Hemivertebra in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnoses, and Treatment

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What is Hemivertebra in Dogs?

Photo Credit: French Bulldog Saviors

Hemivertebra is a congenital spinal malformation that can occur in dogs. It happens when only half of a vertebra develops, resulting in a wedge-shaped vertebra instead of a normal cylindrical one. This can lead to spinal cord compression and neurological symptoms such as hind limb weakness, difficulty walking, and urinary or fecal incontinence. 

What Causes Hemivertebra in Dogs?

Hemivertebra is a congenital condition in dogs, which means it is present at birth and is caused by genetic factors. The exact cause of Hemivertebra is not fully understood, but it is thought to be related to a genetic mutation that affects the development of the spinal column during embryonic growth. 

In addition to genetics, environmental factors such as poor nutrition, exposure to toxins or infections during pregnancy, and physical trauma to the mother during gestation may also contribute to the development of Hemivertebra in puppies. However, the exact role of these factors in the development of Hemivertebra remains unclear and requires further research.

Who’s at Risk of Developing Hemivertebra?

Certain dog breeds are more prone to Hemivertebra than others, and it is believed that selective breeding practices and genetic predisposition play a role. For example, French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers have a higher incidence of Hemivertebra compared to other breeds.

Since Hemivertebra is a congenital condition, dogs that have a family history of Hemivertebra are more likely to develop the condition. In addition, dogs with a history of spinal cord abnormalities or other congenital disorders may also be at a higher risk of developing Hemivertebra.

Environmental factors such as poor nutrition, exposure to toxins or infections during pregnancy, and physical trauma to the mother during gestation may also contribute to the development of Hemivertebra in puppies, but the exact role of these factors is still unclear.

What are the Symptoms of Hemivertebra?

Photo Credit: French Bulldog Saviors

The symptoms of Hemivertebra in dogs can vary depending on the location and severity of the malformation. Some dogs may have no symptoms at all, while others may exhibit signs of spinal cord compression, which can cause a range of neurological symptoms, including:

  • Hind limb weakness or paralysis
  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Abnormal gait or posture
  • Pain or sensitivity in the back or neck
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty jumping or climbing stairs
  • Muscle atrophy or weakness

In some cases, dogs with Hemivertebra may also have a visible deformity of the spine, such as a hump or curvature. The symptoms of Hemivertebra typically develop in the first few months of life and can worsen over time if left untreated.

If you suspect your dog may have Hemivertebra, it is essential to seek veterinary care right away to diagnose and treat the condition. 

How Can Hemivertebra in Dogs Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent Hemivertebra from occurring. However, there are some steps that breeders can take to reduce the incidence of Hemivertebra and other genetic disorders in their breeding lines. 

Reputable breeders can screen their breeding dogs for genetic disorders before breeding to ensure they are not passing on harmful genes to their offspring. This involves testing for known genetic mutations associated with Hemivertebra and other conditions, such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and progressive retinal atrophy.

In addition, breeders can avoid breeding dogs that have a family history of Hemivertebra or other spinal cord abnormalities. They can also avoid breeding dogs that exhibit symptoms of Hemivertebra or other genetic disorders.

If you are considering getting a dog and are concerned about the risk of Hemivertebra or other genetic disorders, it is essential to do your research and find a reputable breeder who screens their dogs for genetic conditions before breeding. It is also important to be aware that mixed-breed dogs are still at risk of developing Hemivertebra and other genetic disorders, so it is essential to take steps to ensure the health of any dog you bring into your home.

How is Hemivertebra Diagnosed?

Hemivertebra in dogs is typically diagnosed by a veterinarian using a combination of physical examination, imaging tests, and neurological testing. The diagnostic process may include the following steps:

  1. Physical exam: The veterinarian will perform a physical exam to look for signs of spinal cord compression, such as weakness or paralysis in the hind limbs, abnormal gait or posture, and muscle atrophy.
  2. Imaging tests: X-rays, CT scans, or MRI may be used to visualize the spinal column and detect any abnormalities. These tests can help determine the location and severity of the Hemivertebra and assess the extent of any spinal cord compression.
  3. Neurological testing: The veterinarian may perform a neurological exam to assess the dog’s reflexes, muscle tone, and ability to sense pain and touch. This can help determine the extent of any neurological damage caused by the Hemivertebra.
  4. Genetic testing: If a genetic mutation is suspected to be the cause of the Hemivertebra, genetic testing may be recommended to confirm the diagnosis and help identify any other dogs at risk of developing the condition.

Once a diagnosis of Hemivertebra is confirmed, the veterinarian can work with the dog’s owner to develop an appropriate treatment plan. The treatment plan may include surgery to remove the affected vertebra or manage any resulting spinal cord compression, medication to control pain and inflammation, and physical therapy to help the dog regain strength and mobility.

What is the Treatment for Hemivertebra?

Photo Credit: Wauwatosa Veterinary Rehabilitation

The treatment for Hemivertebra in dogs depends on the severity of the condition and the extent of any spinal cord compression. In mild cases, no treatment may be necessary, and the dog can live a normal life with close monitoring.

In more severe cases, surgical intervention may be required to remove the affected vertebra or relieve pressure on the spinal cord. The surgery can be challenging and often requires a team of skilled veterinary specialists, including a neurologist and a veterinary surgeon.

Post-surgery, the dog will require a period of recovery and rehabilitation, which may include physical therapy to regain strength and mobility. Medications, such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, may also be prescribed to manage pain and inflammation.

In cases where surgery is not an option, or if the condition is too advanced, the focus will be on managing the symptoms and improving the dog’s quality of life. This may include medications, physical therapy, and assistive devices such as slings or carts to help the dog move around.

It is important to note that the treatment for Hemivertebra is focused on managing the symptoms and minimizing the impact of the condition on the dog’s quality of life, rather than curing it. Therefore, regular check-ups with a veterinarian, close monitoring of symptoms, and early intervention when necessary are essential to ensuring the best possible outcomes for dogs with Hemivertebra.

What is the Prognosis for Hemivertebra?

The prognosis for dogs with Hemivertebra varies depending on the severity of the condition, the location of the affected vertebra, and the degree of spinal cord compression. In cases where the condition is mild and spinal cord compression is not present, dogs can live a normal life with regular check-ups and monitoring.

However, in more severe cases where spinal cord compression is present, the prognosis may be less favorable. If Hemivertebra is left untreated, it can lead to permanent spinal cord damage and paralysis.

Early intervention and appropriate treatment can improve the prognosis for dogs with Hemivertebra. Surgical removal of the affected vertebra or relieving spinal cord compression can be successful in restoring function and mobility in some cases.

Despite successful treatment, dogs with Hemivertebra may still experience residual weakness or mobility issues. Regular monitoring by a veterinarian and ongoing management of symptoms is essential to ensure the best possible outcomes for dogs with Hemivertebra.

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