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Hemivertebra in Dogs… What is it? And how can it be avoided?

Hemivertebra is one of those medical conditions which you’re not likely to really think about until you have a litter of puppies and notice that one of them just doesn’t look like the rest.  From there, chances are you’re going to first try and “self-diagnose” the issue which will usually lead you to the offices of a professional.

Which in our opinion…

Is exactly what you should do.  That is, have a professional veterinarian examine your puppy in the event that you think he or she may be experiencing some type of medical condition like hemivertebra.

That said however…

It never hurts to learn a little bit about this condition yourself so that you can develop a better understanding of what this medical condition is so that you’ll have a better idea of what it might be like to own a dog that is suffering from it.

So, without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Hemivertebra in dogs defined.

Hemivertebra in dogs is a congenital birth defect that is defined by a specific malformation of the vertebra located within the spine.  Now in a normal/healthy spine, each individual vertebra will take on the shape of a three-legged stool, but in patients suffering from hemivertebra, that “stool” shape is replaced by something that looks more akin to a wedge or a triangle.

Which sounds…

Pretty bad and in many cases, it can be, but it is important to remember that a dog’s spinal cord is going to stretch from the back of his or head all the way to the end of his or her tail.  So, depending on where the “hemivertebra” are present will pay a huge role in how damaging it is to your dog’s overall health and quality of life.

For example…

If your dog’s hemivertebra deformities are located near the base of the skull or along his or her back, chances are, he or she will be severely handicapped or unable to experience an “normal” lifestyle.


If your dog’s hemivertebra is located near the tip of his or her tail, chances are they many not experience any significant symptoms or even notice the deformity at all.


The severity of the hemivertebra deformity may also vary such that, you dog may “technically” suffer from this condition, yet because the case is only a “minor” one, he or she may live a long and health life completely symptom free.

Which bring us to…

Were we would like to talk about some of the causes and symptoms associated with congenital hemivertebra.

Cause of Hemivertebra in Dogs

Unfortunately, as of yet, researchers have yet to determine the cause of hemivertebra in dogs.  What is known is that this condition is a congenital one (which means inherited and present from birth) and that some dog breeds seem to be at an increased risk for developing this condition which implies that a genetic factor is likely to be in play.

Breeds such as…

As well as the German Sheperd and the German Short-Hair Pointer breeds. In these two breeds the hemivertebra is an inherited autosomal recessive trait.

Symptoms of Hemivertebra in Dogs

As we’ve previously mentioned, the symptoms of hemivertebra are going to be dependent on where in the spine the deformities are and how many vertebrae are deformed.

Which means that…

A dog with hemivertebra does not necessarily mean that your dog will have issues, if it is in the tail there are typically no problems.

But because…

This deformity can lead to a sort of twisting of your dog’s spine which can then lead to the spinal cord being compressed.  This “compression” can then cause you pet to suffer from all sorts of symptoms including:

  • Anemia,
  • Sunken chest,
  • Dry skin,
  • Pain,
  • Fatigue or weakness,
  • Anemia,
  • Urinary and/or bowel incontinence.

And even complete loss of motor functioning in their rear legs.


Unfortunately, when symptoms occur they often steadily get worse and then plateau around 9 months old when the spine stops growing.

Diagnosis of Hemivertebra in Dogs

Typically, the first step in diagnosing hemivertebra in dogs is simply noticing rather unusual behavior that may be indicative of suffering from a spinal cord injury or deformity.  From there, in order to make a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian will likely need to order either an x-ray or a cat scan in order to determine for sure if you dog has been born with some type of hemivertebra.

In cases like these…

It’s quite possible that your veterinarian may discover that your dog’s symptoms are actually the result of some other condition which is causing him or her to suffer from symptoms that will closely mimic those born with hemivertebra.

This is typically when…

Your veterinarian will want to perform a complete physical examination and then will probably want to have some scans done. There is an x-ray called myelogram (myelography) which is an examination of the spine for diagnostic purposes. A myelogram is a diagnostic procedure that uses contrast dye that is sensitive to x-rays in injected in to illuminate the spine and allow identifying problems with the spine and spinal cords.

This would then….

Allow the veterinarian to see any type of spinal compression taking place. CT scans and MRI’s (magnetic resonance imaging) can also be used to determine if there is compression of the spinal cord.

Below are some of the general costs of diagnosis:

  • X-ray: $50-$200.
  • CT Scan: $1,000-$2,500.
  • MRI: $2,000-$4,000.
  • Myelogram: $4,500-$6,000.

Treatment of Hemivertebra in Dogs

In mild cases of hemivertebra, your veterinarian may recommend nutritional supplements and/or anti-inflammatory drugs and a lot of rest, so that your dog can be pain free.

Patients/puppies with moderate to severe…

Hemivertebra usually require a hemi-laminectomy which is a surgery to alleviate the compression that is being place upon the spinal cord in the area where the abnormal vertebrae exist.

During this surgery…

The intervertebral disc material which has been pressing against the spinal cord is removed which is then followed by the stabilization of the spine. For this surgery it will be necessary to have a board certified veterinary surgeon or possibly a veterinary neurologist perform this extremely delicate procedure. The general cost of treatment which is dependent on severity of the hemivertebra in dogs is as follows;

  • Nutritional Supplements: $20-$40 per month
  • Anti-inflammatory prescriptions: $30-$75 per month
  • Hemi-laminectomy: $2800-$5000

Which brings us to…

The point in this article were we like to take a moment and remind folks that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors.  Nor are we veterinarians or medical professionals.  All we are is a bunch of folks who just happen to be really passionate about animals and only want what’s best for this.

This is why…

We always advise any of our readers that…

“When in doubt, have a vet check it out!”

Because not only can having a vet check your pet out right away avoid lots on unnecessarily pain and suffering for your animal, it could also save you a bundle in money.

This is because…

What we have found over the years is that veterinarian care can be expensive, especially when they the condition is serious.  And the best way that we know to avoid a serious condition is to have your pet treated right away so that minor medical issues aren’t allowed to become major medical emergencies.

Which brings us to…

The last topic which we would like to mention, which is the importance of purchasing a pet insurance policy for your loved one.  This way, if he or she does become seriously sick or injured in the future, you won’t be on the hook for 100% of his or her medical bills.

For more information on who we feel currently offers the “Best” pet insurance policies in the industry, feel free to check out our Best Pet Insurance Companies article.

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