Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Average Cost

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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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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


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)


  • 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Spinal and Vertebral Birth Defects Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Doberman Pinscher
5 Months
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2485 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

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Medium Bull-breed Mix
18 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Wobbly rear gait

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!

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1071 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.

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Siberian Husky or Alaskan Husky
10 Weeks
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

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!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2485 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

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French Bulldog
6 Months
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


I got 2 french bulldogs from the same litter. One of them started walking like a drunk a week after her vaccines. After examining her my vet recommended X-rays and a neurologist- the X-rays came back and show thoracic congenital malformation of the spine. She is showing paresis of the hind legs still. I am taking her to a near surgeon in a week but am clueless as to what to expect. She is eating drinking playing etc. Is there a treatment for this even??? Any help appreciated she is my baby.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2485 Recommendations

Since I haven’t seen an x-ray or examined Poochie I am assuming the cause is Hemivertebra(e). French Bulldogs are predisposed to a congenital malformation called Hemivertebra(e) where one or more vertebrae are deformed leading to spinal cord compression in severe cases; mild cases may be treated with anti inflammatories but more severe cases would need a surgery called hemilaminectomy, I’ve added a link to our page on this condition as well as other resources. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

The radiology reports show "kyphosis" of the thoracic region... is that the same thing?

Hi. My dog Talia has a curvage in her spine and is paralyzed in her back legs+ incontent. Her back only bends one way. does this sound like scoliosis? I have some old x-rays if you would like to look at them.

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6 Months
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

sickness, dizzyness, head tilts asa
sickness , dizzyness , falls on back legs,

Medication Used

none at this time

my little 6 month old maltese puppy has started to feel dizzy and fall on her back legs , she was sick for three days , but now not sick anymore, she gets so dizzy and her head tilts , vets have checked her ears and no ear infections we are waiting on her blood test reults to come back for seizures,
would this have anything to do with her spine and she is so cheeky and jumps of the sofa quite a bit ... very worried

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2485 Recommendations

There are various different causes of dizziness and head tilt in dogs including trauma, poisoning, birth defects (x-ray may be helpful), liver conditions, kidney disorders or hormonal conditions. Try to restrict her movement in case there is an injury, like I mentioned an x-ray would be useful to rule out some conditions. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM


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Bernese Mountain
1 Year
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

My 1 year old bernese mountain has 5 blocked vertebrae in her thoracic area. I have noticed that she is a bit unsteady on her feet, I was worried about hip problems? But I also read that this may be due to her back. My question is, should I have her hips x-rayed to see if anything is going on? And would daily walking be beneficial or detrimental for her back condition?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2485 Recommendations

Since Leeloo is a Bernese Mountain Dog, I would recommend x-rays regardless of the blocked vertebrae since Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to hip dysplasia. The majority of dogs with blocked vertebrae may live without symptoms, this depends on the vertebrae that are fused and any nerves that are affected; usually lumbar vertebral block causes hind limb problems. Over activity like jumping and rough housing may result in pain (due to nerves being stretched in the back), you would have to monitor Leeloo during and after walks to determine if they cause pain and discomfort or if she just needs to be walked on a lead. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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