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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.

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.

Types

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hemivertebra Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Paddy

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French Bulldog

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8 Weeks

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Bunny Hops

I am looking to purchase a French Bulldog, he is a dwarf being 8 wks and 2 lbs... will probably only get to be 10 lbs in full adult life. He has no visible tail. On the health certificate, it states "5 coccyx vertabae (tail) are present. There are thoracic hemi vertabrae." I have the xrays that show the tail inside. He has a "wide based stance and bunny hops with rear legs, slight ataxia (stumbling). Could this cause serious issues in the future? I want to know what I'm getting myself into. Any information/help would be appreciated.

May 29, 2018

Paddy's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

The problem with hemivertebrae is that the severity of the condition may increase as a dog grows which may cause further symptoms, pain and complications; each case is different and from the x-rays you cannot tell how severe it is going to be. I would pass on this pup based on the information presented. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.ufaw.org.uk/dogs/french-bulldog-hemivertebrae

May 30, 2018

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Baby

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Border Collie

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1 Day

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Kinked Tail

My registered, purebred Border Collie just had a litter of pups this morning. One has a kinked tail about partway down the tail - had it at birth.There may even be a second "kink" farther down the tail.Are hemivertebrae the only cause of kinked tails? It is so odd since it is not known to affect this breed.

May 9, 2018

Baby's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Hemivertebrae occurs in certain breeds (Bulldogs, Pugs etc…) and isn’t an issue in Border Collies; there are other possible causes including developmental abnormalities, trauma among other causes. I would keep an eye on the pup to see if any other symptoms present but you should get Baby checked out by your Veterinarian at some point especially if it is causing some pain. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 10, 2018

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Batfink

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Pug

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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Incontinence

Hi there my pug Batfink has been diagnosed with Hemivertebra when he was 5months old. He’s now 3 years. His spine is mis shapen in 3 places and the specialist vet advised against surgery as his condition is so severe. He’s a very happy dog and still plays with my other pugs and goes to the park everyday, just walks differently to the others and can’t jump. He has no control over his bowels and urine when he’s excited so wears a nappy at times but generally is toilet trained. Since the winter started end of last year though he kept stopping a lot in the park so he’s been out in a stroller, he will now walk for about 20 minutes out of the hour and the rest in the stroller which he loves. I’m just after any information on the long term diagnosis as I can’t find any information. I asked the specialist when he was 5 months if he would make it to an old dog and I was told no but they couldn’t give me anymore information at the time. I’m thinking of getting him a doggy wheel chair if he’s not up for walking once the weather gets better

March 18, 2018

Batfink's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your email. WIthout knowing more about his condition, i unfortunately cannot comment on his condition. You seem to be doing a great job taking care of him, and whether he would benefit from a cart might be a great question for your veteirnarian. I hope that all goes well for him.

March 19, 2018

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Snoopy

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Boston Terrier

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10 Weeks

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

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Hips Sway

I just got my first pure breed puppy last week. hes a 10 week old boston terrier. he is very playful. he jumps on my other dog, plays and runs with other dogs. but everyone thats seen him has said he walks a little funny.when he walks his back hips seem to sway a little bit. at first i just ignored it but the more i looked at him walk the more concerned i got. i looked up common diseases that bostons get and a lot of things showed up that would affect his back legs. but like i said he seems like hes not in pain but it does worry me a little.

March 18, 2018

Snoopy's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

There are many causes for back and hip issues especially in pure breed puppies; even though Snoopy isn’t showing any symptoms, you should have your Veterinarian take a closer look at your next vaccination visit and possibly have an x-ray done to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

March 18, 2018

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Winston

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French Bulldog

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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Back Legs Not Working

Hi there, our 6 year old French Bulldog developed issues with his back legs around a year ago months ago, they are gradually getting worse. He can no longer jump, has trouble with the doggy door, when we walk him his toes do not flip back horizontally quickly enough so he ends up wearing down his toenails (we're using booties now). His back legs seem to be a few seconds behind his front legs when he changes direction and on smooth surfaces such as the tiles kitchen floor, his back legs will do the splits if he is standing still. He also cannot control his bowels however, urination does not seem to be an issue. He does not appear to be in any pain, energy level and eating habits, general engagement with life is all unaffected. Our vet does not know what is causing it and referred us to a specialist who said it could be a number of things. We would welcome your opinion.

Jan. 26, 2018

Winston's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your email. Without examining Winston, I'm unable to shed much light on his situation, but I am sorry that he is having these problems. French Bulldogs are sometimes affected by nerve disorders, sadly, but he could also be having spinal problems. Since you have seen a specialist, it would be best to ask their opinion on what the next best test might be to determine what might be causing these signs, and any available treatment options that might be available to help him. I hope that you are able to find a solution for him.

Jan. 26, 2018

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Max

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French Bulldog

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10 Months

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Moderate severity

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Pain When Lifted

Hello, My 10 month old French Bulldog recently started showing signs of Hemivertebrae. It started 3 nights ago. He started acting lethargic, did not have an appetite and refused to drink water. I took him to the vet, they ran some tests, took an X-ray and found Hemivertebrae near his spine. Max is having trouble walking and when touched you can feel him trembling. Based on the xrays, the vet suggested he should take a few medications(Prednisolone, Gabapentin, and robaxin) he will need a followe up in 10 days. I hope the medication does the job because I think the next step would be considering surgery:(

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Suki

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French Bulldog

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14 Weeks

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Fair severity

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Occasional Weakness In Hind Legs

We have a 14 week old, female French Bulldog. The day after we picked her up we noticed that her spine had a large lump at the top, slightly to the left, between her 'shoulder blades'. It doesn't seem to bother her at all and we have noticed no issues except she sometimes looks to be struggling with a little weakness in her back legs after a long(ish) walk. She jumps, plays, walks and runs perfectly fine. However this big lump is really bothering us. If you look directly at her back when she is sitting, she seems to have a hunchback with a little twist to the left. I took her to the local vet who claimed it was where the previous bet 'may' have nicked her muscle in putting the microchip in. But that was weeks ago, the lump is solid and feels like bone. The breeder is claiming complete ignorance and says she didn't notice anything wrong with her. Should we be worried?

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Percy

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French Bulldog

dog-age-icon

5 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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We have a 5 1/2 year old French Bulldog that has hemivertebrae, he injured it at 6 months and it progressed to where we tried accupunction and physical therapy to no avail. We had an MRI done that told us the problem, the hemivertebrae caused a spinal cyst to form and we had surgery when he was 14 months, I believe they cut off the top of 4 vertebrae mid back to relieve the pressure. It worked for about two years then it started to reappear again. He is very floppy in the back end and has no control over his ball movement or urinary functions at this time. We have been taking him to physical therapy to build up his muscle but it doesn't seem to be helping with his back end. He has a very hard time lifting his back feet when walking. We've been told there is not much more we can do for him.

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Poncho

dog-breed-icon

French Bulldog

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9 Months

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Weak Hind Legs
Weak Bladder

I am looking to purchase a 9 month french bulldog that has two hemivertibrae that cause him to have a weak hind end. He has been on steroids when has helped him in the past and was told surgery is an option but doesn't look like it is necessary because he is has reached 9 months which hopefully means he has stopped growing and they said he doesn't seem to be in any pain. He runs and has a fun time outside. I am wondering if it okay to purchase this dog and give him a new home with a lot of love or if that may not be the best. I have see the xrays and they do not look as bad compared to the ones I have seen online but I also do not have enough information and do not want to spend too much money or fear of actually loosing the dog.

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Ru

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French Bulldog

dog-age-icon

1 Year

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Hi There, My French Bulldog is 1.5 years old. Through a recent X-ray it was noted that he has 3-4 semi vertebrae in the thoracic region. He has zero symptoms, walks as a normal dog would, has a straight spine as far as looking at him (no noticeable twist) and behaves like nothing is wrong. Surgery without any symptoms was advised against which makes sense to me as no symptoms are present. He plays like a crazy puppy, we have stairs to the bed and couch but overall he is still a crash, run, jump, hyper guy. My questions are: Will his condition present itself symptomatically in the future- what is common? If it could/will progress- why? Are there any supplements I can add to his diet to help give him a boost his chances of staying asymptomatic?