Last month, we spoke about the health considerations of Brachycephalia. This month, we move away from the head to discuss Screw Tail, Vertebral Malformation and Intervertebral Disc Disease. 

What is a screw tail?

A screw tail is a short, kinked tail. The tail has fewer vertebrae and many of the vertebrae are malformed and fused. Affected breeds include English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers. Although Pugs have curly tails, few have the caudal vertebral malformations seen in the other screw tail breeds.

So why is this a problem?

The tail can be so kinked that deep skin folds appear at the base of the tail. This can lead to infection and skin fold dermatitis. 

More importantly, however, is pathology in the rest of the spine. The vertebral malformations causing the kink in the tail commonly occur simultaneously in the thoracic vertebrae. This can cause various abnormal curvatures of the spine (Kyphosis, Lordosis or Scoliosis). Some of these malformations may predispose these dogs to Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD).

What is IVDD?

The intervertebral disk is a disk that sits between two vertebral bodies. Intervertebral disk disease occurs when a disk ruptures, herniates, bulges or slips.

What causes IVDD?

As mentioned, certain vertebral malformations can predispose dogs to IVDD. More commonly, IVDD is linked to Chondrodystrophy, a disease that causes an abnormal premature degeneration of intervertebral discs. It’s common in our short-legged dogs, including Dachshund, Corgis and Bulldogs.

What are the symptoms?

This depends on a few factors: which disk is affected, which direction the disk has moved/bulged, and the severerity of the compression. Symptoms can include: mild to severe acute pain with vocalisation, shivering, low head carriage, limb weakness, knuckling and even limb paralysis.

What is the treatment?

Treatment depends on severity and ranges from strict cage rest and anti-inflammatories to spinal surgery.

What is the outlook?

We need to work together! Breeders should carefully select breeding stock. The research on this is ongoing and it is important to follow the science and not Dr Google! Dogs can be DNA tested to see if they carry the gene for Chondrodystrophy.

What can we do as breeders, buyers, owners and vets to consider health in these breeds?

Breeders need to educate buyers on these health considerations and owners need to visit their veterinarians for advice early on. Veterinarians need to support owners, breeders and most of all, the patients, to ensure a healthy life going forward. Let’s keep their weights in check, their nostrils open, their backs strong and their tails straight! 

Here are some links breeders can access to start the journey on breeding for health:

  1. Chondrodystrophy (CDDY and IVDD Risk) and Chondrodysplasia (CDPA)

– UCDavis Veterinary Medicine

  1. Epidemiological Study of Congenital Malformations of The Vertebral Column In French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs and Pugs

– British Veterinary Association

  1. Breeding French Bulldogs So That They Breathe Well: a Long Way to Go

– National Library of Medicine

  1. Conformational Risk Factors of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) in Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Bulldogs

– Various collaborators

If you would like your dog to be tested or have any concerns about IVDD, please contact us at the clinic here.