If your dog has been stretching their neck a lot, you may be wondering if something is wrong with them.
Excessive neck stretching can be a sign of an underlying health condition, pain, or a lack of exercise. However, your dog may also just like to stretch their neck!
Let’s look at the possible reasons your dog keeps stretching their neck.
Possible Health Problems
Some neck stretching is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your dog excessively stretches their neck, there may be an underlying health problem that calls for a vet visit.
Neck stretching is usually one of the first symptoms of a health problem, so look out for other odd behavior in conjunction with frequent stretching. When in doubt, it’s best to check with a vet, whether via a phone call or an in-person appointment.
When a dog’s stomach fills with gas, food, or liquid, it can twist and flip. This condition is canine bloat or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV). Canine bloat is always an emergency, as it can happen suddenly and progress rapidly.
The bloating often causes abdominal pain in your dog, causing them to stretch their neck repeatedly to try and dull the pain. Dog panting or dry-heaving often accompanies the stretching.
Another serious health problem is pancreatitis. If your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed, it can start to digest itself. The dog will experience sharp pain in their abdomen and sometimes stretch their neck far back to stop the pain.
Excessive neck stretching is one of the first signs of pancreatitis. If they’re also acting weak or feverish, take them to the vet immediately.
Pancreatitis can be either acute or chronic. If chronic, you will need to learn to recognize the signs of flareups and do your best to try to make your dog comfortable.
Dysphagia is when your dog has difficulty swallowing. Like when you need to swallow a large pill, the dog tilts its head back to try and pass the food or liquid more efficiently. If your dog stretches its neck during or after eating and drinking, they likely have dysphagia.
This condition can be mild or severe. It can go away on its own, but if it doesn’t get better after a few days, it may require medical intervention. Food or fluid may be in their throat or esophagus.
Lesions or Tumors
If your dog struggles to swallow and excessively stretches, it could be more than mild dysphagia. Lesions and tumors can grow in the esophagus, causing issues with swallowing.
You’ll need to take your pet to the vet to determine if there is a lesion or tumor in their digestive system. But you can try to gently feel around your dog’s neck to see if you feel any lumps or abnormalities.
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure is a severe health condition. It typically affects dogs when they’re older, but dogs of any age can develop it if it is in their genetics. It can cause difficulty breathing, resulting in excessive neck stretching as the dog tries to open their airway.
If your dog frequently stretches their neck and keeps their head back, they may be trying to breathe. Additional symptoms to look out for are unusual fatigue, coughing, and refusal to exercise.
Pneumonia or Respiratory Illness
Pneumonia causes a tightness in the chest of humans and dogs. If you notice they continuously stretch their neck while trying to take deep breaths, they may have pneumonia or a similar respiratory illness, such as bronchitis.
Dogs will often take deep sighs. If you notice your dog seems uncomfortable when doing this and stretches, it’s advisable to take them to a vet for an exam.
Potential Sources of Pain
Aside from health conditions, your dog may be experiencing some pain or discomfort due to an injury or poor habit.
Throat or Esophagus Pain
As mentioned, neck stretching could indicate that your dog’s throat or esophagus hurts. It could be something simple, like a sore throat from the weather or from eating something unpleasant. Dogs can also get heartburn, where bile rises in their esophagus, causing discomfort.
If you think your dog has throat or esophagus pain, try to look down its throat with a flashlight and ensure no sticks, toy parts, or other foreign objects are causing the pain. Encourage them to drink water and monitor them for other symptoms that may indicate a health condition.
If your dog twisted their neck or pulled a muscle, they may be stretching to try and ease the pain and work out the tension. Dogs can pull muscles and tweak parts of their body as humans can. If your dog doesn’t seem to be in pain, this problem will likely go away on its own.
A chest injury could mean your dog suffered blunt force trauma to their chest region. Even if they look fine externally, there may be internal damage.
A dog with a chest injury will likely have trouble sleeping and getting comfortable, as laying on its stomach or back can both be unpleasant and painful.
Joint and Muscle Pain
As dogs get older, they may experience natural joint and muscle pain. They may stretch their neck and body more often to relieve this pain.
If your dog is young and stretching too often or exhibiting other signs of joint and muscle pain, they may be developing early arthritis or a similar condition.
Energetic and athletic dogs need exercise to be happy and healthy. Otherwise, their limbs can feel stiff, leading to more stretching.
If you have a large dog with an athletic build, ensure they get a minimum of one hour of mild exercise, like walking, or 30 minutes of intense exercise, like running.
Innocuous Reasons for Stretching
All the reasons for neck stretching discussed above are problematic and frequently worth scheduling a veterinarian appointment. But there are also some harmless reasons your pup may stretch!
A Loving Glance
The most innocuous and adorable reason for your dog’s neck stretch is that they’re craning to look at their beloved owner. Humans tower over dogs, so they have to look up to make eye contact and assess our facial expressions, which they’re surprisingly adept at!
If you stand behind your dog and they stretch their neck up at you, they likely just wanted to do a visual check-in. They may also want pets, so give them a little head rub to satiate them.
Dogs tend to stretch a lot, so it’s not unusual for your dog to periodically stretch their neck throughout the day. If your dog was relaxing on the couch for a while, they may need to stretch their limbs and neck. Some stretching shouldn’t be concerning!
They also may stretch when they think they’re about to go for a walk or play outside, like how a jogger stretches before a run.
Usually, the play bow is when your dog puts its rear in the air and front close to the ground. But some dogs may incorporate a neck stretch into their play bow!
If your dog often does a neck stretch when they’re in a playful, energetic mood, it’s likely just part of their silly antics to get you or another dog to play with them.
Humans often wake from a restful night’s sleep and stretch their arms and back. When people sleep, they stay in the same position for hours, so it’s natural to stretch your muscles when you wake up. The same goes for dogs!
Dogs sleep roughly 14 hours a day, so they’ll often stretch whenever they wake up from a nap or have been curled up in one spot for a while. A morning stretch is often a deep bow followed by a neck stretch.
Sniffing the Air
If your dog gets a big whiff of something, they may stretch its neck up into the air to try and identify the smell. Smell is a dog’s primary sense, so they may stretch up to get a smell the same way a person may crane their neck to get a better look at something.
When your puppy does this exaggerated stretch, pay attention to its nose and nostrils. If the nostrils are flaring and the nose is twitching, they’re likely just enjoying a captivating scent nearby.
Compulsive behavior sounds serious, but it usually isn’t. Dogs develop compulsive habits and OCD like humans do! You may play with your hair or bite your nails, and your dog may stretch their neck upward or smack its lips.
This compulsive behavior is “stargazing,” an endearing term for your dog’s funny habit. These little compulsions are usually no cause for alarm. But if it seems like your dog can’t stop stretching their neck like this, it could be a mental or developmental issue, especially if they’re still a puppy.
Your dog may be stretching their neck often for many reasons, ranging from an illness to a harmless habit.
Something is likely bothering them if you’ve had your dog for years and they’ve never exhibited this behavior.
The best way to determine the cause of neck stretching is to monitor your dog’s behavior, note when, how, and the frequency of the stretching, and then take them to the vet if you deem it necessary.