis pains.
If you notice swelling around knees, hips, ankles, and paws you should bring up hydrotherapy as an alternative with your vet at your next checkup.
Body Position and Temperature Considerations
Dogs will take up certain positions that are perfectly normal canine behavior. One is a cooling posture also known as splooting. It is recognizable by the features of exposing the belly to the cool floor.
Splooting is when a dog lies completely flat and stretches its belly on the floor. This is also a common behavior for longer legged breeds. This will even manifest in dogs digging holes in the cool dirt during summer months, getting maximum coolness transfer to the dog.
The prayer bow stretch is also a common relaxation pose. When combined with a wagging tail and eye contact, this can be a signal your dog is wanting to play or have interactions with you.
It is a posture that demonstrates they are in a low aggression mood and are looking to engage in playful behavior.
Rear Legs Extended
Another common stretch can be to stretch their back legs and then move using the front legs. This can seem unsettling as their back legs will be almost entirely limp, but it is normal stretching behavior.
Dogs are remarkably diligent about caring for their body through stretching. Most dogs will stretch when they first get up from sleeping or before a walk when they are anticipating the exercise. It is perfectly normal and very healthy — humans could learn a thing or two from their dog’s stretching habits.
But sometimes a dog will stretch in new and different manners, which can possibly suggest discomfort. This discomfort can be a result of a mild strain or something more serious that needs to be attended to immediately. As always, consult your vet if you are ever unsure.