Hemivertebrae in Boston Terrier Dogs


Normally, a dog’s spine is like a long cylindrical tube with a rounded hole in the middle where the delicate spinal cord passes through.

Dogs with hemivertebrae often exhibit a characteristic “screw or curled tail” which is typically seen in Pugs and Bulldogs. In cases where only the vertebral bones of the tail are involved, it does not create much of a problem however some cases may involve other bones of the vertebra other than those in the tail, thus complicating the condition.


Most dogs with hemivertebrae do not suffer from adverse effects. The condition may not be as obvious and can be an incidental finding during a thorough physical examination.

In the early phase of the disease, a dog owner may observe his dog being unable to move its hindquarters normally. In rare cases of hemivertebrae, nervous signs may be manifested which is associated with the pressure exerted on the spinal cord particularly when the abnormal vertebral conformation takes place in the mid-thoracic spine or at the middle of the back. Severely deformed vertebrae can cause undue pressure on the spinal cord leading to mobility problems, pain, or even paralysis. A dog suffering from severe hermivertebrae may have difficulty getting up or lying down.

In order to distinguish hemivertebrae from other conditions that manifest nervous signs, diagnosis is made by taking x-rays (Myelography) of the site to demonstrate the abnormal conformation of the bones and the resulting compressive effect on the spinal cord. Myelography is achieved by injecting a dye to determine the location of the compression and assess the extent of the condition.


More and more vet clinics now employ CT scans and MRIs to help them arrive at an accurate diagnosis.

In mild cases of Hemivertebrae, an affected dog is often treated with anti-inflammatory medications and lots of rest. Dogs suffering from moderate to severe problems linked to spinal cord compression as a result of Hemivertebrae, a surgical procedure known as a hemilaminectomy is often recommended by veterinary specialists. This procedure can help relieve the compression on the spinal cord where the hemivertebrae is located. Being a delicate procedure, a Hemilaminectomy should only be done by a board-certified veterinary surgeon or veterinary neurologist.


In German shepherds and German shorthair pointer wherein the disorder is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, affected dogs and their first degree should be removed or not be allowed to enter the breeding pool. This is the best way to prevent passing on the abnormality to the offspring.

In dogs where screw or curly tails are a standard of the breed such as in Pugs and bulldogs, those which show any evidence of hemivertebrae that does not involve the tail vertebrae should not be allowed to breed.