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."

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 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!

There is a prominent genetic component with bulldogs and spina bifida.  In our opinion, expression of the disease is exacerbated by breeding to attain certain desireable traits. Buster is a tri-color, green eyed English bulldog. Bulldogs with these traits are very rare and can command thousands of dollars.

The Bulldog Club of America discusses the issue of breeding standards and known genetic issues with the breed here:
They defend their position against a study done at UC Davis, A Genetic Assessment of the English Bulldog:
"Dr. Pedersen makes the statement, 'Indeed, English Bulldog breeders appear to be more interested in adding recessive coat color mutation to increase puppy value than eliminating known deleterious mutations…"  "The English bulldog is the most egregious example of getting carried away with oneself in actually designing a dog that’s as far from nature as you can possibly get,” said Pedersen, whose study was published last week in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. Breeders have, he said, “created a dog that basically has been bred into a corner.”

Bulldog Club of America response:
"BCA is aware of breeders who promote non-standard colors as desirable and “exotic” and who are breeding for an extreme “Bulldog” which does not resemble the approved standard of excellence. One example of an extreme trait that seems to be highly prized in some of these commercial sites is an overly large nose wrinkle. The BCA condemns an overly large wrinkle which could constrict the air flow to the nostrils. These commercial breeders generally refer to the breed as “English Bulldogs” instead of the more proper designation in the United States as “Bulldog.”  The breeders who are working to produce these undesirable colors are color testing their dogs so that they can produce with some certainty these “exotic” colors. In order to produce these undesirable, recessive colors, they must closely inbreed.”

Some further information from an article on the study done at UC Davis:
“Loss of genetic diversity is also pronounced in the region of the genome that contains many of the genes that regulate normal immune responses. The loss of genetic diversity and extreme changes in various regions of the genome will make it very difficult to improve breed health from within the existing gene pool. Loss of present genetic diversity is further threatened by rapid integration of new coat color mutations, increased wrinkling of the coat, and attempts to create a more compact body type. Contrary to current beliefs, brachycephaly and the resulting breathing problems in the breed are the result of complex changes in head structure, and cannot be corrected by merely lengthening the face. Furthermore, other issues in English bulldogs need to be addressed, including many serious health problems that are not associated with brachycephaly, but are intrinsic to inbreeding.”

A movement within dog competitions to promote the health of breeding would send a strong message to breeders that creating "exotic" dogs will not be tolerated.

"Crufts, the world’s largest dog show, had taken bulldogs as well as the Westminster winner, the Pekingese, out of competition, because they had failed veterinary inspections. When I asked my bulldog-owning friends, they all said they weren’t surprised. While they loved their bulldogs, they had all endured health problems with their pets and incurred large veterinary bills." 


"The litany of health problems common to the English bulldog, as the breed is formally known, has been at the center of a controversy over breeding in Britain since 2008. That year, a damning BBC documentary on purebred dogs’ poor health and welfare, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” prompted several independent reports and caused the Kennel Club — the British counterpart to the American Kennel Club — to modestly revise its standards for several breeds, including the bulldog."

Similar to Bulldogs bred for "cute flat faces" regardless of health concerns, a recent article also discusses a similar situation with over breeding of French Bulldogs and known breathing issues.

In addition there is a disturbing trend in regards to horses bred to look like cartoon characters:

"Since humans first domesticated animals, they have been selectively breeding for desirable characteristics... In more recent times, this has expanded to include animals with certain aesthetic qualities, resulting in very deformed examples being lauded as having an “ideal” look, despite suffering from serious health and welfare problems. The most obvious examples of this problem are dogs with flat faces – such as pugs and French bulldogs. These brachysephalic dogs have soared in popularity in recent years, but are at high risk of breathing problems, often requiring surgery to improve airflow to the lungs, sometimes an emergency tracheotomy due to acute respiratory distress. As Pete Weddburn, veterinary columnist for The Telegraph, has pointed out, it would be illegal to smother a dog so it could barely breathe, but it is perfectly legal to breed a dog that collapses, unable to get sufficient oxygen due to narrowed and compressed airways.  Snuffling is not cute. And now the trend for exaggerated facial traits appears to be taking hold in horses as well."

To foster responsible breeding and learn more about genetic issues, the Bulldog Club of America has created the BCA Ambassador for Health Awards Program. More information on the program can be found here:; the program encourages Certificates for BAER hearing testing, and participation in the CHIC DNA repository and OFA Spinal Database for the breeder to receive “Health Pioneer” designation.

The following article from 2010 also acknowledges the importance of breeders health testing and registering with the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), a central database and DNA bank that collects health information about individual dogs, for the betterment of the breed.
"The Bulldog Club of America Charitable Fund is considering funding research of cleft palate, spina bifida and brachycephalic airway syndrome. 'The parent club aims to aid researchers studying these congenital diseases in hopes of finding the genetic mutations," says Hughes. "Cleft palate and spina bifda affect all breeds of dog, as well as humans, and may be preventable with careful breeding.' Cleft palate and spina bifida are developmental defects that occur when puppies are in the womb. Cleft palate is caused by an opening between the nasal and oral cavities, and spina bifida is due to an incompletely formed spinal cord. Health research and the subsequent genetic tests that may result are imperative, says Hugo-Milam. "It is so important for a parent club to stay on top of diseases that affect a breed. Funding research and tracking health test results through CHIC ultimately will help make Bulldogs a healthier breed."

Personally, we don’t think there is any coincidence that Buster is an exotic, recessive, tri-color bulldog and is also afflicted with spina bifida. We see it as a breeders responsibility to first produce HEALTHY dogs, not EXOTIC (and more valuable) ones. These dogs are living things, not inventory!

We applaud the BCA’s stance on intentional recessive trait breeding, but would like to see a more aggressive stance taken to limit these practices – up to and including mandatory participation in the CHIC program.

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.

In addition to Spina Bifida, Buster has a genetic predisposition for patellar luxation due to a curve in his femurs.  He is recovering from his third knee surgery, two on his left knee and one on his right knee; undergoing 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."