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What is Spina Bifida?

The vertebrae of the spinal column typically surround and protect the spinal cord. In spina bifida, something goes wrong with the fusion of vertebral arches when embryonic development is occurring, causing the vertebrae to be incomplete. While spina bifida is most often seen in the lower back, it can take place anywhere in your dog’s spinal column. The breed most commonly impacted by spina bifida are English Bulldogs; however’ the disease has occurred in a variety of dog breeds.

Spina bifida is a rare congenital abnormality in the vertebrae of the spinal column. The defect may be minor or significant depending on how many of the dog’s vertebrae are impacted.

Spina Bifida Average Cost

From 450 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$4,500

Symptoms of Spina Bifida in Dogs

Symptoms in dogs with spina bifida range from no visible signs to significant issues. Should the defect be minor, the anomaly may never be noticed unless there is an x-ray done on your dog. In more severe cases where the spinal cord is affected, you may see the following signs:

  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Paralysis
  • Inability to control fecal and urine elimination
  • Skin may be dimpled at the location where the defect is present

When there is a significant defect, the spinal cord may be exposed and the defect noticed at birth. If the spinal cord is not exposed, in severe cases the fact that there is a problem is typically clear as your puppy begins to walk.

Types

 

There are a range of possible abnormalities that can occur with spina bifida. In a case where there is only nonfusion of a small part of one or several vertebrae, your dog will have no medical problems. On the opposite end of the continuum, a majority of the vertebral arch could be missing on several vertebrae along with the spinal cord and/or its lining protruding. In the more severe cases, issues will occur as a result of the part of the spinal cord that is impacted.

There are three sub classifications of spina bifida: spina bifida manifesta, cystica and aperta. These point to there being a protrusion of the spinal cord membranes (meningocele cyst), a protrusion of the spinal cord itself (myelocele), or a protrusion of the spinal cord and its membranes (meningomyelocele).

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Causes of Spina Bifida in Dogs

Spina bifida is a congenital condition. If during fetal development the vertebrae don’t completely grow around the spinal cord, a part of the spinal cord is exposed, known as spina bifida. While it is thought that spina bifida is an inherited condition, how this occurs has not been identified. Environmental factors also play a role in the occurrence of spina bifida, for example, there being nutritional deficiencies during the pregnancy, maternal stress, as well as exposure to toxins.

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Diagnosis of Spina Bifida in Dogs

Severe cases of spina bifida in dogs are typically noticed either at birth or at the time which the young puppy starts to walk. Once your puppy is starting to walk, should he have more than a mild form of spina bifida it will be evident that something is wrong and that a trip to the veterinarian is necessary.  Upon taking your dog to the veterinarian, he may be able to recognize the condition when conducting a physical examination. The veterinarian can then confirm the diagnosis with an x-ray, myelograms or radiographs using dye. The veterinarian may also recommend a CT scan. Should your dog have mild defects, they may only be noticed by accident when an x-ray of the area is performed for another reason.

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Treatment of Spina Bifida in Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment available for dogs with malformations of their spinal cord. For dogs in which the abnormality is discovered accidently, no treatment is usually necessary. If your dog is mildly impacted by the abnormality, reconstructive surgery may be discussed as small repairs may be able to be made that will improve your dog’s condition. Should your dog have a severe case of spina bifida, your veterinarian will likely recommend euthanasia.

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Recovery of Spina Bifida in Dogs

How you can best help your dog will depend on the severity of his condition. Should the impact on his spine be minimal, there will be little to no need for follow up with the veterinarian for the condition or for any changes in your dog’s environment or activity. In more severe cases, your doctor may request regular follow up appointments to assess how your dog is doing, as well as offer suggestions on how to help him be more comfortable at home. Should your dog undergo surgery, your veterinarian will provide instructions on how to best assist your dog as he recovers. The length of his recovery will depend upon the extent of his surgery.

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Spina Bifida Average Cost

From 450 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$4,500

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Spina Bifida Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Pit Bull

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One Week

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Wound

Open would on back. I'm thinking spina bifida but I don't know. I have a picture

July 11, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, If this wound has been there his whole life this may be the cause. It would be best if your vet looked at this puppy. Most of these dogs do not live very long. So sorry to hear about your puppy.

July 11, 2020

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Finley

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English Bulldog

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7 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

what is the best way to handled spina bifida i have used diapers and now she is getting to big for them. do you have any suggestions. she is 7 months old i have her trained to use a potty chair but she is getting to big for that also.I really need some suggestions.

April 29, 2018

Finley's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Spina bifida varies in severity between cases from mild to severe; I don’t like the use of diapers because the skin can become irritated with faeces and urine as well as opening them to infections of the urinary tract, reproductive tract and skin. You need to find what works for your situation, I cannot think of anything that would help with the urination and defecation. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

April 29, 2018

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Olive

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English Bulldog

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11 Weeks

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

I am considering adopting an English Bulldog puppy with Spina Bifida. Does this condition stunt their growth? I am alone, so if the dog would get to be 60 pounds, I couldn't lift it. Also, the write up on her, said her back legs will collapse if she is standing idle. Does this mean down the road, she will lose control, and need a cart? I do not know how serious her condition is. She is 11-13 weeks old.

March 4, 2018

Olive's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. It is quite likely that a puppy with spina bifida will have problems further on, especially if she is already having problems with her hind end. It would be lovely to give Olive a home, but if you are not prepared for her ongoing care, it may not be the best decision.

March 5, 2018

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heaven

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Chihuahua

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1 Day

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Spina Bifida

i had a pup born today and it has spina bifida so far its just the opening of the skin and she can't only move her back legs very little if none at all but i been trying to help her pee and poop and she is not pooping how can i help her poop . i tried a warm baby wipe a wet soft paper towel a cotton ball wet . what more can i do.the vet said she had the spina bifida today as like i said she was born with her skin open above her tail in her lower back

Jan. 30, 2018

heaven's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that Heaven is having that problem. She may not be able to defecate due to her birth defect. If she isn't defecating when you stimulate her to do so with the soft paper towel, it would be best to have her seen again by your veterinarian to determine if she is unable to do so. I hope that she is okay.

Jan. 31, 2018

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Ares

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Bernese Mountain Dog

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7 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

I've got 7 months old Bernese Mountain Dog with spina bifida. The spinal cord is located outside the spinal canal of the spinal hernia on Th7. Is it any possibility to help the puppy?

Sept. 25, 2017

Ares' Owner

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0 Recommendations

There is no real treatment of spina bifida in dogs, sometimes dogs are mildly affected and don’t require any management; severely affected dogs would require euthanasia. It would be best to consult with a Specialist regarding this if Ares is having issues, otherwise keep an eye on him. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Sept. 25, 2017

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Duke

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French Bulldog

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15 Weeks

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Sudden Attacking Of Any Human

We have a 15 week old French Bulldog in our rescue and he has spina bifida but is mobile. He is already showing quite severe aggression - could this be behaviour be related to the SB or a temperament problem. He is incontinent and needs expressing. Kind regards

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Lucy

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Boston Terrier

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2 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

None

I have a 2 1/2 y/o boston terrier why we just found the abnormalities when we did an xray to see if she had swallowed something. She was sick with diarrhea and couldn't stand. Now she is back to normal and wants to run and play but it has been suggested to me that she not be allowed to jump. What does her future look like

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Bit

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Chihuahua

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11 Months

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Pain When Lifted
Bitting
Bitting From Pain
Serious Atrophy

I'm an animal lover, i've cared for a lot of puppies with different types of spinal issues. I have a chihuahua puppy, named Bit, he walks with one foot not touching the ground, his leg has an atrophy, i can feel an empty space in his lower back, the size of two disks. His father also had the habit of not putting his foot on the ground, is it possible that this is genetic? The father's owner is a breeder.

Spina Bifida Average Cost

From 450 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$4,500

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