What Is Spina Bifida In Dogs

Malformation of the spinal cord and/or vertebrae during pregnancy is the cause of spina bifida (SB). It has a noticeable impact on a dog’s quality of life. They have trouble walking or are unable to move at all, and they are incontinent, which puts them at risk for developing recurrent skin and urinary tract infections.

Spina bifida: Can a dog live with it?

The majority of dogs with spina bifida lead fairly regular, content lives. They fully enjoy life and are unaware of any differences from other dogs. Most incontinent dogs become so accustomed to having their diapers changed and worn that it comes naturally to them.

Dogs with mobility problems usually find a method to get around on their own and are motivated to achieve their goals. Although most wheelchair-using dogs only use them outside the home, aids like ramps, strollers, and wheelchairs are frequently utilized to assist them.

How to Care for a Dog with Spina Bifida

Most of the time, dog care is the same as for any other dog! They are not aware of any differences, as we previously indicated, thus it is crucial to treat them as such. Once you learn how to use diapers properly, incontinence is not a huge concern. Check out this useful article to learn more about caring for a diaper dog.

Since you don’t have to take diaper dogs outside much, they make excellent apartment pets. Also, there’s no need to expose them to the elements like rain or cold! Adults often only need to be changed 3–4 times a day at most, however puppies require changing more frequently.

Depending on the degree, different care is required for dogs with movement problems. Dogs with more severe disabilities could occasionally need to be carried, go on walks in a wheelchair or stroller, and take ramps rather than steps. To prevent dragging from irritating their legs, extra care may need to be taken with them.

The experience of taking care of a dog with special needs may be incredibly rewarding, and it frequently results in a particularly strong attachment between the dog and caregiver.

Canine spina bifida can be cured?

Unfortunately, dogs with spinal cord abnormalities do not have access to any viable treatments. When an anomaly in a dog is accidentally detected, therapy is typically not required. Reconstructive surgery may be addressed if your dog only suffers a minor impact from the abnormalities since it may be possible to make minor repairs that will help your dog’s condition. Your vet will probably advise euthanasia if your dog has a severe case of spina bifida.

Many common pet health concerns are covered by pet insurance. Get a quotation from top pet insurance companies to be ready for the unexpected.

Do dogs naturally have spina bifida?

Canine spinal cord birth defects include spina bifida. The spinal cord is enclosed and safeguarded by the vertebrae of a healthy dog’s spinal column. For those who have Spina Bifida, a birth defect prevents the vertebrae from closing all the way, leaving a space and exposing the spinal cord. This malformation can occur anywhere along the spine, although it is more frequently found in the lower back, close to your dog’s tail. The fact that most puppies born in Australia that exhibit symptoms are put to sleep before an official diagnosis can be made and that Spina Bifida is a rare anomaly should be noted. This indicates that it’s possible that your veterinarian has never encountered a dog with this disease. Talk to your vet about Spina Bifida if your puppy is exhibiting any of the symptoms listed in this blog. This illness is treatable and does not guarantee death! I have a bulldog named Sophie who has this illness, and I take care of her. No studies have shown that dogs with mild forms of Spina Bifida had shorter lifespans.

What causes Spina Bifida abnormalities in dogs?

The precise causes of Spina Bifida in dogs are not well understood. There may be a hereditary connection, according to veterinary studies, but further study is needed. If you are purchasing a puppy from a breeder, you can inquire if any previous dogs in their litters or lineage have manifested the condition’s symptoms. Environmental factors are the most widely studied and accepted cause of Spina Bifida development. If the mother dog is exposed to certain things or experiences certain things during pregnancy, her puppies may acquire spinal cord abnormalities. This illness has been connected to elements like exposure to environmental toxins, uterine stress, and dietary abnormalities during pregnancy. A litter of puppies may have one or more afflicted puppies.

How is Spina Bifida diagnosed?

Dogs with Spina Bifida frequently show signs as early as 4 weeks of age, and the disorder is typically identified when a puppy is brought into the veterinary office with incontinence, weakness in the rear legs, or paralysis. To get a diagnosis, your veterinarian may take X-rays of your puppy’s spine. The absence of vertebral arches or dorsal spinous processes will be visible on the X-rays. The vertebrae’s top, pointed portion is described here. One or more vertebral fragments that haven’t fused properly can be affected. A CT or MRI scan may be advised by your veterinarian if an X-ray cannot provide a diagnosis. If the X-ray is unclear, this can help the veterinarian or veterinarian expert get a clearer picture of the spine and make a more accurate diagnosis. Spine abnormalities may not be visible on an X-ray in milder situations.

What breeds are most commonly affected and why?

There is no conclusive evidence linking a pet’s gender to the ailment, however some cat and dog breeds are more likely to acquire Spina Bifida than others. Interesting fact: In veterinary studies, the illness was discovered to exist in cows and horses in addition to household dogs and cats. Breeds with a corkscrew tail are those where spina bifida most usually manifests. The spinal cord is still made up of whole vertebral segments, even in short nub tails. It is believed that the problem is related to how the tail vertebrae twist and grow in breeds with stumpy tails. The English Bulldog is the breed where Spina Bifida is most frequently seen. However, any dog can get Spina Bifida; studies show that they are 3x more prone to do so than other breeds. The same is true for cats, with the Manx being the breed most frequently diagnosed with the illness, but other breeds are also affected. Affected dog breeds include:

  • Chihuahua
  • Collie
  • Doxie Pinscher
  • English Bulldog
  • Terrier of Boston
  • Little Poodle
  • Pointer German Shorthair
  • Spina Bifida Symptoms and Signs

If you suspect your puppy has Spina Bifida, it’s vital to understand that there are varied degrees of the disorder and that not all of these symptoms may be present in them. In dogs, symptoms can range from full paralysis and huge open lesions on the back and spine to no symptoms at all or problems. The spinal cord may occasionally be visible through an open lesion on your puppy’s back, which is present at birth in the majority of severe instances. If the puppy’s back does not appear to be open, the issue might not be noticed until the dog begins to walk or exhibits incontinence.

Symptoms and Signs of Spina Bifida

  • Sacral bulge an indent at the tail on the back. A distinct hair pattern or an open lesion can be used to detect this. If you run your thumb along your dog’s spine, you could feel a little dip close to the tail in mild cases.
  • bladder leakage. unable to pass their own urine, dribbling urine or holding it in the bladder. To do this, manual expression is necessary.
  • intestinal leakage. Lack of anal tone and knowledge when passing feces
  • Having a limited range of motion in the back legs, ranging from dragging feet to total paralysis
  • moving the back legs slowly
  • Lower back lacks pain receptors. If you pat your puppy’s tail, lower back, or hind legs, they might not respond.
  • difficulty with coordination and hydrocephalus


Spina bifida has no known quick treatment that will eliminate your dog’s problems. This condition lasts forever. Stem cell therapies that can aid in restoring movement in more severely afflicted individuals are currently being studied in studies at UC Davis in the United States. However, you can manage your dog’s condition so they can live a long, happy, and healthy life provided you have the necessary resources, assistance, and knowledge.

Severities and Types

There are many severity levels for spina bifida, ranging from no symptoms to complete paralysis of the lower extremities. There are four primary categories, however your veterinarian or a veterinarian specialist can give you extra information to help you understand your pet’s condition.


This is the mildest variant of spina bifida and may not manifest any symptoms at all. Only if you are obtaining x-rays on other sections of your pet’s body and your veterinarian notices it on the images could your pet be diagnosed with this form of Spina Bifida. They can not exhibit any symptoms at all, or they might have a little indentation on their spine. The ailment your dog has can go unnoticed by you.

Closed neural tube defects

On the X-ray or CT scans of your puppy, your veterinarian may spot spinal problems in this group. Frequently, symptoms of this magnitude are quite slight and controllable. Even if your dog is partially paralyzed, drags their feet, or walks a little unsteadily, they can still walk. They might also move around without any problems. Additionally, your puppy may be exhibiting bowel and/or urinary incontinence. There could also be minor nerve injury.


In this variety, the spinal cord has grown normally, but the protective membranes around it have protruded into the misaligned vertebral apertures. With this particular form of Spina Bifida, surgery may be an option to remove the membranes that are pushing through the bone. As with closed neural tube abnormalities, the same clinical signs are present. Surgery can make your pet more comfortable, but it won’t treat the symptoms.


The most severe kind of Spina Bifida is this. Frequently, the spinal cord is completely exposed, or many vertebrae are malformed. Full incontinence frequently comes along with complete paralysis of the lower limbs. Nerve injury will also result in a loss of cutaneous sensation. Puppies of this severity are frequently put to sleep and are typically born with their spinal cords exposed. Hydrocephalus can develop as a result of spine swelling. Although this illness is manageable, it can come with a number of problems and require continuing medical care. If your dog is diagnosed with this type of Spina Bifida, rescue organizations and specialized veterinarians can be of tremendous assistance in helping you choose the course of treatment.

Urinary tract infections

Spina Bifida-affected dogs are typically incontinent. It’s crucial to practice basic cleanliness when treating your pet’s incontinence to prevent UTIs. If your dog doesn’t completely empty their bladder and stale pee collects in their bladder, creating irritation, these may become unavoidable. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to have them do a urine test if you notice your dog is behaving lethargic, passing blood, or has black urine. UTIs can be treated with antibiotics. To maintain healthy bladder health, you can utilize supplements like cranberry, D-mannose, and making sure your pet is getting enough water. Discuss regulating your pet’s food to help avoid UTIs with your veterinarian or a pet nutritionist.

Skin infections and rashes

When caring for a dog with incontinence, it’s critical to maintain regular grooming and skin hygiene to prevent rashes. Diarrhoea can cause rashes and an ammonia burn on the skin, as you can see in our material matter blog here. It’s crucial to keep up a healthy cleaning schedule by changing your pet’s diapers frequently, letting your dog go outside without a diaper on, wiping in between changes, and giving baths as necessary. Our FAP and CCC inflammation prevention tools have extra information on diaper care. Your dog can feel more at ease by applying a zinc-based diaper cream, a pet-safe cream (we particularly adore Bella Maree Belly Cream), or a medicinal cream from your veterinarian to any rashes.

Lacerations and injury to the legs

Due to their lack of limb feeling, dogs with Spina Bifida may suffer injuries that they are not aware of. If your dog has reduced sensation in their back legs, it’s crucial to keep a constant eye on them. Additionally, pay attention to their back nails and toe nails. These could ache and bleed if they drag their feet.

Anal prolapse

If your dog has soft stools all the time, it may develop an anal prolapse due to a loss of tone in the anus. If this happens, immediately take your dog to the vet. The prolapsed anus can be reinserted by the veterinarian, minimizing the risk of infection. The vet could advise surgery to shorten or clip the bowel into place if this is a persistent problem as your dog matures from puppyhood to adulthood.

Joint weakness

As your dog ages and matures as a puppy, you could notice that their joints are becoming weaker. Regular vet visits should check on hip, knee, foot, and front shoulder joint problems. To maintain healthy joints, you can also add supplements to your pet’s diet. Additionally, your veterinarian might advise joint-supporting injections like Cartrophen.

Dundies Suggested management planSophie’s Care

Always get advice from your veterinarian when managing your dog’s spina bifida. Additionally, a pet nutritionist and an expert in animal rehabilitation can help with mobility care and feeding recommendations, respectively.

Hygiene and Bedding (nappy changes and baths)

Finding a schedule that works for you to handle their mess if they are incontinent is a terrific idea to retain your sanity as an owner and keep your dog and home fresh and tidy. We use Dundies all-in-one diapers and washable puppy pads to help Sophie manage her incontinence. Every 3 to 4 hours, or as soon as it becomes dirty, replace your pet’s diaper. Ensure that your dog gets poop-free time. Sophie spends a minimum of three hours in the yard outside of her diaper. This allows the skin to breathe and lessens the risk of ammonia burn. The permeable nature of Dundies nappies allows your pet’s skin to breathe while wearing them. Regardless of the brand you select, always check to see if the diaper is permeable. On our Material Matter Blog, you may get additional information on this. It’s also crucial to provide a secure sleeping area for your cat. Perhaps you should get them a container and teach them in it. After that, you may line the crate with a waterproof liner to make cleanup after spills a breeze. Spina Bifida-affected dogs frequently urinate when they are asleep and are unaware of it. Due to their absorbency and waterproofness, Dundies puppy pads are excellent for placing on top of beds. When sleeping, your dog can also wear a diaper. When you change your dog’s bottom in the morning, make sure to give them a thorough cleaning and then offer them some nappy-free time. You will use at least 4 diapers each day if you are using them on a dog that is entirely incontinent. You might require up to ten if your dog has unsettling bowel movements.

Expressing and monitoring of tummy and bowel

Dogs with spina bifida may not be able to completely empty their bladders. Make sure your dog can urinate and poop without difficulty. Regularly check their stomach and balder area; if you detect any distension, swelling, or unusual firmness, take them to the vet. Your veterinarian can assist you in learning how to express your pet if they require assistance emptying their bladder and bowels. Pets shouldn’t be overexpressed, especially if they have loose stools. Over-expressing can harm the anus and result in prolapse, bleeding, and bruises.


Find a reliable support network! The Dundies VIP group on Facebook is one of many great resources. Finding someone to ask if you are unsure or have questions can tremendously reduce your stress while taking care of your dog. Being stressed out by taking care of a crippled dog without assistance might result in thoughts of doubt and uncertainty, which is entirely natural! Numerous rescue organizations that specialize in the situation will be happy to provide you advice.


The health of your pet can be significantly improved by supplements and other health supports. As part of her management strategy, Sophie takes cranberries and consumes 1 meal per day of a well-balanced raw food as an adult dog. Sometimes eating kibble can result in loose stools. Finding a meal that works for your dog and produces a medium to hard stool is crucial. Consult a veterinarian or canine nutritionist about diet. Limit the kinds of foods your pet eats and make sure they always have access to water. When offering treats, sticking to a single protein, like chicken breast, will help you identify any digestive issues your dog may have. You can try a different reward if you notice your pet gets an upset stomach after eating that one.

Exercise and joint support

Exercise is crucial to your pet’s continued happiness and health. Give your dog with Spina Bifida brief walks, or try treatments like hydrotherapy.