Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

What is Wobbler Syndrome?

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Wobbler syndrome is a neurological condition that affects a dog’s spine and neck caused by spinal compression. This compression typically occurring in the vertebrae at the base of the neck. The spinal pressure comes from either a malformation on the vertebrae or caused by trauma or a ruptured disk. As the spinal compression worsens, the spinal cord becomes damaged and the nerve signals can no longer transmit properly. Which leads to the uncoordinated movement associated with wobbles.

Although commonly referred to as wobblers, the condition can also be diagnosed as either Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI) or Cervical Spondylomelopathy (CSM).

There are two categories of wobbler dogs:

  1. Young large breed dogs
  2. Middle-aged or older dogs

Young wobbler dogs experience a narrowing of spinal column which causes spinal cord compression leading to their wobble gait. The wobbler symptoms in older dogs occurs due to a degenerative spinal condition that narrows the spinal canal.

Commonly Affected Dog Breeds

There are certain dog breeds that are predisposed to the condition, however any giant breed dog can be affected. 50% of all cases of Wobblers Syndrome occurs in Doberman Pinschers, although the condition itself can impact any dog breed. The breeds at high risk for wobbler syndrome include:

  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Great Dane
  • Rottweiler
  • Weimaraner
  • Mastiff
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Dalmation

The actual cause of wobblers is unknown, but it can occur due to extremely fast growth and genetics may be a factor. Although the disease more commonly affects giant breed dogs, smaller breeds can also be diagnosed with the condition, although it’s far less common.  CVI can occur in dog’s of any age. From very young dogs who experience rapid growth, to much older dogs. The age of diagnosis can even vary by breed. Dobermans typically are diagnosed at a much older age, typically when they’re 6 years or older. Whereas Great Danes are typically diagnosed much younger, usually age three.

Common Signs of Wobbler Syndrome

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Wobblers is characterized by a distinct, wobbly gait when an affected dog walks. Most commonly affecting the hind end, but front legs may appear to be stiff.

In some dogs the wobbly gait may only be visible on slippery surfaces where others may wobble more frequently. In more advanced patients, the condition may become obvious in all four legs.

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Paw knuckling or difficulty with paw placement
  • Partial or complete paralysis

Significant muscle loss in the hind end and across the shoulder blades is common in wobbler dogs. Additionally, toenail wear is common because wobbler syndrome dogs often drag their back feet.

Diagnosing Wobbler Disease

The first step in getting your dog the help they need, is to see your Veterinarian. Your Vet will perform both a physical and neurological exam to determine the cause of your dog’s pain. Allowing them to determine if neck or neurological problem is the cause of your dog’s difficulty walking. To diagnose your dog’s CVI, your Vet will order X-rays and diagnostic tests to be taken. Once diagnosed, your dog’s treatment plan will depend on the location of their spinal compression as well as the severity of the condition.

Treating Wobblers

Work with your Vet to determine the best treatment plan for your dog’s CVI. The best course of treatment will be determined based upon the severity of your dog’s condition and the level of pain your dog is experiencing. Often Vets recommend a multi-modal approach or combination of different treatment methods. Here are a few of the treatment options available:

Medical Management

For less severe cases, your Vet may recommend medically managing your dog’s pain. This treatment plan may consist of a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs and restricted activity. Your Vet may recommend your dog wears a neck brace to stabilize the neck as they recover.

Wobblers dogs may require additional support throughout their recovery process. A dog wheelchair can be used to provide additional balance and support. Keeping the dog upright and mobile as they recover. Work with your Vet and neurologist to determine the right time to introduce your dog to their wheelchair.

Surgery

Moderately to severely affected dogs will likely require surgery to decompress the spinal cord. There are at least 21 different types of surgery for this condition your neurological specialist will determine which procedure your dog needs.

Physical Therapy

Canine rehabilitation is an important part of your dog’s treatment plan. Physical therapy will help to maximize your pet’s return to function.

  • Standing exercises
  • Improving passive range of motion
  • Slow walks
  • Hydrotherapy

With proper care and recovery, many dogs have an excellent chance of recovering to normal or near normal function. Early diagnosis, along with following your Veterinarian’s prescribed treatment plan are key to returning your dog to normal function. It’s important to know that even after recovery dogs that have had a disc disease are at a higher risk in the future for a spinal injury or rupture later in life. So, continue with annual visits and be vigilant in the future of your dog shows any signs of pain.

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