What to Know About Dogs with Spina Bifida

We're answering your questions about dogs with Spina Bifida!

October 29, 2021In Health & Wellness
Article authored by Road Dogs volunteer Haley Bieber

Spina bifida is a common disability we see in dogs rescued by Road Dogs. We often get asked about quality of life and what it’s like to care for dogs with Spina Bifida, so we’re answering some common questions below!

What is Spina Bifida?

To put it simply, Spina Bifida is a congenital defect of the vertebrae that prevents it from completely encasing the spinal cord, leaving the cord partially exposed. It most commonly occurs near the lower back but can occur anywhere along the spine.

Bulldog puppy with spina bifida wearing a pink diaper

How Does Spina Bifida Affect Dogs?

This varies greatly from dog to dog. Some may be fully paralyzed in their back end and fully incontinent. Others may be completely mobile and/or partially incontinent. Spina Bifida is not a degenerative disorder, meaning it’s not going to get worse or better over time.

While only a vet will be able to officially diagnose a dog, there are some signs and symptoms that can often be spotted in the first few months of a puppy’s life – the first being a lack of mobility in its back legs. Another sign might be incontinence or lack of awareness when urinating and defecating. In some cases, as the dog grows you can see a divot on their back where the spinal defect is.

What Causes Spina Bifida?

There is limited research on what causes Spina Bifida, but there are indications that it is due to the interaction of several genetic and environmental factors. While birth defects are bound to occur now and then, we have seen a lot of puppies with Spina Bifida coming from irresponsible breeding with a lack of thorough genetic testing.

With the increase in popularity of “rare and exotic” colored bulldogs, there’s also been an increase in breeding that leads to more puppies in rescue with special needs. We have seen several cases of multiple Spina Bifida puppies in a single litter.

What is Life Like for a Dog with Spina Bifida?

Most dogs with Spina Bifida live very normal, happy lives. They don’t know they’re any different from other dogs and live life to the fullest! Incontinent dogs grow accustomed to wearing diapers and being changed that it becomes second nature to most.

Dogs with mobility issues typically figure out a way to get around on their own and are determined to do whatever they set their minds to. Tools are often used to help them including ramps, strollers, and wheelchairs, although most wheelchair pups only use them outside of the house.

Rescue french bulldog with Spina Bifida wearing a Capitals bandana and sitting on a couch

How to Care for a Dog with Spina Bifida

For the most part, it’s just like caring for any other dog! As we stated earlier, they have no idea they’re any different and we believe it’s important to treat them as such. Incontinence is no big deal once you get the hang of diapering. If you’d like to know more about caring for a diaper dog, check out this helpful article!

Diaper dogs make great apartment pets since you don’t have to take them outside several times a day. There’s also no need to take them out in the rain or cold! Puppies need to be changed more often, but adults usually only need to be changed, at most, 3-4 times a day.

The care for dogs with mobility issues varies depending on the severity. Dogs with more severe challenges may need to be carried at times, use a wheelchair or stroller for walks, and use ramps instead of stairs. Extra attention may need to be given to their legs to ensure they don’t suffer irritation from dragging.

Caring for a special needs dog can be a very rewarding experience and often leads to an especially close bond between the pup and caretaker!