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Short Spine Syndrome in Dogs

Dog with short spine syndrome
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Severity: i Medium - High
Life stage: All

If you enjoy watching funny dog videos on social media, you have probably seen one or more videos featuring a “Quasimodo dog.” Canine celebrities such as Cuda, Quasi the Great, and Ivy entertain countless people with their unusual appearances and antics, while simultaneously raising awareness of a condition known as short spine syndrome in dogs. 

Dogs with short spine syndrome often look like a cross between the Hunchback of Notre Dame and a frog, with an abnormally hunched back and strangely-bent hindlimbs. These dogs have also been called “Baboon Dogs,” due to their unique appearance and posture. The unusual appearance of these hunchbacked dogs can all be traced back to a spinal abnormality, which gives these unique dogs their characteristic appearance.

What Is Short Spine Syndrome?

Short spine syndrome is an incredibly rare spinal condition in dogs. Most veterinarians will never encounter a case of short spine syndrome during their career, and you will probably never personally meet a dog with short spine syndrome. However, even though this condition is rare, it can (and does!) occur. 

Dogs with short spine syndrome have a shortened, compressed spine. Their abnormal spine not only affects their overall body length, it also alters some of their bodily proportions. Short spine syndrome gives affected dogs a unique, characteristic appearance, and it can also have significant impacts on their mobility.

What Causes Short Spine Syndrome in Dogs?

Short spine syndrome is caused by a genetic abnormality. This abnormality was first noted hundreds of years ago, and it is thought to be associated with inbreeding. However, the exact genetic mutation that is responsible for this condition has not yet been identified.

In dogs with short spine syndrome, the vertebrae (back bones) do not develop normally. Instead, these bones remain in a softened or malleable state for a prolonged period of time, which allows them to become abnormally compressed. In some cases, adjacent vertebrae will fuse together into one larger vertebra. These spine abnormalities lead to the unique appearance of dogs with short spine syndrome.

Signs of Short Spine Syndrome in Dogs

A dog with short spine syndrome typically has a hunchback appearance with no visible neck. The back is shortened and it often slopes steeply downward toward a tail that is twisted or kinked. Affected dogs often have fewer ribs that normal and they may have a “barrel-chested” appearance. Although the limbs are typically of normal length, the knees and elbows tend to be bowed outward. This can make walking and running difficult. 

Because short spine syndrome is caused by a genetic abnormality, the unusual body conformation and posture associated with this condition are typically apparent from an early age. 

Signs of short spine syndrome may include: 

  • Hunchback appearance
  • Lack of a visible neck 
  • Short back
  • Back slopes steeply toward the ground
  • Barrel-chested appearance
  • Missing ribs
  • Twisted or kinked tail
  • Outwardly bowed knees/elbows
  • Difficult walking and running

Diagnosing Dog Short Spine Syndrome

Veterinarians can often diagnose short spine syndrome based on a physical exam alone. However, spinal radiographs (X-rays) are often performed to characterize the spinal abnormalities in affected dogs and rule out other conditions. Referral to a veterinary neurologist may be suggested for additional diagnostic testing. 

Managing Short Spine Syndrome in Dogs

There is no cure for short spine syndrome in dogs. Treatment is instead focused on keeping affected dogs comfortable and aiding their mobility. Veterinarians may treat short spine syndrome with pain medication, nutritional supplements, and/or physical therapy. Affected dogs may also require nursing care to help keep their bodies clean, prevent pressure sores, and prevent infection.

Short Spine Syndrome Life Expectancy

Because this condition is so rare, we do lack sufficient information to predict the expected lifespan of dogs with short spine syndrome. 

Short spine syndrome can affect a dog’s quality of life and lead to a variety of impacts that might decrease the dog’s lifespan. However, there are reports of dogs with short spine syndrome going on to live relatively normal lifespans.

Dogs with Short Spine Syndrome: Other Tips and Advice

Dogs with short spine syndrome are often unable to bend their neck. Placing their food and water bowls in an accessible location can help them eat and drink comfortably. Because they are unable to bend their neck and lick themselves, dogs with short spine syndrome may also require more frequent bathing and grooming than other dogs.

Short spine syndrome has significant impacts on a dog’s mobility. These dogs are typically unable to jump on and off furniture, so stairs or a ramp are recommended. Secured rugs can also be used to help these dogs navigate wood or tile floors and other slippery surfaces.

A dog with short spine syndrome will not be able to participate in the same activities as a normal dog. Swimming, jogging, and long games of Frisbee are out; instead, you will need to be creative in identifying your dog’s preferred method of play. 

Work closely with your veterinarian to determine that you are providing the best possible environment and lifestyle for your dog.