Hemivertebra is a congenital (meaning it’s present at birth) condition that can be inherited. It is most common in brachycephalic (short-faced), screwtailed breeds such as French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers. The spines of most dogs have from 49 to 53 vertebrae, depending on tail length, but these breeds are missing up to 15 vertebrae because of their abbreviated tail, making them more prone to vertebrae issues.
Hemivertebra occurs when the right and the left halves of the spine fail to fuse, producing a body which resembles a butterfly when viewed from above. This malformation causes the backbone to bend, which can compress the spinal cord and/or its blood supply, with serious effects. Any body part receiving its nerve supply from the portion of the cord that is compressed can be affected.
Most often, symptoms begin at the age of three or four months and include:
- Hind limb weakness
- An abnormal gait
- Back pain when touched
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
Treating hemivertebra can be quite invasive, including surgical amputation of the tail. Medications may be used to treat the pain, but in severe cases spinal surgery may be required.
Do you have a brachycephalic, screwtailed breed in your family? Have you been informed of hemivertebra at all?