Many of you are in a turmoil about Twinkle and her breeder I hope to help you understand a little more about her condition but also looking at it from a responsible breeders stance.
First of all the condition of hemivertebrae is not a new illness we have suddenly discovered its been around forever and is in other breeds too.
In my first experience of this condition now 12 years ago in my naivety I thought with careful breeding this could be bred out.
I no longer believe this as I believe this is as endemic in the breed as a flat face or a roach back in other words part of the development of the skeleton. History reveals our bulldog started life with a longish terrier type tail, the bulldog resembled a pit bull type, when it was bull baiting bear baiting and fighting.
When it was being created [by breeders at the time!! …..so it is a man-made breed !] and the standard written [which by the way was the first standard of any breed in the world,] they selected for certain types and the breeders selected for these looks and bred for them.
The screw tail appeared which is believed to be from a pug cross that was done to open up the eyes on the face but for good measure we got screw tails which no one wanted but thought they looked good so although it has always been desirable to have a short straight pump handle tail, the screw tail was not penalised and became part of the norm of a bulldog. In fact up to about 6 years ago 75% of all bulldogs in the Show ring had a screw or curly tail .
The vertebrae that cause the tail to screw are hemi vertebrae by default so some bulldogs have them in their spine you can see them in the tail .A lot of bulldogs actually will have an odd hemi [butterfly shaped vertebrae which can be fused and cause crushing of the nerves of the spinal cord] however most of these cause no trouble at all, the dog is as active and normal as any could be.
Unfortunately there is an area which if the hemi are there [thoracic] it is possible it could cause various degrees of problems, from a slight wobble in the rear legs [often misdiagnosed as hip dysplasia] to full blown paralysis of the rear legs and various degrees of incontinence. Some of these sufferers display more dwarfish characteristics than normal.
The condition is there from birth but doesn’t often show in a small puppy so it’s classed as congenital [means born with it ] no really firm genetic isolation of the genes that cause it have been pinpointed however rather than hereditary the Cambridge Veterinary website lists the condition as familial which is not quite the same .
Around 4 to 5 months as the puppies weight increases so does pressure , this is a time when from then up to 10 months the symptoms appear, having said that any bulldog with this spinal defect can put out the joint and start to suffer from an accidental cause of pressure hence some late diagnosis ones do appear .
This condition is quite rare but because when I started looking into this condition annual registrations were 1,400 a year and now they are 5,000 you can see the same percentage will result in more dogs appearing to have it .The fact it’s rare is no comfort to the breeder or the purchaser as it’s a certain fact after a few hours of owning a puppy the love and affection that’s felt make a diagnosis of this a hundred times harder to bear ….
Some bulldogs are mildly affected, a course of steroids and anti-inflammatory medication might ease them through the growing period and the pressure may ease and they may never have much trouble, or they might be limping or weak on the back legs for life. It’s hard to know the degree of pain an animal feels and bulldogs are known to be made of stout stuff so one mustn’t assume there is no pain and care must be taken to ensure that the bulldog isn’t suffering.
My veterinary colleague to whom I turned to when I had poor little Conner[ who was euthanized] he has made extensive records and kept the x-rays of all the hemi puppies and adults ,he is very much an expert in the condition, over the intervening years I have encouraged breeders to try to find out if their bitches have these vertebrae .Whilst not in favour of sedating just for X-ray we got into the habit of having all of our bitches x-rayed whilst under anaesthetic for a C section as if any problems showed up in the puppies we could at least know if the mother was affected ,for future breeding information.
Mina’s mum had several so at 18 months old I found her a pet home where she lived with no affects from her vertebrae to the ripe old age of 11 attending one of the Bulldog Days at Tollerton, she showed no visible signs or abnormalities she could run like the wind jump on the sofa and before having Mina she won regularly in the show ring .
We do not however believe this is a condition one can breed out easily by exclusion ,I have seen two straight tailed bulldogs with clear spine xrays produce a puppy with a spinal deformity however we do think if you are unlucky enough to breed a so affected puppy one should check out the spines it would be wise to look at X-rays for future breeding of the dogs.
Mina was a very dwarf like and had a pronounced roach quite early ,she went off her legs at 11 weeks ,but she always could control her bowels and urine and after a while she started to wobble up on her legs and by the time she was 7 months old she just looked like John Wayne from the back, just off a horse!
She lived till about 18 months when she had a neuter operation and died in recovery much to the deep sadness of my son who owned her by that time, she was fully house trained and perfectly normal in temperament and behaviour [a Princess and Diva according to my son who has found getting over losing both her and Conner excruciatingly difficult].
So that’s the condition, now to describe Twinkle, when she was brought in here I knew instantly the diagnosis would be bad, her incontinence was like nothing I’ve ever seen before ,I’ve seen dribbling and dripping also occasional gushes but Twinkle was constantly dripping no proper quantity just dribbling out all the time. She didn’t have Diarrhoea it was just as though it was a constant squeezing of toothpaste from a tube, faeces were coming away all the time ,her anus was sore because the constant wetness and texture caught on her and was needing to be wiped constantly.
I looked down on her and approx. an inch from the base of her tail I could see a hard bony area ,I felt it and wondered if it wasn’t hemi after all but Spina Bifida.
I could feel this ridge ,Marion and I looked at it, we discussed if she was in pain and Marion thought yes she was as she had fostered her overnight .
She hated being in a pen even the Croft pen which is large and has no roof .When I realised she was going to keep stressing I went out and bought Pampas and let her out .
Tellingly she did not mind the nappy made no attempt to take it off and I felt she was used to it .She even stood whilst I made amateur attempts at putting the first one on .
Make no mistake this isn’t a puppy who has been badly reared, she ate well was correct weight in proportion to the frame and although she was small, looking 8 week size instead of 15 weeks, she was full of mischief even though her efforts at walking were toddler like. She was happy to mix with my other Bulldogs Chihuahua and old Shih Tzu.
She went to sleep and I heard a worrying sound sort of a sobbing whimper in her sleep, I was worried that this was pain, in the morning I lifted her out to take her outside and from below her front legs her back end was completely soaked in urine like she had been dunked in a bath .
I gave her breakfast and she spent a happy morning wobbling around in here and ended up napping under my chair whilst I posted to the group about her .I took her the 2 hour car journey to the vets ,she was quiet in the car and with her nappy on she was comfortable.
On arrival at the vets she was sedated and x-rayed on two plates on her back and on her side ,and the outcome was grim ,her spine had many malformations , 2 butterfly vertebrae text book style, one horse shoe shape many distorted and one was actually an out of line vertebrae and twisted over causing the ridge I could feel myself. I didn’t have to ask the vet what he thought I could see for myself .The nerve supply for her bladder and bowel were crushed and she would never regain control I asked about pain as she had a sort of spasm and he said yes he imagined it would be painful and would be worse as she grew and more weight and pressure was put on her spine .Her rear leg reflexes were severely affected too .
We didn’t wake her up little sweetheart …
So that’s what happened, so what about the breeder? Yes they pocketed the money from the purchaser, they had not abused the puppy reared her well but the biggest abuse to such a poorly little pup was to pass her on, to advertise her as breed able was despicable.
I do not believe any vet who was worth their salt would have agreed that she could be sold on .Then they refused to refund the money and accept her back only 12 hours after she was with the new owner .
The new owner reluctantly, but not in a financial position to do otherwise, just wanted her money back to purchase another dog for her family.
Who is to blame for the breeding of this condition? one cannot blame the breeder ,it’s not visible and not predictable and who wants to breed an ailing puppy ? they want them all to be A1 so they get full money on sale .
The breeder has failed the puppy by not getting her properly diagnosed and put to sleep themselves , caused heart ache to someone who should have known there was a catch in a 15 week old bulldog bitch puppy for £800 .[we got her for £750]
Bulldog Rescue cannot thank all the people enough for what they have done as a team effort to ensure that this little Twinkle has no pain and will live on in the hearts of many people who got to know about her. There were over 2,000 posts about her and its shaken me how many really caring people we have out there,some I think thought to put her to sleep was not giving her time but I hope reading this has allayed those fears because in total honesty I really have made a crusade of getting people to understand this condition and from bitter experience I knew what was best for Twinkle.
In this case you by buying her for Rescue saved her from pain and suffering ! a true rescue with a very sad outcome
Sleep in peace little bulldog puppy Twinkle
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