Why Does My Dog Sleep On Its Back?

It’s cute to us people, but dogs sleeping on their backs isn’t always the innocent act that it can appear. For the vast majority of dogs who sleep on their back, there’s a physical problem that’s causing them to make that choice.

Why do dogs sleep on their back? In my 20+ years of experience as a veterinarian, I’ve found the causes to be:

  • It Makes Breathing Easier
  • It’s Less Painful
  • They Just Like It

Sleeping On Their Back Makes It Easier To Breathe

For dogs that are brachycephalic, their lives can be a constant struggle just to breathe. From a narrowed, more restrictive nasal passage to a bunch of extra flappy tissue (soft palate elongation, everted laryngeal tonsils ) partially blocking the larynx at all times, these guys have a hard time getting air from the outside of their body down into their lungs.

Lying upside down will utilize gravity to get the soft palate (which is on the roof of the mouth) to fall “upwards” away from the larynx. Note that this works for upper airway obstruction only. A dog with lung issues (associated with bronchitis or congestive heart failure) won’t like being on their back as that puts more pressure on their lungs.

What can make this worse is if the dog is also overweight. Fat accumulates almost everywhere in a dog, including their neck. Unfortunately many brachycephalic dogs tend to become overweight as they age because it’s so easy to overfeed them.

You should see a waist that’s smaller than the chest.

Overweight Pug – See How Big The Belly Is?

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Doing This?

There are certain breeds that commonly do this: English Bulldogs, Pugs, French Bulldogs, and honestly any overweight brachycephalic breed.

Typically if they make a lot of noise when they sleep (perhaps there’s a lot of snoring), then they are more likely to sleep on their back then the average dog.

It’s Less Painful To Sleep On Their Back

This is the one reason that pet owners seem to not understand. I have two dogs at home with severe hip dysplasia and I can tell when their hips are hurting them because they sleep upside down. Doing so takes pressure off the lower back and hip joints and allows them to sleep more comfortably.

As dogs age and they also get a bit weaker, they may start sleeping on their back up against a wall or the side of the couch. This takes even more pressure off of their joints.

My Dog, Bailey, Has Advanced Arthritis In Her Hips Due To Hip Dysplasia

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is That Painful?

There are some signs that owners may not be aware of when trying to assess if their dog has “hidden” hip pain:

  • Lack of muscules along the backs of the rear legs (the hamstring areas)
  • Have your dog stand on all four feet and then pick up a front leg and don’t let them put their weight on you. Do their other legs shake as if they’re having a hard time standing up? That’s rear leg weakness.
  • Dogs with painful hips are usually sore and tender to the touch right in front of their hips (the hip flexors). Know where those “love handles” are? Is your dog sensitive there?

They Just Like To Sleep On Their Back

Some dogs just find it comfortable and it’s not because they need to. They just like to spread out. Maybe they like to air out their belly. Perhaps they’re naturally always looking for that next belly rub.

They can also be hot and the less-haired belly area is a great heat exchange opportunity.

In Conclusion

Dogs that sleep on their back usually are doing so because of some sort of physical issue. Talk to your veterinarian to see if your dog needs to lose weight or find ways to help with any hip or back pain that they may have.