Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs

Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects?

There are a number of spinal and vertebral defects that can cause problems in dogs. The spine is made up of vertebrae separated by intervertebral disks that act as shock absorbers. This structure provides both support and flexibility, so your dog can move easily without injury. The spinal or vertebral canal running through the center of each vertebra contains and protects the spinal cord. The spinal cord passes messages to and from the brain, and helps to regulate many involuntary muscle processes, so it is a very important part of your dog’s nervous system. Spinal vertebrae are divided into three sections: the cervical or neck area, the upper thoracic spine, and the lower lumbar region. Each vertebra is numbered according to its placement in the section. Some abnormalities will affect the shape of vertebrae. Hemivertebra are shortened and misshapen with a wedge or triangular shape on one side, while butterfly vertebrae have a cleft on one side so their shape resembles a butterfly. Other abnormalities affect the way vertebrae are joined together. Several vertebrae may be fused or the vertebrae transitioning between different parts of the spine may be improperly differentiated. Many of these conditions may have no symptoms, or only mild gait or posture abnormality. Any problem that puts pressure on the spinal cord is more serious. Some types of vertebral malformations can cause neurological symptoms, paralysis, or even death. 

Birth defects that affect the spine are a fairly common problem in some breeds of dogs. Veterinarians call this congenital vertebral malformations. Symptoms can vary depending on the type and location of the abnormality. Problems that cause compression or injury to the spinal cord are much more serious.

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Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Average Cost

From 21 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$4,500

Symptoms of Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs

These are the symptoms you might notice in a dog with spinal and vertebral malformations. Some dogs may have symptoms from birth while others may develop them after a growth spurt causes weakness in the spine.

  • Sway back (lordosis) – curvature of the spine downward
  • Arching spine (kyphosis) – curvature of the spine upward
  • Awkward or wobbly gate
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Paresis – musculature weakness or partial paralysis
  • Paralysis
  • Incontinence of urine or bowel movements

Types

These are some of the different types of spinal and vertebral defects in dogs, as well as the breeds they frequently affect.

Atlantoaxial luxation

  • Malformation of the occipital bone – instability that may cause the spinal cord to become pinched between the first and second vertebrae
  • Small and toy breeds (Yorkshire Terrier, Chihuahua, Poodle, Pomeranian, and Pekinese)

Hemivertebra 

  • Vertebrae that are underdeveloped and wedged shaped on one side
  • Screw-tailed breeds (Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers), German Shorthaired Pointers, German Shepherds

Butterfly vertebra 

  • Underdeveloped vertebrae with a cleft shape that resembles a butterfly
  • Brachycephalic and screw-tailed breeds

Transitional Vertebra

  • Abnormally differentiated vertebrae between the different parts of the spine
  • Screw-tailed breeds

Block vertebra 

  • Several vertebrae fused together
  • Screw-tailed breeds

Meninges or spina bifida 

  • Malformation or the spine that leads to exposure of the spinal cord
  • Screw-tailed breeds especially bulldogs

Myelodysplasia (spinal dysraphism

  • Lesions on the lower spinal cord that are present from birth
  • Weimaraners

Spinal Stenosis

  • A congenital narrowing of the spinal canal. In the cervical spine this is also called caudal cervical spondylomyelopathy or wobbler syndrome
  • Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, Borzois, Old English Sheep Dogs, St. Bernard’s, Pointers and Basset Hounds
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Causes of Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs

Spinal and vertebral malformations are usually inherited. The mode of inheritance is only understood in a few cases. German shepherds inherit hemivertebra as an autosomal recessive trait. In Weimaraners, myelodysplasia appears to be co-dominant; dogs with the gene from only one parent have mild symptoms, while puppies with two defective genes usually don’t survive. In many cases, several genes may be involved, as well as other factors like nutritional deficiency in the womb. Breeding dogs with any form of spinal birth defect is not recommended, even if your dog isn’t showing symptoms. This can help to reduce incidence in a breed.

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Diagnosis of Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs

An X-ray is needed to diagnose any vertebral malformation. If your dog is not showing symptoms, the veterinarian may notice the abnormality on an X-ray for another purpose. Dogs with an unusually swayed or arched back should be evaluated by a veterinarian, especially if the problem causes weakness or difficulty controlling movements. Other symptoms, such as paralysis or pain can help the veterinarian locate the abnormality.

Your dog’s age and breed will be relevant, as well as any recent injuries that could suggest a different diagnosis. Several X-rays may be needed to find the angle that shows the malformation. Your dog may need anesthetic, especially if moving the spine is painful. A CT scan or an MRI could also be ordered to show the spine in more detail.

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Treatment of Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs

Treatment will depend on the severity of the problem. Dogs that are not symptomatic don’t need to be treated. If your dog has only a mild gait or posture abnormality, the veterinarian may also not recommend treatment, unless the symptoms seem to be getting progressively worse.

Problems that affect the spinal cord are usually treated with surgery. Veterinarians will recommend a specialist for this type of surgery. The affected vertebrae will need to be decompressed and often pins or bone plates may be inserted to stabilize the area and prevent the spinal cord from becoming pinched. Dogs will usually need 6-8 weeks of rest or reduced activity after surgery to recover. A brace may be necessary to stabilize the area during healing.

Some conditions like myelodysplasia and spina bifida are not treatable. These conditions don’t get progressively worse, and dogs with only mild symptoms will live still fulfilling lives, but dogs with very severe symptoms may need to be euthanized. Some other malformations may not be untreatable, if your dog is not healthy enough for surgery, or if there is no way to correct the abnormality surgically. Steroids or painkillers may be prescribed to manage the symptoms. Depending on the severity of the problem, the veterinarian may recommend euthanasia also.

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Worried about the cost of Spinal And Vertebral Birth Defects treatment?

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Recovery of Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects in Dogs

Your dog’s chance of recovery will vary greatly depending on the specific type of defect and where it is located. Some dogs will make a full recovery after surgical treatment. Others may still have neurological disabilities.  Some mobility problems can be managed with adaptive equipment, such as rear wheel carts or dog wheelchairs. You may need to rearrange the house so your dog doesn’t need to climb stairs. If your dog has continued incontinence after surgery this may need to be managed with a catheter and/or assistance emptying the bladder.

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Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Average Cost

From 21 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$4,500

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Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Pluto

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Husky Shepherd Mix

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1 Month

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Has Symptoms

This five week old puppy belongs to a neighbor who cannot afford vet treatment. I’m willing to take the little guy to my vet for an exam and x rays, approx $200 estimated to start for exam and x rays but wonder what’s in store for the little guy. Neighbor is thinking of surrendering to a shelter but wants to wait until 8 weeks as pup is still nursing. He’s 2/3 the size of his litter mates, latches on and nurses well, plays, etc., but sleeps a lot more and is found curled up sound asleep away from the litter at times. Now being picked on by bigger siblings. Here is a short video of the back leg splaying out and tail seems to bend toward affected leg. Thank you.MOV_9034.mov

June 29, 2018

Pluto's Owner

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0 Recommendations

The video didn’t come through as it needs to be hosted somewhere online for playback from other computers (youtube etc…); however without x-rays we cannot determine the severity of any possible defect or other issues. If your neighbour has difficulty in finding the funds to pay for veterinary care, they may check out the list below as there may be assistance in some cases. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.dogingtonpost.com/need-help-with-vet-bills-or-pet-food-there-are-resources-available/

June 30, 2018

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Esme

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Collie mix

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3 Years

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Has Symptoms

Cant Walk
Unable To Stand Without Falling
Cant Get Up
Stands On Top Of Fron Paws When Up

my dog has not been able to walk correctly for almost a year now. she started just being wobbly and falling all over the place.. i origionally thought she had had a stroke but she was only 2 1/2 at that time. we took her to the vet immediately who did no xrays or anything and said it was a disk issue. he put her on steroids and sent us on our way. now.. almost a year lter he has about tripled the steroids.. she is completely unable to walk. added muscle relaxers. still no xrays and says she needs surgey but she will most likely have permanent damage. we cant get her into another vet right now because this one has cost us SO much at this point.. im not sure what to do. her quality of life has to suck. all she does is lay here and wait to be carried outside when she hasnt had an accident on herself.

June 7, 2018

Esme's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I"m sorry that that is happening to Esme, that is very sad. I don't think that one can recommend surgery without doing x-rays or other diagnostics. I think that the next step for her would be a referral to a neurologist, as they may be able to give a clue what is happening to her, whether it is her back, a disc, an infection, and whether there is any treatment besides steroids that may help. I hope that she is okay.

June 7, 2018

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Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Average Cost

From 21 quotes ranging from $1,500 - $8,500

Average Cost

$4,500

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