Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
6 Veterinary Answers

Prepare for unexpected vet bills

Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Prepare for unexpected vet bills

What is Wobbler Syndrome?

Canine wobbler syndrome is a disease that is often called many other names. It is a compression of the spine in dogs, causing great pain, which then produces a wobbly gait. Although usually a progressive disease, it can also come in an acute form. Wobbler syndrome is more common in the large and giant breeds, particularly Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes, but small dogs can be affected as well. It is more common in males than females.

Wobbler syndrome is a disabling disease affecting the spine in the neck region. Compression of the spinal cord and spinal lesions create an awkward, wobbly gait.

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Wobbler Syndrome Average Cost

From 380 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

Symptoms of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Symptoms of wobbler syndrome are very predictable. Depending on the severity and progression of the disease, some or all of the following symptoms will be present.

  • Unsteady, staggering gait in the hind legs
  • Legs spread out for better balance
  • Short, choppy stride on rigid front legs
  • May buckle or collapse if neck is extended
  • Head held down to alleviate pain 
  • In acute cases, dog may be quadriplegic (often a result of injury)
  • Turning will often cause the dog to fall over in the back end
  • Difficult if not impossible movement on slippery surfaces
  • Excessive wearing of toe nails of hind legs

Types

Canine wobbler syndrome is called by many different names. What it is called depends on the training background of the veterinarian involved. It may be referred to as cervical spondylomyelopathy, cervical vertebral instability (CVI), cervical vertebral malformation (CVM), cervical vertebral malformation-malarticulation (CVMM), or cervical spondylopathy. No matter what it is referred to as, these are the types that are seen:

  • Combined bone and soft tissue lesions on spine causing compression
  • Small spinal canal with disc herniation
  • Small spinal canal secondary to bony changes upon the spinal cord
  • Compressed spinal nerves or nerve roots
  • Spinal cord compression caused by abnormal development of cervical vertebrae
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Causes of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

There is no definitive cause of canine wobbler syndrome. However, there are several theories. Genetics seems a most likely cause, although there is still not enough evidence to conclude that. Since it is most commonly found in the large or giant breeds, there is some speculation that rapid growth and nutrition could play a factor as well. Conformation of the neck-shoulder tie is also being considered. Since this disease is commonly found in certain breeds, heredity must play a part, perhaps with an environmental aspect as well.

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Diagnosis of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

The veterinarian will most likely perform a physical and neurological examination. This needs to be done to determine the reason for the abnormal walking, and whether it’s indeed caused by a neck or neurologic problem. There are a few different approaches to diagnosis. First, a standard x-ray will most likely be performed, to rule out any other condition which could be causing the issue. Once other conditions are ruled out, a more specific, more definitive test will be given. Although an older diagnostic test, your veterinarian may want to do a Myelogram (an x-ray with dye injected around the spinal cord). This is not as sensitive or safe as some of the newer methods of diagnosis. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is the best test. It is very safe, and a superior method of diagnosing Wobbler Syndrome. Another test that may be used is a CAT (computed tomography) scan. It is also a good test, but not as safe or as good as the MRI. These tests are usually done in larger hospitals or clinics.

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Treatment of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

There are several methods that are used to treat wobbler syndrome. Many times nonsurgical medical treatment and alternative medicine is utilized with success. In other cases, surgery may be required. The type of treatment will depend on the progression and severity of the disease. It appears that approximately 50% of dogs will improve with non-surgical management. Surgical treatment typically offers a higher success rate. However, this depends on the severity of the disease, and how much damage has been done to the spinal cord.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Both steroidal and non-steroidal drugs are often used as the first method of treatment, particularly in early and slow progression stages of the disease. Corticosteroid therapy combined with cage rest and/or restricted activity can be a successful treatment in many cases.

Acupuncture

Electro-acupuncture treatments have been proven very successful, using deep needle insertion. The recovery success is high, compared to traditional medical and surgical interventions. In addition, there seem to be no adverse effects with electro-acupuncture.

Gold Bead Implantation

Gold bead implantation is a form of permanent acupuncture. Tiny, pinhead sized beads are implanted on the acupuncture points of the dog’s head and back. This therapy provides long term stimulation to the points, relieving symptoms of the disease. 

Neck Wraps

Special neck wraps are sometimes used in combination with steroidal drug therapy and inactivity. A veterinarian can recommend the proper type.

Surgery

In severe cases, surgery may be the only treatment option, especially if the corticosteroid and rest therapy was unsuccessful, and/or if the radiographic results were severe. Surgery is aimed at stabilizing and decompressing the affected section of the spinal cord. Dogs 8 years and under are the most likely candidates for successful surgical treatments.

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Recovery of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Depending on what type of treatment is chosen will determine the recovery and management. In the more severe cases, there is less chance for the dog to recover, but may prevent further damage to the cord.  If non-surgical treatments are used, crate-rest and inactivity will be recommended. The dog will need to be walked on a leash with a chest harness. If your dog is young and still growing, a low protein diet may be recommended to slow down growth. This is common in the giant breeds such as Great Danes. Recovery from surgery can take up to 10 months of crate rest and leash walking. In all cases, a neck collar should never be used, and bowls should be raised for eating and drinking.

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Wobbler Syndrome Average Cost

From 380 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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Wobbler Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Bosko

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German Shepherd

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9 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Gait

I have a 9 year old German Shepherd that was diagnosed with Wobbler's by an MRI when he was 4. He had surgery a week later and it was very sucessful and he did not have any symptoms for about 3/4 years. He was playing in the snow and the next day he could not even get up. After 2 days of steroids he was up and walking. He did well after that and when he had symptoms of limping or drqgging hia front legs he had acupuncture and laser treatments that helped. Lately the front leg drqgging does not seem to be resolved with acupuncture. He has severe side effects from steroids so we use those as a last resort. He never seemed to be in pain, even before surgery but tonight he seems to be in pain with heavy panting. We recently started him on Neurontin so I do not know if the panting is from that. How long after surgery do dogs with Wobblers live after surgery? Are there any other treatments you would suggest? His appetite had not changed and his mind has not seemed to have changed. When do you know it is time to let him go? My vet said when he has more bad days than good ones (she is not the vet that did surgery as it was in a different state) He is my Service Dog and we have been through so much together with his 2 surgeries (he also has ED and had aurgery and is sympton free from his ED) and my divorce. I am not ready to let him go but I also do not want him to suffer!! I want him to go with dignity and still able to walk! Any suggestions that may help him to enhance his life? When he drags his front paws enough to get abraisions on the top of his paw I put dog shoes on. Today he is still dragging hia front legs but not enough to get an abrasion. So I think the panting is from the Neurontin but of course he can not tell me. He is my Service Dog and do not want him to suffer. I do not want to keep him here because of the broken heart I will have! I have had dogs my whole life and he is my 5th German Shepherd but he is just extra special. I am 52 and this dog's passing will his me the hardest of all dogs I have had!! Any suggestions?

May 4, 2018

Bosko's Owner


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1 Recommendations

Wobblers Syndrome may have an impact on life expectancy regardless of surgical correction or not, some studies have generally placed this at four years after diagnosis but this various depending on severity and other factors. The decision to let him go is yours and yours alone, you need to be comfortable that this is in Bosko’s best interest and all options have been explored. I cannot think of anything to recommend for Bosko at this time, keep him calm and limit his movement as much as possible. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://vet.osu.edu/wobbler-syndrome

May 4, 2018

How much surgery cost of wobbler syndrome??

July 15, 2018

Sandeep

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Daisy

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Weimaraner

dog-age-icon

14 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Incontinence

Can Wobblers Sydrome cause loss in controlling their bowels? I am currently helping her up and down with a body sling. She has lost control of her hind end and is falling a lot. I am afraid she is going to break a leg because she falls awkwardly. She is now living in the basement as she can not hold her bowels frequently.

Feb. 9, 2018

Daisy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. Wobbler's syndrome is more of a condition of the front end, but dogs are commonly affected by nerve degeneration and arthritis in their hind ends. It would be best to have Daisy examined by your veterinarian, as they will be able to examine her, determine what might be happening, and if any treatment is available. She may benefit from pain medication, physical therapy, laser therapy, or acupuncture, but it depends on her physical condition and musculature. I hope that you are able to make her comfortable.

Feb. 9, 2018

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Wobbler Syndrome Average Cost

From 380 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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