It’s upsetting to see your small dog out of sorts, especially if you don’t know the cause of her distress. Dogs can develop pain in their necks or backs for reasons such as disc disease, an injury to the spinal cord or surrounding soft tissue, or an infection.
Posture and Pain
Certain small breeds, such as the Lhasa apso, shih tzu, dachshund and Pekingese, are predisposed to back problems caused by intervertebral disc disease. Your dog’s posture can be a strong indicator if she is suffering from this type of pain. She may stand awkwardly, arch her back or appear hunched over. A dog with back pain may also stretch frequently, trying to relieve the pressure on her back. Some dogs cry or whimper when they are in pain, while others are completely silent. If your dog makes any of these sounds when she moves, take her to the veterinarian to find out whether she has disc disease.
One of the main symptoms of back or neck pain is a general indication that your small dog is not well. She may seem listless and lacking in energy, or may refuse to eat her food. A lack of interest in her favorite activities could also be a symptom of pain, especially if accompanied by another of the common signs. Many small breed dogs are fussy eaters, and if your dog has a reduced appetite, it may not be obvious that there is a specific cause. Evaluate the combination of symptoms to get an idea of whether your dog is showing signs of back or neck pain.
Stiffness and Weakness
Stiffness often accompanies neck and back pain. If your dog seems reluctant to turn her head, or she turns her entire body instead, it may indicate a stiff, sore neck. Small dogs typically run and jump a lot, so stiffness may cause her to move more slowly. Back pain, however, usually appears as paralysis, stiffness or limited movement in the hindquarters. A painful back injury could also cause weakness in the dog’s back legs, and may result in her becoming less active than usual.
Once pain and stiffness affect your dog’s lower back, they can result in her becoming incontinent. She may no longer be able to control her bladder or bowel movements. Apart from old age, incontinence in a dog is usually a sign that the dog is suffering from a medical condition, and if this is caused by back pain, a warm compress on the site of the pain may help to keep her mobile.
Bruising or Bleeding
Physical symptoms such as bruising, bleeding, puncture wounds or lacerations are obvious causes of neck or back pain. Internal damage, for example a twist or sprain, isn’t obvious from looking at the outside of the dog’s body, but if your dog’s back or neck appears sensitive or she complains when you touch her, it could be a result of pain from an injury or illness, such as intervertebral disc disease.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Tracey Sandilands has written professionally since 1990, covering business, home ownership and pets. She holds a professional business management qualification, a bachelor's degree in communications and a diploma in public relations and journalism. Sandilands is the former editor of an international property news portal and an experienced dog breeder and trainer.