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Hemivertebrae in Pugs

Brachycephalic breeds of dogs or those with short muzzles, such as the Pug, often possess a tail that is curled like a cork screw. Nature may have dictated that this cork screw appearance of the tail provide a balance to a Pug’s short, pushed in face, but it may also indicate an abnormality in the formation and development of the dog’s spine known as Hemivertebrae.

Aside from the Pug, other breeds of dogs that are likely to possess a hemivertebrae at the tail include Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, and English Bulldogs. When the condition affects the bones of the tail, it is not really a major problem because there is no spinal cord tissue present in this part of the vertebral column. However, a cork-screw tail may be prone to skin-fold infections.

Aside from the tail, Hemivertebrae can also occur in other parts of the vertebral column. These types of Hemivertebrae can occur in the middle of the backbone thus resulting in the arching of the back. This can create areas in the spine which can be susceptible to injury. A dog suffering from this form of hemivertebrae often suffers from pain even with the slightest movement.

The deviation of the spine will mainly depend on the degree by which the bones which are involved have developed. Symptoms associated with hemivertebrae usually plateau at about 9 months of age when the bones of the vertebral column stops growing.

Although this form of hemivertebrae is quite uncommon in Pugs, it can be devastating when it does. The condition usually develops while the puppy is still growing. It is characterized by the failure of two or more parts of the vertebral column to fuse properly. The vertebral bones develop unequally resulting in deformed vertebra that prevents normal fusion. When this happens, a wedge is formed that can exert pressure on the dog’s spine thereby compressing it and leading to difficulties in movement and paralysis. The most common site where this type of Hemivertebrae often develops is around the 8th to the 11th thoracic vertebrae. It may also occur along the cervical vertebrae or the bones of the neck. Most cases of Hemivertebrae are considered congenital or hereditary thus parents that possess the abnormality can transmit it to their offspring. Thus a puppy can already possess the abnormality upon birth although it may not be as obvious.

Another explanation for the occurrence of hemivertebrae is an insufficient blood supply to the area that can hinder the normal development of the vertebral bones.

As the puppy grows older, the first sign that will indicate a Hemivertebrae is the weakening of its hind limbs. When this happens, the dog may hesitate to move or stand up. He may also be unable to normally move his hindquarters.
Compression of the spine may result in the manifestation of the following symptoms—

• Weakness of the hind limbs and displaying an uncoordinated gait which is most obvious between 4-6 months of age.
• Difficulty in voiding out urine and feces
There are cases when symptoms become progressively worse and the dog may become paralyzed.

Hemivertebrae in Pugs is often an incidental finding in radiographic examinations. However, dogs that manifest nervous signs have to be subjected to several tests to rule out other causes that show similar symptoms.
This will involve special imaging procedures such as myelography, MRI or CT imaging). A positive result will show the dog’s spinal cord being compressed by the hemivertebrate.

Mild cases can be managed effectively with adequate rest. Your vet may administer corticosteroid injections to relieve the inflammation. However, severe cases may require surgery that should be performed by an experienced spinal surgeon. The procedure is aimed at correcting the deformity and to provide stability to the affected part. Whether mild or severe, pain management with the aid of drug medications is very important. Restricted activity is also important during the dog’s period of recovery.

There have been reports of dogs with hemivertebrae responding well to acupuncture. But there are dogs that become permanently paralyzed as a result of the compression on the spine.

Dogs which have been diagnosed with hemivertebrae should never be allowed to breed. It would also be wise to have a dog that belongs to a susceptible breed x-rayed before breeding.