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

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

In our opinion…

That is precisely what you should do. Have a professional veterinarian examine your puppy if you think they may be experiencing some medical condition like hemivertebra. That said, however, it never hurts to learn a little bit about this condition yourself so that you can better understand what this medical condition is and have a better idea of what it might be like to own a dog suffering from it.

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

Hemivertebra in Dogs Defined.

Hemivertebra in dogs is a congenital disability defined by a specific malformation of the vertebra located within the spine. Now, in a normal/healthy spine, each vertebra will be a three-legged stool. However, in patients suffering from hemivertebra, that “stool” shape is replaced by something resembling a wedge or a triangle.

It sounds pretty bad and, in many cases, can be, but it is essential to remember that a dog’s spinal cord will stretch from the back of its head to the end of its tail. So, depending on where the “hemivertebra” are present will play a massive role in how damaging it is to your dog’s overall health and quality of life.

For example…

Suppose your dog’s hemivertebra deformities are located near the base of the skull or along its back; chances are. In that case, they will be severely handicapped or unable to experience a “normal” lifestyle. However, if your dog’s hemivertebra is near the tip of its tail, it may not experience any significant symptoms or even notice the deformity.


The severity of the hemivertebra deformity may also vary such that your dog may “technically” suffer from this condition, yet because the case is only a “minor” one, they may live a long and healthy, utterly symptom-free life, which brings us to where we would like to talk about some 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, implying 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 will depend on where in the spine the deformities are and how many vertebrae are deformed. This 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 just because…

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

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

And even complete loss of motor function in their rear legs. Unfortunately, symptoms often steadily worsen and then plateau around nine 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 indicate suffering from a spinal cord injury or deformity. From there, to make a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian will likely need to order an x-ray or a CAT scan to determine if your dog has been born with some hemivertebra.

In cases like these…

Your veterinarian may discover that your dog’s symptoms result from some other condition, causing it to suffer from symptoms that closely mimic those born with hemivertebra.

This is typically when your veterinarian will want to perform a complete physical examination and 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 sensitive to X-rays injected to illuminate the spine and allow identifying problems with the spine and spinal cords.

This would then….

Allow the veterinarian to see any spinal compression taking place. CT scans and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) can also be used to determine if spinal cord compression exists.

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 Options

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

Patients/puppies with moderate to severe…

Hemivertebra usually require a hemi-laminectomy, a surgery to alleviate the compression placed upon the spinal cord in the area where the abnormal vertebrae exist.

During this surgery…

The intervertebral disc material, pressing against the spinal cord, is removed, followed by the stabilization of the spine. It will be necessary to have a board-certified veterinary surgeon or a veterinary neurologist perform this extremely delicate procedure for this surgery. The general cost of treatment, which is dependent on the 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

This brings us to the point in this article where we like to take a moment and remind folks that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors. Nor are we veterinarians or medical professionals. We are all a bunch of folks passionate about animals and only want what’s best for them.

This is why…

We always advise any of our readers that…

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

Not only can having a vet check your pet out right away avoid unnecessary pain and suffering for your animal, but it could also save you a bundle of money. This is because we have found that veterinarian care can be expensive, especially when the condition is severe. The best way to avoid a serious illness is to treat your pet immediately so minor medical issues aren’t allowed to become major medical emergencies.

Which brings us to…

The last topic I want to mention is the importance of purchasing a pet insurance policy for your loved one. If they become seriously sick or injured in the future, you won’t be on the hook for 100% of their medical bills.

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

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