Can Dogs Get Stiff Necks?

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Neck pain is an all too common affliction for many of us in the modern age, with many people working at desks or often using smartphones that force our necks into unnatural positions for long periods of time. This can gradually result in muscle and joint imbalances that cause the neck to become hard to articulate properly and even quite painful if it is left untreated. However, while we humans are having problems, could our furry friends be suffering in silence as well?

Can Dogs Get Stiff Necks?

YES!

A surprisingly high number of dogs suffer from neck and spinal issues that can cause a great amount of stiffness and discomfort. If you are beginning to suspect that your pet is suffering from such a problem, be sure to minimize the amount of physical strain they are being put under and have them examined by a vet as soon as possible.

Does My Dog Have A Stiff Neck?

While a person can simply tell you that they are having problems with neck pain and provide a clear description of the issue for their doctor, you will have to rely on observing a specific set of symptoms in order to realize that your dog having a problem.

The condition will often start as the result of an injury – major or seemingly insignificant at first – and will continue to get worse as time goes on. A stiff neck will often cause trouble with a dog’s whole posture, causing them to sit or lie at odd angles and even walk and run with an unbalanced gait. This is because any slight disturbance of the posterior chain muscles that support the spine can have a knock-on effect on the neck, causing sudden twinges of sharp pain. Additionally, this discomfort may alter the personality of your dog, causing them to become unwilling to be touched or exercise and may even cause them to become aggressive if they are not left in peace. Difficulty chewing and swallowing is also not uncommon among dogs suffering from neck issues. In order to diagnose the dog’s problem, the vet will commonly only need to perform a physical examination of the animal, but more serious underlying damage may require additional tests such as x-rays.

For more information on neck pain in dogs and the ways in which it can present itself, please feel free to read our guide to Neck and Back Pain in Dogs .

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Stiff Neck?

After examining the dog, your vet will be able to tell you the underlying cause for the neck pain, which may be damage to a specific muscle incurred during play or even a broken bone or slipped disk caused by a serious accident. Each condition will have a different treatment method, with muscular issues most often being resolved through some combination of rest, icing, anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid injections to aid recovery. In serious cases, such as major muscular tears or broken bones, it will be necessary to perform surgery to fix the problem. Recovery times obviously vary, but in all but the most severe cases, the dog should be back to normal within the space of a few months. During this period, they will require painkillers and plenty of rest in order to heal properly, with animals that have undergone surgery requiring regular doses of antibiotics in order to avoid infections. To aid their recovery, the dog may require physiotherapy, which will oftentimes be conducted during appointments with a professional physiotherapist but can be conducted at home on a basic level. These exercises will acclimatize the dog to moving naturally again and will help reduce muscular imbalances and other such problems.

For firsthand accounts from owners of dealing with neck pain in dogs and to ask our in-house vets questions, check out our condition guide, Neck and Back Pain in Dogs .

How Are Stiff Necks Similar in Dogs and Humans?

Although there are many differences between the medical care offered to humans and dogs, there are some similarities in the ways that neck and spinal problems can be treated.

  • Commonly, dogs and people may experience the degradation of the cartilage that separates their vertebrae, causing pain. This can be fixed by fusing together the two vertebrae either side of the destroyed cartilage.

  • The majority of stiff neck problems in most animals can be treated with a combination of rest and behavior correction to allow the damaged tissues to heal.

How Are Stiff Necks Different in Dogs and Humans?

Although many animals can require almost identical treatments for issues with neck pain, there are some key differences that you should keep in mind.

  • While humans with neck problems will typically have issues moving their head from side to side, dogs will most often have difficulty craning their neck downwards to interact with objects and eat food.

  • While humans commonly suffer neck pain due to repetitive strain injuries caused by poor working environments and bad recreational habits, dogs will usually become injured while engaging in physical activities.

  • Dogs are able to tolerate much more invasive treatment methods than humans, which makes surgery a far more attractive treatment option. Humans, meanwhile, like to retain as much mobility for as long as possible, putting more of a focus on palliative care.

Case Study

A Labrador retriever starts to develop a slight limp a few days after a trip to the local park. His owner decides to allow him to rest in order to recover, but the issue worsens, with the dog starting to sit oddly as well and have difficulty when bending its neck to eat or look around. The owner takes the dog to their vet and after an examination, it is revealed that the dog has torn a muscle on the side of his neck, which is causing issues with the shoulder as well. To resolve the problem, the vet provides the owner with some anti-inflammatory drugs to mix into the dog’s food and injects a steroid into the damaged muscle. After some weeks of rest and repeated injections, the dog is able to resume a normal amount of physical activity, though the vet advises avoiding strenuous exercises for a few months in order to be safe.