Spina bifida is a deformation of the spine. It can be completely asymptomatic or physically debilitating. Severe cases are generally diagnosed when a puppy is young; mild cases may never be diagnosed. The right care for a dog with spina bifida may help him live a happy life even with the condition.
When a dog is in the womb, the vertabrae of the spinal column generally close over the spinal cord. In dogs with spina bifida, this cord is left either partially or wholly exposed. This deformity may cause incontinence, an unsteady gait and weakness of the back legs. In severe cases, the spinal cord may be exposed through the skin. English bulldogs, Boston terriers, Chihuahuas, pugs, dalmatians and Samoyeds are the breeds most likely to suffer from this defect.
Unfortunately treatment options are few for dogs with this condition. Your veterinarian may recommend surgery to ensure the spinal cord is not exposed above the skin. Surgery may partially close the vertebrae, but it cannot fully correct the condition. Dogs with extremely severe spina bifida may be euthanized shortly after birth, while those with milder cases can live full lives with supportive care.
Living With Spina Bifida
Dogs with spina bifida may suffer from partial or full incontinence, making a diaper useful for living in the home. It is important to keep the diaper clean, as dogs with spina bifida are more prone to urinary tract infections. Feeding your dog to help keep his stools solid may help him control his bowels, as loose bowels are more difficult to control. Consult your veterinarian about your dog's quality of life.
Diagnosing the Condition
Severe spina bifida is usually diagnosed early in a puppy's life, generally when they should developmentally begin walking. An X-ray is the most certain way to see the formation of the spine and identify the condition. Dogs with very mild spina bifida may be diagnosed only when they get an X-ray for other reasons. Meningitis, a swelling of the spinal cord, is often a comorbid condition and may help veterinarians diagnose spina bifida.