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Dogs most often genetically inherit congenital spinal and vertebral malformations (as opposed to adverse conditions during fetal development). Specifically, sacrococcygeal dysgenesis (defective development) is a dominant trait, while thoracic hemivertebra (chest half-vertebra) of German shorthaired pointers is a recessive trait.
Spinal malformations are usually evident at birth or in the first few weeks of life. On the other hand, vertebral malformations can be latent until the dog undergoes a growth spurt around five to nine months of age. Visible signs of a distorted spinal column are lordosis (curvature of the spine at the lower back) and kyphosis (a posterior curvature of the spine).
Scoliosis (a lateral curvature of the spine) is also an easily visible form of vertebral malformation. If the malformations lead to secondary spinal cord compression and trauma, the affected dog will display ataxia and paresis. Medicine often does not resolve neurological manifestations of spinal and vertebral malformations. If the condition is severe and untreatable, euthanasia should be considered.
You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog's health and onset of symptoms. A full physical exam will be performed. X-rays of the spinal column (including all vertebrae) can often reveal the exact malformation. If neurological signs (paralysis) are present, a myelography can be used to indicate with precision at which level the spinal cord is compressed. This imaging technique uses a radiopaque substance that is injected into the spine, or into the membranous space that surrounds the spinal cord so that the defects in the spine will be visible on X-ray projections.
Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be helpful, and are in some cases much more sensitive than X-rays. However, myelography is generally the diagnostic imaging technique of choice.
Surgery can be helpful for cases involving narrowing of the spinal canal and decompression of the spinal cord. Secondary damage due to spinal compression may be avoided if surgical intervention takes place early on. If the spinal compression is diffuse or long-term, your dog may not respond to surgery. If your dog is showing neurological signs such as dizziness, seizures or paralysis postoperatively, restricted activity combined with physical therapy may be helpful.
Something that appears white or light grey on a radiograph
A type of paralysis that may be only slight; affects the way that an animal is able to move
The study of the spine after dye has been injected
The act of making an opening narrower.
The term for an animal whose tail has been docked or removed
A bone in the spinal column
Pertaining to the chest
Any growth or organ on an animal that is not normal
The curve in the spine, usually associated with an animal being in estrous
A condition in which growth and development are not up to normal standards
The number one cervical vertebrae.
Inducing death on an animal or putting them to sleep
Transmitting genes from parent to child
Moving or located away from the midline; located along the side
Term used to refer to an infection that is present but has not yet begun to spread
A medical condition in which an animal is unable to control the movements of their muscles; may result in collapse or stumbling.