Is it normal to feel a dog’s spine? Here’s What to Do Next

I can feel my dog’s backbone. Is that normal?

Usually, yes. If your dog’s spine is easily felt with a thin layer of fat, it’s most likely normal and indicates your dog is at a healthy weight. That being said, if your dog’s backbone protrudes, it may be an indication that your dog is on the thin side (depending on breed and conformation).

For more about your dog’s topline (backbone) as an indication of your dog’s body condition score, please check out my article on three easy steps to body condition scoring your dog. Also, it’s always best to check with your veterinarian if you’re concerned about your dog’s health.

If you notice changes to your dog’s backbone, such as vertebrae suddenly appearing more apparent, this may indicate a health concern. Muscle wasting, nutritional issues, metabolic disorders, certain types of cancers, and osteoarthritis in dogs can all make the backbone more visible.

The health of your dog’s spine

Now that we understand basic dog spine anatomy and what can happen when a dog’s joints deteriorate, let’s take a look at how to keep your dog’s spine healthy.

Is it normal to feel a dog’s spine?

Common Signs of Dog Spine Problems

There are several types of spinal problems in dogs, and symptoms vary depending on the conditions cause and severity. Some of the most common signs are below.

The easiest way to spot a spinal problem in your dog is by paying attention to your pets posture and movements, like rear limb weakness and an indication of pain, and signs of “spinal stroke,” all of which you may notice when the dog has trouble climbing stairs or getting into a car.

The dog may also start to drag their rear legs, often accompanied by tail dropping and hunched back. Other signs include lying down or getting up, unwillingness to move or jump, and limping.

While some dog spine problems can be painless for the dog, mostly they are accompanied by some pain or stiffness in the dog’s back or neck.

When the pain becomes too intense, dogs usually cry out or vocalize their pain in other ways.

Neurological problems related to spine conditions in dogs include loss of balance and coordination, loss of muscle mass and muscle spasms over the dog’s back and neck, and complete muscle atrophy.

In more extreme cases, even the inability to feel pain or paralysis can occur.

Loss of bowel or bladder control, also called incontinence, can be another clear sign of dog spinal problems.

You may notice some changes in your dog’s behavior, such as the dog developing a more anxious behavior and becoming sensitive to movement and even noises, reduced activity level, and decreased appetite.

Rapid breathing and shivering can also suggest spinal problems, and stress levels in the dog can also be observed.

There are many potential causes of these canine spine problems. While some are neurological, others result from inflammation or are caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal infections.

Below are the most common causes of dog spine problems.

Dog spinal disc problems: the initial consult

Spinal problems in dogs are more common than most owners realize. Typically, they take time to develop before the symptoms become apparent and the dogs behavior changes, but it can seriously impact its quality of life.

Below well look at the most common signs of dog spine problems and what you can do to prevent and fix these issues.