Is Your Dog Stretching a Lot? Reasons Why and When To Worry

min read

A healthy German Shepherd lays outside with its owner, alert to something out of view

Find food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a dog food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a cat food that fits your pet’s needs

The vast majority of the time, stretching is a totally normal and largely beneficial activity for dogs to do. There are several reasons they might stretch every day, and often lots of times. That said, in some cases stretching can be a sign of problems, and in rare cases it can be a sign of potentially life-threatening illness. So, you can see that it’s important to know when it’s good, when it’s something to keep an eye on, and when it’s an emergency.

Why do dogs stretch?

Virtually all animals, humans included, feel the urge to stretch our muscles at certain times. It feels great and often it’s almost a reflex action that we do with a big yawn. Well, dogs are the same. Here are the major reasons dogs stretch:

  • After lying down. Most dogs will have a nice, big stretch after they’ve been asleep or laid down for a while. This is a normal way to loosen muscles and get moving again. They may do it before bed, too.

  • The play bow. This is a signature move that dogs do that looks like a big stretch. It’s a way that dogs signal to each other that they’d like to play. The play bow is as it sounds - rump in the air, they flatten their front end to the floor with front legs stretched out in front. If the other dog replies similarly, let the games commence!


  • Boredom. When dogs are bored or under-stimulated, stretching may be a kind of displacement activity. This kind of stretching may be accompanied by attention-seeking behaviour like nudging you or putting their head on your lap expectantly. It’s time to get active with them. Even if you can’t take them for a walk, try to play a game in the house or garden or do a little training. Any mental or physical stimulation is good.

  • A pulled muscle or joint pain. Just like us, if your dog has pulled a muscle or is feeling stiff, they will stretch the affected area to try to loosen up and alleviate the pain. If you notice a certain area or limb being stretched more than usual, or your dog seems a little lame as they get moving, it may be a sign of arthritis or joint pain and a vet visit would be in order.


  • Abdominal pain. This is where stretching becomes incredibly important. Dogs with abdominal pain tend to stretch in a way that closely mimics the play bow - rump up, front end down, flat on the floor. The big difference is that they’ll do it when no other dogs are around, and they will often stay much longer than usual in this position. They may also cry in pain or shy away from being stroked or touched. Stretching or arching the back into a tucked-up posture may also be a sign of abdominal pain.

Abdominal pain is an incredibly important stretching cause to watch out for as it can be a sign of acute pancreatitis. This is a potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas and is incredibly painful. Pancreatitis in dogs is often caused by a fatty meal, or after they’ve raided something out of the bin, but doesn’t always follow an obvious incident. Some breeds of dog, such as the cocker spaniel and schnauzer, are more prone to pancreatitis than others.

This really is a veterinary emergency, so if you ever suspect abdominal pain as the cause of your dog’s excessive stretching, seek veterinary attention as soon as you can. Every minute counts when it comes to pancreatitis.

Know what’s normal

It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to know what’s normal for your dog. The more observant you are to their daily behaviours, routines and quirks of personality, the sooner you will spot something odd and be able to act quickly. As ever, if you have any concerns at all, never hesitate to ask your vet. We would always rather be safe than sorry and after all, that’s what we are here for!

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA