One of the physical tell-tale signs of Spina Bifida is a divet located along the back of the spine.  Buster had irritation requiring the doctor to shave the area for further examination. 

In addition to Spina Bifida, Buster has a genetic predisposition for patellar luxation due to a curve in his femurs.  He has had three knee surgeries, two on his left knee and one on his right knee; following up with laser, physical therapy and hydrotherapy.

"Because of the strong genetic relationships, animals with this disorder should not be used for breeding."

An article from the Purina Pro Club, "Breeders Are Encouraged to Health Test for Patellar Luxation ," echos the same stance.

"Patellar luxation is most likely a complex genetic disease involving several genes," Roush says. "The more generations bred without the condition, the stronger the indication the disease is reduced in a bloodline."

​​Definition of spina bifida from :
“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 spinabifida 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.”

"There are a range of possible abnormalities that can occur with spina bifida. In a case where there is only nonfusion of a small part of one or several vertebrae, your dog will have no medical problems. On the opposite end of the continuum, a majority of the vertebral arch could be missing on several vertebrae along with the spinal cord and/or its lining protruding. In the more severe cases, issues will occur as a result of the part of the spinal cord that is impacted. " Buster has lumbar spina bifida with myelomeningocele causing urinary and fecal incontinence as diagnosed through an MRI. "There are three sub classifications of spina bifida: spina bifida manifesta, cystica and aperta. These point to there being a protrusion of the spinal cord membranes (meningocele cyst), a protrusion of the spinal cord itself (myelocele), or a protrusion of the spinal cord and its membranes (meningomyelocele)"  When reading an x-ray, it looks as if looks as if he has two tails, as his spine runs alongside his tail.  He is incontinent, however, with a schedule of feeding and diaper changes life is very manageable. He is at risk for spinal meningitis, which our neurosurgeon will continue to monitor.

"Symptoms in dogs with spina bifida range from no visible signs to significant issues. Should the defect be minor, the anomaly may never be noticed unless there is an x-ray done on your dog. In more severe cases where the spinal cord is affected, you may see the following signs: Weakness, Lack of coordination, Paralysis, Inability to control fecal and urine elimination, Skin may be dimpled at the location where the defect is present. When there is a significant defect, the spinal cord may be exposed and the defect noticed at birth. If the spinal cord is not exposed, in severe cases the fact that there is a problem is typically clear as your puppy begins to walk.  There are a range of possible abnormalities that can occur with spina bifida. In a case where there is only nonfusion of a small part of one or several vertebrae, your dog will have no medical problems. On the opposite end of the continuum, a majority of the vertebral arch could be missing on several vertebrae along with the spinal cord and/or its lining protruding. In the more severe cases, issues will occur as a result of the part of the spinal cord that is impacted."

Frank is our newest special needs pup. Like Buster, he has spina bifida.  He was urinary and fecal incontinent from birth, hip dysplasia, luxating patella and overall malformations of his hind legs.  At five months he had sudden onset paralysis of his back legs. A subsequent MRI showed two locations of butterfly vertebrae and spina bifida that, due to complications, are causing his paralysis.

The first MRI image shows a fluid pocket at his T12 thoracic vertebrate. His spinal cord is being stretched over this area and has begun to atrophy.

The second MRI image shows the lumbar location of his spina bifida. The concave divot above the area where the spinal column didn’t fully form can also be seen through his fur.  The image shows the spinal cord being pulled towards the top of the spinal defect.  The end of the spinal cord is tethered in the pocket below the divot, resulting in pulling of the spinal cord.  As Frank grows this will continue to stretch and cause additional atrophy.

The third image is a front view of his spine and spinal cord.

Ultimately, Frank’s paralysis is due to the lengthening of the spinal column as he grows. As the spine lengthens, the tension on his spinal cord increases and causes atrophy.On January 13th, 2020, Frank underwent tethered cord spinal surgery at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital with the renowned spina bifida research surgeon, Dr. Beverly Sturges.  In addition to the MRI results, “Frank presented with significant muscle contractures of bilateral hamstrings and cranial tibialis resulting in maintaining increased flexion at the stifle and hock when at rest.”  Frank’s surgery entailed untethering of the spinal cord by performing a dorsal laminectomy and releasing the abnormal attachments to vertebrae and soft tissues.  His arachnoid diverticulum (lesion) was then reduced back into the spinal canal for smoother cerebrospinal fluid flow.”

Frank spent 5 days in the hospital and has recovered successfully from the surgery.  The next crucial part of his recovery is intensive physical therapy to relieve his limb contractures and build strength and muscle tone in the pelvic limbs.  He currently receives in-home physical therapy twice a week including acupuncture and laser and will enroll in a physical therapy day program as he continues to heal.  His next surgeries include bi-lateral knee and hip surgery to further straighten his legs.

What to expect when adopting a dog with spina bifida:

The first step in our process was gaining a detailed understanding of his spinal condition with the help of our neurosurgeon.  The rescue for Buster had previously performed an MRI to diagnose spina bifida, so we were able to utilize this helpful data as well in the process.  
In Buster's case, spina bifida causes complete incontinence, but has absolutely no effect on his mobility.  He will dribble urine constantly, and does not need his bladder expressed in order to urinate. However, we often use an expression technique as part of our bathroom schedule in order to completely "empty out" his bowels and bladder.  

Our biggest battle with Busters SB is his high risk of recurrent UTI's; a result of the way he is "wired" due to his SB condition.  We work closely with his internist to monitor and treat infections as they arise.
After a schedule and changing routine have been established, caring for Buster is very similar to caring for a puppy. He is happy, full of energy and love, and WOW -  what a personality! His rescue said it best, SB dogs must be born with extra endorphins because they are SO sweet and outgoing!

In regards to treatment for SB dogs from

“Treatment is rarely attempted for dogs with spina bifida, mainly because there is no reliable way to “treat” - or fuse - the defect in the abnormal vertebral bones. If a dog has clinical symptoms as a result of a spinal malformation, it means that the spinal cord has already been damaged. At that point, treatment is almost never available or effective.”

As technology and treatment options progress, so do the management options for SB dogs.  Water therapy and physical therapy have been seen as effective means to aid in achieving increased mobility and quality of life, in addition to wheelchairs, carts and drag bags.  Life with a special needs pup is not what it used to be, and as animal welfare continues to be at the forefront of social conscience the options available for a full and happy life increase. Similar to human spina bifida, research is slow.  However, within the last month there has been exciting breakthroughs with stem cell therapy and spina bifida treatment.

In similar studies, scientist and researchers are exploring the correlation between canine and pediatric diseases, similar to recent research with bone cancer.

The latest study Spring 2018  needing English Bulldog with Spina Bifida study. It is a collaboration between Shriners Hospitals for Children and UC Davis School of Medicine as well as UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. :

Among our specialist and veterinarians, we are their first spina bifida case they’ve had an opportunity to treat.  Through online research we have seen mention of veterinarians that rescue groups work with that are familiar with or specialize in the needs of spina bifida dogs.    our medical team  Buster's physical therapist   Lily's Pad Rescue medical team

There is no cure, but through management you can give these dogs a wonderful and full life.