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Short legs or long backed? How you can help your dog stay healthy.

A Corgi sitting in the grass with a union jack neck tie

Contrary to popular belief, Corgis, Dachshunds, Bassett Hounds, Swedish Vallhunds and other 'longer looking dogs' do not have long backs. They have the same spinal structure as other dogs of similar length.

However, their short legs place additional strain on their backs during activities like jumping, turning or accessing furniture.

Due to their body proportions, even a simple act like jumping off a sofa can send a shockwave through their forelimbs, shoulders, and entire back, potentially leading to whiplash injuries and chronic pain.

Identifying Signs of Back Pain

Dogs typically exhibit subtle signs of pain and by recognizing these you can intervene early on, speeding up their recovery. For a detailed list of symptoms, you can refer to my blog post at back pain. Here are ten key signs to watch for:

  1. Side-to-side rocking instead of flexing their back while walking

  2. Reduced or shallow stretching compared to their usual range

  3. Hesitation or abrupt dropping to the ground when attempting to lie down

  4. Lack of a full-body shake, from the neck to the end of the tail

  5. Rubbing against hard surfaces or the floor

  6. Sensitivity to touch and reluctance to be handled or groomed

  7. Lagging behind, slowing down, or sniffing excessively during walks

  8. Second-guessing before jumping onto furniture or into the car

  9. Reluctance to use the stairs

  10. Changes in the coat's appearance, such as new flicks, swirls, or colour alterations

Remember, your dog may still engage in activities like playing or chasing squirrels despite experiencing significant back pain. Adrenaline can temporarily mask pain, making it crucial to observe their behaviour at home.

Lifestyle Changes for a Healthy Back

Whether your dog has back pain or not, implementing these five recommendations can make a significant difference:

a laminate floor has been covered with a non slip rug
  1. Use non-slip rugs on hard floors, especially in areas where they change speed or direction.

  2. Control access to stairs and furniture.

  3. Raise feeding and water bowls, ensuring a non-slip surface under your dog.

  4. Provide a bed that is; easy to enter and exit, offers support, and allows full stretching.

  5. Place bedding in a quiet, draft-free location.

Seeking Veterinary Assistance

If you suspect your dog has back pain, it is crucial to visit your vet for a proper diagnosis. They will likely recommend pain medications and, in many cases, a short course of pain relief alongside managed exercise will resolve the pain. Implementing the five lifestyle changes mentioned above and the two exercises below can protect against its recurrence.  

Because of the increased risks of back injuries in these dogs there is an increased risk of Intervetebral Disc Disease (IVDD) which is extremely painful and can lead to paralysis. It is therefore essential to always take back pain seriously and to seek veterinary advice. You can find out more about IVDD on the Canine Massage Guild website.

If your vet gives you the all clear there are options other than (or in addition to) pain medication. There are many complementary therapies that can help – but they all require your vet to consent to their use, so consulting your vet initially is essential.

Complementary Options for Back Pain Support

Several complementary therapies can help alleviate back pain in dogs, including:

  1. Clinical massage, which in clinical trials has been shown to provide visible improvements in dogs' pain levels. Use a Canine Massage Guild therapist to be sure your dog will get this therapy.

  2. Acupuncture, administered by qualified veterinarians who have received additional training.

  3. McTimoney chiropractic treatment to address any back or pelvis asymmetry. You can check if you have a local therapist on their website.

  4. Hydrotherapy to strengthen muscular tissue and support the spine.

  5. Physiotherapy, often incorporating prescribed exercises, as well as mechanical treatments such as laser therapy, and ultrasound.

These options can be combined with each other and with conventional pain relief medications. A mixed approach often yields excellent results.

Prevention is Key

Lastly, in addition to the 5 lifestyle changes already mentioned here are a few exercise ideas to strengthen your dog's back muscles and engage their abdominals, so reducing the risk of future back pain:

  1. Encourage your dog to navigate small obstacles during walks, such as walking over twigs or branches.

  2. Promote exploration by hiding toys or food at different heights and locations, stimulating their brain and enhancing body

I offer clinical massage and core strength training - both of which are incredibly beneficial for all dogs, but particularly those that are at higher risk of injury or pain.


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