Ever catch your dog laying on the floor, back legs extended in an elegant “sploot,” or performing a downward dog that would make a yoga teacher proud and think “why does my dog stretch so much?”
This article will discuss the most common reasons why dogs stretch, when stretching can be an indicator of an underlying health problem, and how to tell the difference…
Reasons why your dog is stretching
1. Stretching is a natural, healthy behavior
Just like us humans, it’s completely normal for dogs to stretch to get their joints moving and help keep themselves mobile and comfortable. You’ve probably noticed that after a rest, your pup performs a “downward dog”-style stretch, with their elbows on the floor and butt up in the air. This is usually accompanied by a wide yawn!
Not only is stretching important for joint flexibility and comfort, but it can also be a form of communication and a response to the surrounding environment. Dogs that feel anxious or threatened, for example, wouldn’t want to lie down or sleep with their legs stretched out behind them. This would leave them vulnerable if they needed to get up and move quickly.
2. Your dog wants to play
When your dog wants to invite another dog, animal, or person to play with them they will perform a type of stretch known as a “play bow.”
During the play bow, your dog will sink onto their elbows with their bottom high up in the air and their tail up. Their face should look relaxed and friendly. Every dog is different and as a result, their play bow may also look slightly different depending on their breed and shape.
3. Your dog is splooting to keep cool
“Splooting” has become a popular term for when your pup lies down on their belly with their back legs stretched out long behind their body. Sometimes one leg might stay tucked up underneath or they might stretch out their leg to the side rather than directly behind them.
This is a natural stretching position for dogs, cats, and even other species like rabbits! Dogs will also tend to “sploot” on surfaces like wet grass or tiles to help cool themselves down in warmer weather.
4. Your dog has an upset stomach
Though stretching is a healthy and natural behavior, your dog may also stretch to help relieve pain or discomfort. One of the most common reasons for this is an upset tummy, which could be caused by anything from eating something they shouldn’t to an infectious disease.
So how do you tell the difference between normal stretching and stretching because your pup is unwell or uncomfortable? In many cases, dogs with upset stomachs (gastrointestinal disease) will also be showing other signs of illness including:
- Reduced appetite
- Diarrhea or straining to defecate
- Whining, yelping, or pain when their abdomen is touched
If your dog is showing any of these signs, it’s best to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Also, remember that every dog is different and sometimes the signs of pain or illness can be difficult for us to see. So if your dog isn’t quite behaving as normal or is stretching more often, it’s better to be safe than sorry and have him checked out by a veterinarian.
5. Your dog has other health concerns such as pancreatitis
In veterinary medicine, a stretch known as the “prayer position” gets our alarm bells ringing for one disease in particular – pancreatitis. The pancreas is an organ located close to the stomach and helps your pup digest their food. When the pancreas becomes inflamed it causes an illness known as pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis can range from mild to severe and can even be deadly, so it’s important to book an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible if you think your dog might be showing signs. Signs of pancreatitis include:
- Reduced appetite
- Painful belly – some dogs will stretch into the “prayer position” sinking on their front legs with their bottom in the air. Their tail is often down and their head lowered, compared to a play bow or regular stretch. They may also whine or cry out in pain.
If your dog is choosing to stretch out in a different position to usual, they could also be compensating for a muscle strain or joint problem. Other signs to look out for with this type of injury include limping, licking at one or multiple joints, struggling to get up or down, or having difficulty jumping. Your vet will be able to perform a thorough orthopedic examination to look for muscle or joint pain and may recommend taking x-rays to help make a diagnosis of the underlying cause.
6. Mating behavior
Like other species, dogs also have their own unique courtship behaviors. An entire male and receptive female may interact playfully with each other, including performing the play bow, before mating.
7. Your dog is communicating with another dog
In dog language, actions speak louder than words, with everything from ear position to tail height sending signals to other people and dogs such as “I’m worried,” “stay away,” or “yes I’d like to be friends.” So body language, including stretching, is an extremely important mode of communication between dogs. A perfect example of this is the “play bow.”
When you should be worried about your dog’s stretching
Stretching is only a concern if your dog is doing it in response to illness or pain—however, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference. The first thing to help you differentiate the two is to look for any other signs that your dog might be unwell. This could be vomiting, diarrhea, pain, poor appetite, lethargy, limping, or changes to their normal behavior.
If your dog has started stretching, lying, or sitting in a different position this could also be a clue that they’re feeling uncomfortable. Or if they’re stretching much more frequently than normal. Remember, if there’s any concern that your pup isn’t quite right, the best thing to do is to book an appointment with your veterinarian.
There are many reasons why dogs stretch and though most of them aren’t any cause for concern, it can be helpful as a pet parent to understand more about our pup’s behavior and body language. This makes it easier to pick up changes early that could be cause for concern, such as changes to stretching positions, or stretching more frequently.