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.
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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:
- Lack of coordination
- 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spina Bifida Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
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
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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?
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I am getting an aussiedoodle (F1B) puppy in 3 weeks. She is 5 weeks old now (still at the breeder's) and is walking. She has a very short tail (NBT). Her parents, as far as I know, have normal tails. Should I be worried about spina bifida and either consider not buying her or arranging for some additional tests when she arrives?
I am not aware of any specific predisposition to spina bifida or other conditions which may cause a short tail in Aussiedoodles; however if there is an anatomical anomaly (short tail) and Rory isn’t the fastest pup it may be worth having an x-ray performed to see if there are any skeletal anomalies which show up. Some conditions like spina bifida can be mild or severe with mild cases usually going unnoticed until an x-ray or other test is done for another condition. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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