If you’ve spent any time at all petting your Labrador’s head, you’ve probably noticed that it has a prominent bump near the back of its head. Although all dogs have one of these bumps, it is particularly noticeable on Labradors.
Why do Labradors have a bump on their head? Labradors have a bump on their head because of a bone called the occiput, which is Latin for “back of the skull”. This bone protrudes from a Labrador’s head and exists primarily to protect the Labrador’s skull and brain.
While it might just seem like a boring bump on the back of your Labrador’s head, the occiput is actually pretty fascinating in regards to the evolution of dogs, mythological history, and therapeutic massage.
If you’d like to learn everything there is to know about this weird, interesting skull bone on your Labrador’s head, read on.
Why does the occiput exist?
Scientists and veterinarians have argued about the purpose of the occiput for quite some time. However, most agree that the main purpose of the occiput is to protect a dog’s brain and skill from predators or attacks by other dogs.
They also believe the occiput exists to help with the movement of the dog’s head relative to their spine, but this purpose is secondary to that of protection.
The main protective measure provided by the occiput is that it makes it harder for the jaws of a predator or rival dog to damage or crush the skull. This might seem like a morbid thought ‒ after all, who would ever want to hurt your lovable Labrador like that?
It’s important to remember that the ancestors of your Labrador didn’t live in the relatively safe world we exist in today. Nature can be cruel and vicious, and animals trying to survive in the wild need every single protective measure they can get.
This apparently includes the crush resistance provided by the occiput, as the process of evolution has given each and every dog on the planet one of these protruding skull bones.
Can the occiput be too big?
While an exceptionally prominent occiput might indicate your Labrador is better equipped for life in the wild than other dogs with smaller head bumps, it could also be indicative of a serious health problem. If your Labrador’s occiput seems to get bigger or become more exposed, a trip to the vet is in order.
Your pup could be suffering from a medical condition called masticatory myositis, which occurs when the immune system attacks the muscle fibers in the jaw. A more prominent occiput is indicative of this disease because dogs with masticatory myositis experience a loss of muscle mass all around the head area.
Because the occiput is a bone typically surrounded by muscle, a loss of muscle mass will “deflate” the typically muscular area around the occiput, thus making it appear larger.
While masticatory myositis isn’t usually fatal, the recovery process is harsh and long. Most dogs diagnosed with this will need to take prednisone for 4 to 6 months, and the feeding of liquid food is usually necessary during this time.
Your dog will also be extremely uncomfortable, as opening the jaw to do anything (eating, barking, licking, etc.) will be considerably painful.
The history of the occiput
Before science figured out the occiput developed to protect the skull, many people thought a large occiput meant their dog was exceptionally smart or wise.
This myth was seemingly supported by the fact that certain dog breeds that are typically seen as “smarter” ‒ Labradors and hounds, for example ‒ have larger occiputs than other dogs.
Its prominence in the hound also led some people to believe a larger occiput meant a dog would have a better sense of sell.
Because of these beliefs, the occiput has had many nicknames in the past ‒ “brain bump”, “knowledge bump”, and “smart bump” were all rather popular.
Although stories like this are cute, I want to make something clear: there is absolutely no evidence that a larger occiput has anything to do with being smarter or having a better sense of smell. The fact that these particular breeds have larger bumps on their heads appears to be purely coincidental.
How massaging the occiput can calm your dog
Although the occiput exists for protection, it also has several key nerve endings, some of which deal with the fight or flight response that is all too present in Labradors and other dogs. Thanks to the ingenuity of humans, the existence of these nerve endings have given the occiput a new purpose: therapeutic massages
If you have a Labrador that is particularly anxious, rambunctious, or aggressive, a focused massage around the base of the occiput might help them calm down when they get too worked up.
An occiput massage is pretty straightforward, but here’s a step-by-step guide to help you give one:
- Get your dog into a calm and relaxed state. This might be impossible to do in the moment, so you may need to wait until they’re tired and more receptive to pets and scratches.
- Locate your dog’s occiput. It should be easily visible near the back of their head. If it isn’t, feel around with your hands until you feel a small bump protruding from the back of their skull.
- Using your forefingers and thumbs, place some gentle pressure at the base of the bump.
- Slowly work your way around the occiput to the other side. When your fingers meet, work your way back down.
- Repeat for as long as you feel like massaging your dog. You can also add in some ear scratches and neck massages if you really want to relax them.
The occiput is also a common spot for dog acupuncturists to target. If massaging the bump on your dog’s head isn’t providing the calming response you were looking for, seeking out a dog acupuncturist and asking them to do some work on the occiput is also an option.
Other weird facts about your Labrador’s body
The occiput isn’t the only weird thing about your Labrador’s body. Here are a few more body parts and processes that might make you scratch your head and think deeply about why evolution left your dog with these features.
Perirenal fat pad
The perirenal fat pad consists of two oddly-shaped lumps on either side of your dog’s spine. Located just behind the rib cage, many dog owners understandably mistake these for tumors ‒ and then start to freak out until their veterinarian (or a quick Google search) calms their fears.
If you dog has ever started snorting uncontrollably, they were doing something called reverse sneezing. It looks pretty weird ‒ and a bit concerning ‒ but all that’s happening is that nasal drainage is entering the back of your dog’s throat.
This is usually mild and not at all a cause for concern, but frequent episodes might warrant a vet visit.
That bluish, hazy look typically seen in the eyes of older dogs is a phenomenon called lenticular sclerosis. Although it can be understandably concerning to owners, it’s a pretty normal part of the aging process. It occurs when the fibers in the eye lens become thick and stiff over time.
Some dogs have an odd patch of rough skin on their elbow. These are known as elbow calluses, and they’re another weird thing that can happen to your dog.
These typically form when your dog consistently lays on hard floors. The body forms a hairless callus to provide some protection for the elbow, which is a particularly fragile part of a dog’s body.
One of the funniest things your Labrador can do is run in its sleep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up and started laughing because my pup has been running sideways on the bed, chasing something that doesn’t exist.
Sleep running occurs because of something called R.E.M. sleep disorder, which occurs when the dreaming brain forces muscles to fire in real life that the dog is using in the dream.