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Spina Bifida in Dogs… Symptoms, expectations and costs!

Spina Bifida is a birth defect that you may have heard of in humans. But guess what? Spina bifida in dogs is real too. This is why we decided to write a brief article and what one should expect if they end up owning a dog that is diagnosed with Spina Bifida.

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

What is spina bifida?

Spina bifida is a congenital disease that occurs while the affected puppy is still in the mother dog’s uterus.  It is during this time as well all know that all of the body parts begin to form, including the vertebrae, spinal cord, brain and meninges.

And if…

Anything goes wrong in the development of these four things, it could lead to the development of the medical condition known as spina bifida.

The most common…

Issue that can arise is when the vertebrae along the spinal cord don’t fuse together properly and that winds up causing a lot of other problems. It can also impact vertebral arches. You will know if a dog has spina bifida very early on because they will have problems trying to walk.

What causes spina bifida to occur in dogs?

What causes spina bifida in dogs still remains a mystery. There are some that believe that it may be due to malnutrition or some type of environmental toxin.

While other…

Believe that is probably due to some type of hereditary condition although, evidence doesn’t seem to support that any one breed may be at an increased risk over another.

The truth is…

At this point, nobody really knows which probably indicates that the cause is probably more complex than just any one factor and is likely a combination of both environment and genetic factors.

Symptoms and Clinical Signs of Spina Bifida in Dogs

As mentioned, you’ll know if a dog has spina bifida right around the time he really starts to walk. This is a condition most often diagnosed in puppies. If he has a spinal problem of this severity, he will probably be falling down with ataxia. There are other signs like hind leg muscle atrophy and urinary problems. Another thing is that some dogs wag/use their tail in a strange way but, the main this is that he cannot walk!


It’s important to note that usually spina bifida is present in the lower back rather than the upper spine. If your dog has problems in the upper spine, then it may be another condition and not SB.

Diagnosis of Spina Bifida in Dogs

In order to accurately diagnose a dog with spina bifida, a vet will give a physical and neurological exam. They most definitely will want an x-ray of the dog’s spine, and possibly an MRI.  If the dog has the kind of spina bifida where the vertebrae have no malformation, then it’s possible that your dog could have the condition and you’ll never know!

Treatment Options

The good thing is that this is not a degenerative disease. The bad news is that there really isn’t a treatment option for spina bifida in dogs.

And while…

Children with spina bifida normally undergo surgery, this normally isn’t the case with dogs or puppies. That said, there have been recent cases where bulldog puppies were part of a trial at UC Davis and received a stem cell treatment. This treatment did help the puppies, however, it’s not something that’s available to ordinary people like you and me just yet!

That said…

We do hope that stem cell therapy becomes a legitimate option for dogs and children with spina bifida. Maybe in a few years it will be!

Prognosis of Spina Bifida in dogs

Spina bifida isn’t known to decrease a dog’s life expectancy – though of course, any time a dog has difficulties walking it’s more likely for him or her to die of an accidental death.

As a pet owner…

The most you can do is try to offer your dog a comfortable life, however you think best. Some people think that euthanasia is the best option for dogs with severe spina bifida. Of course, this is something you will have to decide for yourself as we here at IndulgeYourPet do not endorse euthanasia for convenience but only in cases where an animal is suffering needlessly.

Which brings us to…

Were we like to remind folks that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians or medical professionals.  All we are is a bunch of folks who just happen to be passionate about animals and only want what’s best for them.

This is why…

If you feel like your pet may have spina bifida (or any other health issue for that matter) the first thing that you’re going to want to do is have him or her check out by a vet ASAP!


The truth is, an early diagnosis will often lead to the “best” medical outcome for your pet regardless of what is bothering him or her, but beyond that diagnosing a medical condition early could save you a bundle in medical costs!

Treatment Costs

As we mentioned, there really aren’t many treatment options. However, dogs with spina bifida may have other problems down the line as a result of SB. If this is the case, then your medical costs will be contingent upon that. In general, as the puppy parent of a spina bifida pup, you should anticipate that you may have to shell out $100-500 a year for doctor’s visits and so forth.

This is why…

We here at IndulgeYourPet also recommend that any new pet owner take a moment and see what it might cost for you to purchase a pet insurance policy for your new animal.

Now will a puppy that has been diagnosed with Spina Bifida be eligible for coverage?

No, probably not.  But chances are if you own a dog that suffers from spina bifida, we’re wiling to bet that you also own another animal who may be eligible for insurance coverage and who could one day really need it!

For more information on who we feel currently offers the “best” pet insurance policies out there, we would encourage you to check out our Best Pet Insurance Policies article.

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