What is Cervical Vertebral Instability?
This condition is normally associated with large dogs such as the Great Dane, Dalmatians or Dobermans. cervical vertebral instability occurs when there is compressing within the neck area due to the abnormalities within the vertebrate. Usually these bones protect the spinal cord but because of irregular bone growths, the spinal cord is compressed which affects the legs causing incoordination of movement and a wobbly effect. The reasons for this condition are not yet clear but belief that inheritance is a factor and overfeeding producing rapid growth in large breed dogs is also thought to be a factor.
Referred to as wobblers syndrome, this spinal condition affects the neck of your dog putting pressure on the spinal cord affecting your dog’s movement.
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Symptoms of Cervical Vertebral Instability in Dogs
Often your dog will display a typical ‘wobbly’ gait which was mostly in the back end.
- The wobbly gait may only be visible at first when they walk slowly or you may notice it when they walk on a slippery floor
- Your dog may have a problem getting up from a rest
- In more advanced cases, walking with the head hanging down is usually a sign of pain (because of the compression on the spinal cord)
- The pet may appear to be weak, and may even buckle over because they cannot control their limbs
- Falling during turning
There is only one type of cervical vertebral instability but the symptoms depend on the age of the dog and how severe the condition is. Stemming from the neck area of your pet, the resultant compression on the spinal cord from the abnormal growth of the vertebrae is the result of such condition. As the disease worsens, the effect on the use of the limbs becomes more pronounced, starting in the hind legs first then moving to all limbs as the condition worsens.
Causes of Cervical Vertebral Instability in Dogs
Although the cause has not yet been isolated for this condition, veterinary experts agree the following factors are involved:
- Inheritance has been a cause, and dogs with this known condition should not be bred nor any of their siblings just in case the gene is passed on
- Rapid growth in large or giant breed dogs is a factor; veterinarians recommend that low levels (up to 24%) of protein in your dog’s food will help prevent at risk canines from rapid development
- A diet that discourages growth has been suggested by leading veterinarians; studies have shown that a diet rich in calcium, protein and phosphorous can contribute to wobblers syndrome (cervical vertebral instability)
- Resist feeding your dog puppy formula after six months of age and avoid mineral and vitamin supplements to slow growth
Diagnosis of Cervical Vertebral Instability in Dogs
If you have a puppy that is one of the large or giant dog breeds (Great Dane, Dalmatians, St Bernard) then observing your puppy as it develops is essential. Any signs of a wobbly walk, or if it is showing signs of weakness, staggering or inability to move its neck means a trip to your veterinary caregiver is due. Signs of the disease are not obvious at first, but begin with weakness and lack of coordination. It may seem that your dog cannot control his paws. If your dog exhibits any signs of cervical vertebral instability, it is vital that you take your dog to your veterinary clinic to be assessed.
Your dog will be examined by your veterinarian who will perform a physical and neurological examination to find if wobblers syndrome is responsible for your pet’s condition. Other tests such as imagery tests using X-rays to check if there are any bony lesions visible in the vertebrate will also be done. This will be followed by an MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging) which is very safe for your pet and is the best method yet for confirming this disease. You may be required to go to a specialist clinic for this test to be done. The earlier you can observe your dog displaying the symptoms so you can act quickly, the better it is for your pet.
Treatment of Cervical Vertebral Instability in Dogs
It will depend on the severity of the disease, the time that your dog has exhibited these symptoms, and the extent of the spinal cord compression that will determine the treatment. If it is in the early stages, then management through confining neck movement using a neck brace may help. Combined with anti-inflammatory medication and pain relief, it may help your dog for many weeks or even years. For the most severe cases your veterinary care giver will advise surgery.
Depending on what the X-rays and MRI scan show, surgical methods can be used successfully to treat this condition. Sometimes it may involve the surgeon fusing the damaged vertebrae together to remove the pressure off the spinal cord. The type of surgical intervention must take into consideration how severe the symptoms are and how many lesions are present. Surgery remains the best chance of recovery from the condition. New methods are being developed to help your dog if he develops this condition, one is to use artificial disc replacement (vertebrae) which tests have proven to be extremely effective. But your veterinary and attending surgeon will discuss the options with you considering the short and long term expectations of your you and your family.
Recovery of Cervical Vertebral Instability in Dogs
The recovery of your dog from surgery and medical management of wobblers syndrome offered a success rate of 80%, which is very promising. With new methods being developed (artificial disc replacements and internal pinning and fixation of the bones) the ability to help your dog recover and live a healthy life have improved considerably. Rehabilitation after surgery is very important for your pet regardless of what option was chosen to treat them. With the help of an animal physiotherapist, your dog will be able to build strength and coordination again. If your dog suffers from cervical vertebral instability, he should never be walked with a neck collar but only with a harness. Things you can do to help your pet recover is provide a confined area to restrict movement while he heals, and keep any bandages clean and dry. Elevate your dog’s food and water dishes so that he can eat and drink without straining his neck.