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Acute non-ambulatory tetraparesis with absence of the dens in two large breed dogs: case reports with a radiographic study of relatives

Øyvind Stigen1*, Mona Aleksandersen2, Randi Sørby2 and Hannah J Jørgensen3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Companion Animal Clinical Sciences, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, PO Box 8146, Oslo, NO-0033, Norway

2 Department of Basic Sciences, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, PO Box 8146, Oslo, NO-0033, Norway

3 Norwegian Veterinary Institute, PO Box 750, Oslo, NO-0106, Norway

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Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2013, 55:31  doi:10.1186/1751-0147-55-31

Published: 17 April 2013



Non-ambulatory tetraparesis with an absence of the dens of C2 (axis) has not previously been reported in large breed dogs. An absence or hypoplasia of the dens has been reported in both small, medium and large breed dogs, but not in closely related animals.


Two young large-breed dogs (a German shepherd and a Standard poodle) both with an acute onset of non-ambulatory tetraparesis were subjected to physical, neurological and radiographic examinations. Both dogs were euthanased and submitted for postmortem examination within one week of onset of clinical signs. To investigate possible heritability of dens abnormalities, oblique radiographs of the cranial cervical vertebrae were taken of nine and eighteen dogs related to the German shepherd and the Standard poodle, respectively.


Absence of the dens, atlantoaxial instability and extensive spinal cord injury was found in both case dogs. Radiographs revealed a normal dens in both parents and in the seven littermates of the German shepherd. An absence or hypoplasia of the dens was diagnosed in six relatives of the Standard poodle.


Atlantoaxial subluxation with cervical spinal cord injury should be considered as a differential diagnosis in non-ambulatory tetraparetic young large breed dogs. Absence of the dens and no history of external trauma increase the likelihood for this diagnosis. This study provides evidence to suggest that absence or hypoplasia of the dens is inherited in an autosomal way in Standard poodle dogs.

Dens; Atlantoaxial subluxation; Tetraparesis; Dog; Large-breed