related term: cauda equina syndrome

What is vertebral stenosis?

Congenital vertebral stenosis is a rare narrowing of the spinal canal that is present at birth. The degree of narrowing will determine whether and how much the spinal cord is compressed, and the extent of problems for the dog. Generally, clinical signs do not develop until 3 to 7 years of age.

How is vertebral stenosis inherited?


What breeds are affected by vertebral stenosis?

lumbosacral vertebral stenosis (lower back) - German shepherd

thoracic vertebral stenosis (upper back) - Doberman pinscher

For many breeds and many disorders, the studies to determine the mode of inheritance or the frequency in the breed have not been carried out, or are inconclusive. We have listed breeds for which there is a consensus among those investigating in this field and among veterinary practitioners, that the condition is significant in this breed.

What does vertebral stenosis mean to your dog & you?

If the narrowing is mild your dog may never experience difficulties, or signs may only develop in combination with some other problem such as intervertebral disc disease. The clinical signs that occur with vertebral stenosis result from some degree of spinal cord compression in the narrowed area.

If the compression is in the thoracic region, there may be back pain in that area, weakness and incoordination in the hind limbs with normal or exaggerated muscle reflexes, and normal movement and reflexes in the front legs. With compression in the lumbosacral region, you may see pain in the lower back area, difficulty in rising, hind leg lameness and loss of muscle mass, weakness of the tail, and urinary and/or fecal incontinence. The front legs will be normal. This combination of signs is also called cauda equina syndrome, which can arise as a result of damage from any cause to the spinal cord in this area.

How is vertebral stenosis diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made on the basis of clinical signs and radiographs.   Your veterinarian will do a thorough neurological exam. Special radiographic techniques may be needed to demonstrate the stenosis.

For the veterinarian: Thoracic vertebral stenosis may be confused with vertebral instability in the Doberman. Vertebral stenosis is typically seen in the T3 - T6 region. Plain radiographs show a decrease in the dorsoventral diameter of the vertebral canal in comparison with adjacent vertebrae. A mild curvature of the spine is usually evident.

Computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging will help to characterize the bony changes.

How is vertebral stenosis treated?

Mildly affected dogs may improve with anti-inflammatory drugs and enforced rest. If the signs recur or are severe initially, then surgery to release the pressure on the spinal cord (surgical decompression) should be considered. Success is most likely if surgery is performed early, before significant spinal cord compression has occurred.

Breeding advice

Affected dogs, their siblings and parents should not be included in breeding programmes.



LeCouteur, R.A., Child, G. 1995. Diseases of the spinal cord. In S.J. Ettinger and E.C. Feldman (eds.) Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, pp. 629-696. W.B. Saunders Co., Toronto.

Copyright 1998 Canine Inherited Disorders Database. All rights reserved.
Revised: October 30, 2001.

This database is a joint initiative of the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre at the Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.