Jump to section

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.

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
arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

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.

arrow-up-icon

Top

*Wag! may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Items are sold by the retailer, not Wag!.

Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$4,500

arrow-up-icon

Top

Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

question-icon-cta

Ask a Vet

dog-name-icon

Pluto

dog-breed-icon

Husky Shepherd Mix

dog-age-icon

1 Month

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

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

answer-icon

recommendation-ribbon

3320 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

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Esme

dog-breed-icon

Collie mix

dog-age-icon

3 Years

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

Serious severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Cant Walk
Cant Get Up
Unable To Stand Without Falling
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

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

1611 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

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Rhaegar

dog-breed-icon

Doberman Pinscher

dog-age-icon

5 Months

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Weakness
Loss Of Balance

My Doberman is 5 months old and after getting an x-ray due to his back legs being weak and making him walk/run unsteadily and frequently falling on his butt as a result, the vet found a spinal malformation on the vertebrae T4, T5, T6. I was wondering what is the treatment route for this and if this is something that is very serious and can lead to paralysis.

Feb. 22, 2018

Rhaegar's Owner

answer-icon

recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

Spinal deformities are dealt with on a case by case basis and a consultation with an Orthopaedic Specialist or a Neurologist would be advisable at this time; the specific type of deformity, clinical symptoms among other variables would need to be considered. There isn’t a one stop answer or solution in these types of cases, your Veterinarian will be able to guide you better based on their examination and the x-rays already performed. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Feb. 22, 2018

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Dante

dog-breed-icon

Medium Bull-breed Mix

dog-age-icon

18 Months

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

Mild severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Rear Gait
Incontinence
Uncoordinated

My dog has been healthy since I adopted him nearly a year ago. However, in the last few weeks, my family and I have noticed an unnatural curve in his spine. Some symptoms he's had in the past could mean this condition is worse than I realized. About 3/4 of the way down his spine, there is a sharp curve upward. The tops of his vertebrae in this area are spaced nearly an inch apart. This hump is near two inches out of alignment with the rest of his spine. Due to a recently lost job, I'm worried as to how long I can safely wait before brining him to the vet. As I mentioned before, he has shown some other symptoms that may be associated with a severe back issue. He has, on three occasions that I know of, urinated in his sleep. This was within a few months of his mister, so his veterinarian assured me it was normal. He also trips over himself a lot. When I was viewing him at the shelter, he was young enough that I wrote it off as not being coordinated yet. Now I'm worried it could be something serious. Also, he will usually cross his back feet over one another when walking. So, to sum up my question, I'm worried as to what you think may be causing these symptoms, as well as how long you think I can safely wait before seeking vet care. Thanks so much for your time!

Jan. 15, 2018

Dante's Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

1611 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. Of course, without examining him, I cannot say what might be going on with him, but if you are noticing that his signs are progressing, and he seems to be becoming less coordinated, crossing his legs more, or having any pain at all, I would say sooner rather than later would be better to have him examined by your veterinarian. What you might want to do is at least have him seen for the problem, so just an office visit if that is what you can afford at this time, and get your veterinarian's opinion on what might be happening and the best course of treatment for it. Then you at least know what to expect and can plan better for it. I hope that everything goes well for him.

Jan. 15, 2018

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Sasha

dog-breed-icon

Alaskan Husky

dog-age-icon

10 Weeks

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

We recently adopted a Siberian Husky at 8 weeks of age. She has very limited use of her hind legs. She can walk 4-5 steps before wobbling, kind of runs with both legs @ the same time or scoots to chase our other husky puppy (different litters). We took Sasha to our vet when we got her home. He checked her out and said she has no feeling in her back legs and this is permanent. My question is regarding bladder and bowel issues. Any suggestions? When she is outside the urine and diarrhea are not really an issue. We just hose down the kennel run or our deck and clean her up but she sleeps in a crate at night and seems to be going through alot of towels. I am currently using puppy diapers but the stool seems to come out of the tail opening. Could we use baby diapers and just put her tail down in the diaper? The good thing is she has no pain!

Nov. 1, 2017

Sasha's Owner

answer-icon

recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

If not done so already, an x-ray of the spine would be useful just to get an idea of any vertebral defects that she may have; regarding the incontinence, it would be a case of using a diaper and if you believe there is an issue with her tail you should consider a caudectomy. This would all need to be discussed with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 1, 2017

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Ringo

dog-breed-icon

Border Collie

dog-age-icon

11 Weeks

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

Serious severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly Walking

Our puppy was born with atlantoaxial subluxation,near his neck. He's 11 weeks border collie. He's in neck brace now. When he's able to get surgery, how well will he recover after and how much does surgery usually cost? He plays normal and runs around but wobbly walks sometimes..

dog-name-icon

Greyson

dog-breed-icon

Labrador Retriever

dog-age-icon

14 Weeks

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

Serious severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

None

my sons 14 week old silver lab has a lump on the side of his neck. he has had a xrayThere is incomplete separation and malformation of cervical vertebrae 2-5. The odontoid process is enlarged and clublike. It appears to be eccentrically positioned on the left within C1. Any ideas??

dog-name-icon

Bronx

dog-breed-icon

English Bulldog

dog-age-icon

3 Months

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

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Constant Bowel Movements

I recently adopted (didn’t not purchase) an English bulldog puppy. Going in I knew he had a few issues. I haven’t taken him to the vet yet waiting on my appointment but he is constantly pooping even if I slightly squeeze his belly it will just come right out. I also need to give him a squeeze to make sure he is peeing. I was told that it could possibly be because his spine didn’t properly form in the womb due to lack of space. Wondering if I could get a second opinion on here.

dog-name-icon

Busts

dog-breed-icon

Rottweiler

dog-age-icon

7 Weeks

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

Serious severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

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

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Can’T Poop Can’T Stand Bloated

Have been given a Rottweiler puppy, has trouble walking going to the bathroom and is very bloated. Vet gave us dewormer, and took an X-ray says he may grow out of this. Can show you X-ray for your opinion. Tail appears broken upwards in X-ray

Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$4,500