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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.

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.

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

Baby
Border Collie
1 Day
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2484 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

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Batfink
Pug
3 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

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

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1063 Recommendations
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.

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Snoopy
Boston Terrier
10 Weeks
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2484 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

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Winston
French Bulldog
6 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

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.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1063 Recommendations
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.

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Morrighan
Alaskan Malamute
Five Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Weakness
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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2484 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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brown
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
8 Weeks
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

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

Hi
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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2484 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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