[Unpacking] Finding a Dog With Short Spine Syndrome

Kaylee Ferreira

Published by Dr. Kaylee Ferreira

Updated on

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Short Spine Syndrome in Dogs 

If short spine syndrome rings a bell, it’s because it describes a hunchback dog. A dog with short spine syndrome is suffering from an abnormal genetic mutation. This mutation affects the bone and cartilage development in the spine. 

The spine plays an integral part in a dog’s physical appearance, which is why short spine syndrome alters a dog’s profile so drastically. The result is that short-spined dogs look like a no-neck dogs.  

Doctor holding spine

Causes of Dogs With Short Spine Syndrome

Short spine syndrome is thought to be a rare genetic phenomenon, but recent research has revealed strong links to inbreeding within a population. 

The mutation results in the spinal vertebrae remaining in a cartilage-like state that does not ossify into normal bone. The instability of the soft cartilage results in some vertebrae fusing to restrict movement and stabilize the spine. The fusion compresses the vertebrae together, thereby modifying the length of the spine. 

The Signs of Canine Short Spine

The overall physical appearance of a dog with short spine syndrome can include some of the following features:

  • Elongated jawline.
  • Shortened cervical vertebrae give the dog the appearance of having no neck.
  • Sloped or hunched lower spine. 
  • Corkscrew, shorted or absent tail.
  • Barrel-chested appearance.
  • Decreased number of ribs compared to normal dogs.
  • Decreased spine flexibility resulting in rigid movement and the inability to turn their heads.

How Rare is a Dog With Short Spine Syndrome?

Genetic studies in small animal medicine are still in their infancy, so not a lot is known about most genetic conditions in dogs. For example, dogs who suffer from short spines are scarce, with only about 30 cases reported worldwide. 

Short spine syndrome has been identified as far back as the 1700s. In South Africa, a small number of dogs with short spines were identified, and they were labeled as “Baboon Dogs” because of their similarity to a baboon when running. This could mean that the condition is possibly under-reported.  

Some studies have revealed that female dogs affected by a short spine have extended heat cycles and low pregnancy rates, which usually only produce one puppy. This is why the condition lends itself to being so rare.

Is There a Cure for Dogs With No Neck?

A genetic mutation that influences the cartilage and bone cannot be corrected. The main reason for this is that the condition is encoded into the genes. Unfortunately, Gene therapy has not yet been explored due to the lack of research and funding for rare veterinary conditions. 

Short spine syndrome dogs cannot be cured, so the only option is to manage the clinical manifestations of the condition. Medical management aims to improve or maintain the patient’s quality of life. 

Treatment requires a collaborated effort from a team of veterinary specialists and nurses in various fields, including surgery, radiology, and neurology. The medical team will need to assess spinal malformation, neurological abnormalities, or other potential underlying consequences of spinal instability.  

xray of dog spine

Life for Dogs With Short Spine Syndrome

Dogs with short spine syndrome need to have their quality of life assessed throughout their lifespan. This is because they may develop complications as they grow and age due to their long list of underlying conditions. 

A good way to determine if a dog has a good quality of life is to look at the five freedoms that uphold the golden standard for an animal’s welfare:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst. 
  2. Freedom from discomfort. 
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease.
  4. Freedom to express normal and natural behavior.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress. 

After considering these freedoms, an owner must decide if their short-back dog will live a comfortable and fulfilling life. A dog without spine problems can easily be offered the five freedoms, but a special needs dog takes a lot of extra time, effort, and commitment from an owner.

Daily tasks that  short spine syndrome dogs may struggle with are listed below:

  • Eating or drinking from the floor. They may need elevated feeders to reach their water or food.
  • Turning or bending their body to look around or scratch an itch. 
  • Normal dog games like fetch or frisbee
  • Running and jumping can be a challenge because of their physical conformation that will limit them in specific movements.
  • Urinating & defecating can be difficult if they develop complications that inhibit their ability to maintain a squatting position. They may also develop fecal or urinary incontinence. 
  • Decreased ability to express or defend themselves. Their physical limitations can hinder their ability to display critical dog body language. Animals can sense weakness, and dogs with disabilities can fall victim to displaced fear or aggression from other dogs.  

Conditions that dogs with short spine syndrome may need to live with include intervertebral disk disease, spinal cord or nerve root compression, and osteoarthritis from joint incongruity. These can become very painful and debilitating.

Dogs are incredibly versatile, even if they do have a disability. They adapt to their circumstances, and regardless of their medical condition, they will always love their owner unconditionally. For example, a short spine dog will thrive if its owner is committed to their special needs and can provide them with the required special medical attention.

What you Need to Know About Adopting a Dog With Short Spine Syndrome

Accepting a special needs dog into your home and family is a challenging undertaking. When considering adopting a dog with short spine syndrome, take extra time to consider the additional unconventional responsibilities that come with their condition. 

Many owners who have shared their homes with special needs dogs will agree that, even though it is not easy at times, it is always worth it in the end. This is because special needs dogs share an incredibly unique bond with their owners. 

Lastly, it is also important to note that a dog with a disability will always be scrutinized. Therefore, be sure that you understand your pet’s condition to help others understand your dog’s needs. 

Dog Eating on the Floor

The Final Say

A few dogs who suffer from short spine syndrome have achieved social media fame and spread awareness about owning a special needs dog. Two famous accounts include Pig The Unusual Dog and Quasi The Great. These owners and their pets are a remarkable testament to the special love shared with a special needs dog.

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Kaylee Ferreira


Dr. Kaylee Ferreira, a South African vet from Johannesburg, excels in diverse veterinary roles. Founder of Kubuntu Veterinary Services, she's a dedicated animal lover and adventurer.


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