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Health & Wellness

How to detect and treat scoliosis in dogs

Dogs with scoliosis are often born with the condition.

Chances are that if your pet has scoliosis, you already know about it. That’s because most of the time, scoliosis in dogs is congenital, meaning that it’s present at birth or shows up shortly after a pup is born. Here’s how pet parents can be aware of the signs for scoliosis in dogs, and ways it can be treated.

What is scoliosis in dogs?

“Scoliosis is an abnormal position or curvature of the spine,” Dr. Kelly Diehl, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM (SAIM), a former vet and the senior scientific programs and communications adviser at Morris Animal Foundation, says. “It’s most often a congenital, or inherited, condition but can also be caused by trauma or as a component of other spinal cord diseases.” 

Some underlying causes of the abnormal curvature includes:

  • Abnormally shaped vertebrae
  • Ligament abnormalities, leading to bending and instability
  • Insufficient muscle support around the vertebrae

“When the spine curves abnormally, spinal cord compression can occur. And when the spinal cord is compressed, pain and neurologic signs can result,” Dr. Diehl says. “If the scoliosis is associated with another underlying condition, treating the underlying problem is critical.”

Dogs with scoliosis may have back pain, particularly around the part of the spine that is abnormally curved. They may also have neurologic deficits in their legs. 

“Although most of us think of scoliosis as a chronic problem, there are a few reports of previously healthy dogs suddenly developing a spinal curvature,” Dr. Diehl says. “In some cases, inflammation secondary to immune disease was responsible for the curvature and the dogs recovered with immunosuppressive therapy.”

RELATED: Understanding your dog’s body language

How to detect scoliosis in dogs

Luckily for our pups, scoliosis in dogs is very rare, and it often doesn’t cause any trouble when it’s present. If you think your pet has a spine that’s curvier than normal, but doesn’t have any associated pain, you can mention it to your veterinarian at your pet’s next appointment.

“Signs to watch for include sensitivity around the area of the curve and an abnormal gait or wobbliness in the front or back legs,” Dr. Diehl says. “These signs can indicate any kind of spinal cord problem and should be addressed with your vet immediately.”

Diagnosis of scoliosis is easily made by taking an X-ray of your pet. The abnormal curvature of the spine can be seen right away. Diagnosing neurologic involvement is a bit trickier, however, and will usually require more advanced tests, such as injecting contrast material into the spinal column or doing a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI).

How to treat scoliosis in dogs

The treatment plan will depend on if your dog is showing any signs of discomfort or neurologic deficits. Oftentimes, no treatment is needed, as long as your dog isn’t in pain.

“Cage rest coupled with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other analgesics if necessary can help if your dog has some mild soreness,” Dr. Diehl says. “More severe cases may need surgery to alleviate discomfort.” 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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