Definition of Spina Bifida
Spina bifida is a birth defect involving abnormal prenatal development of one or more of a dog’s vertebrae, which are the bones of the spine. What causes spina bifida isn’t well-understood, although there probably is a strong genetic component. Malnutrition and ingestion of toxins during pregnancy may play a role. The vertebrae of dogs with this condition aren’t properly fused, which interferes with the function of the spine and the shock-absorbing intervertebral disks. This defect allows the spinal cord to squeeze out through gaps in the spine, causing a variety of symptoms. Owners usually notice signs when affected puppies try to walk, between one and two weeks of age. They show hind-end weakness, poor muscle tone, incontinence, incoordination and abnormal use of their tail. There may be a draining mass or skin dimpling on the dog’s back, over the site of the spinal defect. Fortunately, spina bifida doesn’t worsen with time.