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Hemivertebrae is a congenital spinal malformation where your dog’s vertebrae are deformed. This is also known as the ‘butterfly’ vertebra due to how the vertebral body looks on the X-Ray. Vertebrae usually look like a spool from the side, but a dog with hemivertebrae’s spine will look like a wedge or a triangle. Due to the misalignment of the spinal cord, the nerves can be damaged or become compressed. This can lead to back pain, incontinence issues, and even impact the function of a dog’s back legs with Hemivertebrae. This condition may also be referred to as congenital scoliosis.
Hemivertebrae is most commonly seen in brachycephalic, screw-tailed dog breeds such as French bulldogs (English bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers). In screw tail dogs, the spinal malformation can occur higher up in the spine than other dogs, which can pinch or compress the spinal cord causing central nervous system problems.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Hemivertebrae?
Hemivertebrae is often diagnosed by chance, and most dogs are never adversely affected by this condition. However, if your dog starts to show symptoms, it will most commonly begin in puppy hood because the vertebrae in the mid back have become affected and can cause symptoms.
Hemivertebrae Symptoms Include:
Weakness of the hind limbs
Symptoms will worsen until your dog fully matures and the vertebrae stop growing. Dogs with a screw tail typically experience worse symptoms than other breeds. A dog’s Hemivertebrae symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the spinal cord compression. Loss of mobility can range from mild weakness in the back legs to complete loss of function.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A simple spinal x-ray will be able to definitively tell if your pup has hemivertebrae. To treat your dog’s condition, it’s important to know where the spine is compressed and how badly impacted the spinal column is. Both can be determined with spinal imaging.
If your dog is not experiencing symptoms of spinal compression, it will not need any particular treatment. Still, you may want to be cautious of allowing your dog to overly stress its spine as it will be more likely to have a spinal injury.
Should your dog show signs of weakness in their back legs or incontinence, the vet may recommend a surgical procedure called, a hemilaminectomy, which is when the material of the disc that is pressing against the spinal cord is removed. The spine will then be stabilized. With only minor symptoms treating the symptoms conservatively with crate rest anti-inflammatories will likely be recommended.
Does Having Hemivertebrae Mean My Dog Will Be Paralyzed?
Most likely no, the vertebral malformation usually occurs in the dog’s tail and does not affect the spinal cord. However, in a few cases where your dog becomes symptomatic, the hemilaminectomy surgery can help your dog regain the ability to walk.
If your pup is in the minority of severe cases and is unable to walk again, there are so many options to help them live happy heathy lives! Dog wheelchairs can get your dog up, running and playing again.