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Scoliosis in Dogs

What Is Scoliosis in Dogs?

The backbone of a dog, or its spinal column, consists of numerous small bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae are connected by soft, spongy intervertebral discs and groups of muscles known as paraspinal muscles. Together, they provide support, allow movement, and protect the spine and spinal cord. Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, can occur in dogs, though it’s relatively uncommon. It can be either congenital or acquired due to diseases or trauma.

Scoliosis in dogs can affect various parts of the spinal column, including the neck (cervical), mid-back (thoracic), and lower back (lumbar) regions. There are three main types of scoliosis:

  • Torticollis: This type involves a sideways curvature of the cervical spine.
  • Kyphosis: An abnormal forward flexion of the mid to lower spine, which can be caused by conditions such as abdominal pain or intervertebral disc disease (IVDD).
  • Lordosis: This is less common in dogs and involves a downward curvature of the spine, often due to diseases affecting the paraspinal muscles.

Dogs with scoliosis have an increased risk of spinal cord compression, which can lead to pain and various neurological issues. These issues may include weakness in the limbs and difficulty walking in a coordinated manner.

Fortunately, scoliosis in dogs is often not painful for the affected animals. As a result, it’s typically not considered a medical emergency and may not require immediate treatment.


Signs of Scoliosis in Dogs

The primary indication of scoliosis in dogs is typically a deviation in the spine, which may appear as a curve to the left or right, or the dog’s back may seem hunched. As scoliosis can be caused by trauma or underlying neurological conditions, additional symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Weakness in the forelimbs or hind limbs
  • Limping
  • Lack of coordination in movement (ataxia)
  • Elevated body temperature (fever)
  • Drooping head
  • Limb crossing
  • Deformities in the ribs
  • Reluctance to engage in activities like playing, running, or jumping
  • Abnormal posture
  • Stiffness in the neck or back
  • Reduced reflexes


In most cases, scoliosis in dogs stems from congenital factors, arising from vertebral abnormalities present since birth. These abnormalities become apparent during early stages of growth, typically between 4 and 10 months of age, when dogs experience significant growth spurts.

Congenital scoliosis often coincides with other vertebral irregularities, such as hemivertebrae, which are vertebrae with abnormal shapes, often resembling wedges.

Hemivertebrae develop when the two halves of a vertebral body fail to fuse properly during fetal development. They are more frequently found in the thoracic vertebrae and can occur singly or in multiples. This condition is more common in brachycephalic breeds like the French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Pug, and Boston Terrier.

Other less common causes of scoliosis in dogs include:

  • Trauma affecting the vertebrae, ribs, or associated muscles and ligaments.
  • Inflammatory or immune-mediated diseases, such as immune-mediated meningomyelitis.
  • Secondary degenerative changes of intervertebral discs and herniation of intervertebral discs along the vertebral column.
  • Associated conditions of spinal cord disease, such as syringomyelia (fluid pockets within the spinal cord), observed in breeds like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Brussels Griffon affected by Chiari-like malformation (brain tissue herniation into the spinal canal).


Veterinarians typically diagnose scoliosis in dogs through a combination of physical examination and X-rays.

If your dog shows signs of neurological disease or severe pain, your veterinarian might suggest blood tests and screenings for infectious diseases.

In some cases, your veterinarian may refer your dog to a veterinary neurologist for further evaluation with an MRI or CT scan, as well as a CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) tap, which are performed under anesthesia. If these options are not feasible, your veterinarian may conduct a myelogram, a procedure involving the injection of contrast dye into the fluid surrounding your dog’s spinal cord.


Early detection and intervention are crucial for a favorable outcome in treating scoliosis in dogs.

Milder cases of scoliosis may not necessitate treatment. However, if your dog experiences discomfort, your veterinarian might recommend medications such as gabapentin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), methocarbamol (a muscle relaxant), or a combination of these.

If your dog exhibits neurological symptoms, your veterinarian may prescribe a course of antibiotics or corticosteroids.

Managing scoliosis in dogs often presents challenges with a guarded prognosis, and surgery is often the preferred treatment option. Spinal stabilization procedures have shown promising results.

In cases where symptoms are severe and pain is unmanageable, veterinarians may advise humane euthanasia as a compassionate option.

Recovery and Management

The outlook for dogs affected by scoliosis varies. With time, your dog’s pain and symptoms may escalate, requiring additional check-ups or assessments. Therefore, collaborating with your veterinarian is crucial to managing your dog’s condition and achieving the best possible outcome.

Following surgery, dogs typically need several weeks of rest in a crate during their recovery. Physical therapy may be recommended during this period, which could involve:

  • Underwater treadmill sessions
  • Massage therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Acupuncture

These therapies aid in walking, muscle strengthening, muscle preservation, inflammation reduction, and enhancing mobility.

If your dog is prescribed medication, it’s probable that they will need it for an extended period, if not for life. It’s important not to halt these medications unless advised by your veterinarian.


While scoliosis cannot be entirely prevented, responsible breeding practices and screening of breeding dogs can help lower the chances of transmitting the condition to offspring.

For breeds prone to scoliosis, it’s advisable to have them screened as puppies to promptly initiate treatment measures if necessary.

If you observe any curvature or abnormality in your dog’s spine at any stage, it’s essential to promptly have your dog assessed by a veterinarian.

Scoliosis in Dogs FAQs

How long do dogs with scoliosis live?

Dogs affected by scoliosis can lead a normal quality of life if there is minimal neurological involvement. Some conditions resulting from scoliosis in dogs may respond well to therapy when diagnosed and treated early.

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