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What is Hemivertebra ?

Hemivertebra in dogs is a congenital condition where your dog has one or more vertebrae that are deformed; the vertebra may be fused or wedge-shaped leading to twisting in the spine. While each vertebra will usually look like a spool when looked at from the side, when a dog has a hemivertebra it will look like a wedge or a triangle. 

The condition may or may not cause issues for the dog; it will depend upon the part of the spinal column that is impacted, whether the spinal cord is being compressed or if the condition causes a weak place in the spinal column. Should your dog experience compression on his spinal cord, he may experience pain, weakness, or be unable to walk. In these cases, surgery will likely be necessary.

If your dog is experiencing hemivertebra of the tail it will not be an issue. Should it be present in other parts of his spine it can lead to your dog experiencing significant problems.

A congenital condition, hemivertebra leads to a fusing or twisting in the dog’s spine. While some may not experience symptoms as a result, others may experience pain, weakness or the inability to walk.

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Symptoms of Hemivertebra in Dogs

The symptoms that your dog experiences as a result of hemivertebra are dependent upon which vertebrae and how many, are deformed. 

When hemivertebra is present in your dog’s tail, it typically is not an issue. When it is in his spine it can lead to serious problems. The deformity of the vertebrae will lead to a twisting of the spine which can compress your dog’s spinal cord. Should this occur, you may see the following:

  • Weakness in his hind limbs
  • Urinary and/or fecal incontinence
  • Pain

The symptoms your dog experiences will worsen as he grows, leveling off at around nine months of age when his spine stops growing.


Hemivertebra can be minor, where only one or two vertebrae have the deformity and the dog does not experience any clinical signs. In some cases, the dog will experience minor symptoms; in other cases, the condition will significantly impact the dog’s ability to function.

Causes of Hemivertebra in Dogs

Hemivertebra is a congenital condition. Breeds that have been bred specifically to have “screw tails” (English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Pug, Boston Terrier) are susceptible to the condition. German Shorthair Pointers and German Shepherds can experience this condition as a result of inheriting an autosomal recessive trait. It is not known how the condition is inherited in other breeds.

Diagnosis of Hemivertebra in Dogs

Should your dog not be experiencing symptoms as a result of hemivertebra, the condition may only be discovered when he is having x-rays for another reason. If you are noticing any pain or weakness in your dog, or if he is unable to walk, your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination and will likely then have x-rays done. Special x-ray techniques like myelograms can be used to show any compression of the spine occurring as a result of the hemivertebra. CT scans and MRIs are other ways to determine if the spinal cord is being compressed.

Treatment of Hemivertebra in Dogs

Treatment will not be necessary unless your dog is experiencing spinal cord compression as a result of hemivertebra. Should the impact on your dog be minimal, rest and anti-inflammatories may be sufficient treatment. If the compression is more significant, surgery is usually necessary to resolve the compression being experienced. The surgical procedure is called a hemilaminectomy, which is when the material of the disc that is pressing against the spinal cord is removed. The spine will then be stabilized.

Recovery of Hemivertebra in Dogs

Your dog’s recovery from hemivertebra will depend upon how severe his condition is. Some dogs just have one or two vertebrae that are abnormal and will experience no clinical signs, while others will have many abnormal vertebrae which will lead to severe symptoms. Should your dog require surgery, it is usually successful and in the majority of cases, the dog will regain the ability to walk. 

It is important that you work closely with your veterinarian regarding your dog’s recovery from surgical treatment. You will want to attend follow up appointments as recommended so that your veterinarian can check on your dog’s progress and make any changes to his treatment as necessary.

Hemivertebra Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Alaskan Malamute
Five Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Spinal Hump
Wobbly rear gait

I have a 5 month old malamute husky mix, she has several issues that may be due to possible inbreeding or trauma at a young age. I obtained her through that old terrible source Craigslist so her history before I acquired her is unknown. She has a spinal problem that appears to be compressing her spinal column according to her x-rays. There is one vertebrae that is v like in shape. It creates a noticeable hump in the spine as well. My vet has passed her information on to a neurological center in phoenix to see what may be done as well as a video of her walking, she has slight paralysis/weakness in her back legs where she can run and walk but the rear hips fall easily when she turns or gets tired. She does not exhibit any incontinence or pain and likes to have that area of spine scratched. I am really just looking to see if anyone may have any idea what the treatment may be or if treatment would even be possible since my vet was unsure of what could be do to relieve it. The reason I believe improper breeding could be an issue is due to her having a noticeable overbite where her lower jaw sticks out roughly a 1/4", it does not effect her eating or soft palate, she is also small for her age at 31 pounds per my current vet.

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1808 Recommendations
There are treatment options for hemivertebrae which may include both medical or surgical approaches; a procedure called a hemilaminectomy may be performed by a Board Certified Specialist which will relieve any pressure on the spinal cord allowing for better movement. A decision on whether to take a medical approach or a surgical approach would be dependent on your Veterinarian and the Specialist based on the x-ray findings. Surgery isn’t cheap and may run to $5,000 in some instances but remember pricing is on a case by case basis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Staffordshire Bull Terrier
8 Weeks
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Wobbly back legs
Bunny hops
Sore bum
cant control bladder
Cant control bladder
Swollen belly

i have a puppy aged 8 weeks and since 3 wks he couldn't walk ...he now can but is quite wobbly on his hind legs and is tail is always down and he never wags...He is also has incontinence he pees and poops without any control. i'm worried it might be a spinal problem. I have took him to the vets but they keep trying to prescribe me pancur worming tablets, but i give him drontal liquid for puppies i think the fact that he looks swollen the vet suspects worms, but i know he hasn't. He is extremely sore around his bum. The puppy is a Staffordshire bull terrier and is hereditary clear of cataracts and hip dysplasia.

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1808 Recommendations

With the description you have given I would be suspecting a spinal issue especially with the spinal posture and the bunny hopping as well; two simple x-rays would tell if there were any spinal abnormalities which would also rule out a possible cause in your mind. Swollen tummies on puppies may cause arcing of the back and changes to a dog’s gait; without examining Brown, I cannot say what the cause is. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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