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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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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Special neck wraps are sometimes used in combination with steroidal drug therapy and inactivity. A veterinarian can recommend the proper type.
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.
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.
Wobbler Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog has all the signs of Wobblers Syndrome. I've found out that blood work and x-rays will not be successful tests to diagnose Wobblers and you would only do these to rule out other possibilities of another diagnosis. I'm curious of this idea of taking vials of blood from your dog and using the stem cell "Goldic" to mix with the blood for 24 hours and then if one can find a neurologist that is familiar and willing to insert those four vials into the dogs spine over a weeks time it all but heals the spine with much success from many people whom have shared. However I think finding a neurologist to do this without having done a MRI might be impossible (due to misdiagnosis??)I've also heard after all the tests and if surgery is recommended it is very temporary after spending @ $8,000. Any thoughts on this and what is your opinion of the Goldic for a recovery option? Thanks.
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What can I purchase to help my 8 week old puppy she is a small breed Chihuahua mix and she started howling and wouldn't stop whimpering today until she fell asleep. I believe she might have wobbler syndrome I don't have money for a vet right now but I want to help her in any way.
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I have two pups brothers 7 months old the red tried to climb the fence and fell hurting his hip cage rest was prescribed he then started staggering the blue started a month later he is the bigger of the two blood work is perfect and no tick born diseases we have an appointment for x-rays I can't afford MRIs and want to treat them holisticly any advice my vet is not holistic the pups are catahoulas. Will Lazer treatment help? Thanx for your time
A plan for treatment cannot be determined without an x-ray and physical examination; once these have been performed your Veterinarian will have a better idea about the underlying cause the treatment options available and their efficacy. Until then, restrict their movement. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
I have a three year old dalmatian that I suspect has wobblers syndrome. Ever since he was 3 months old his from ankles have been extremely weak, trembling and eventually giving out. His gait is also very off, running somewhat side ways and matching the gait of many wobbler diagnosed dogs I have seen online. As he approaches his third birthday, Ive noticed his ankles becoming weaker and weaker. I know these questions may be difficult to answer without examination, but I appreciate the most general answers. Typically, on average how much does surgery cost? Is there anything I can do to make him more comfortable? Being a Dalmatian he is very high energy, should I limit his exercise? As bad as his ankles are, do you believe he has a severe case (generally, I know its hard to say over a chat room)? What is the general prognosis for a dog with this disease? Is it true that many dogs with the trembling ankles are paralyzed by age four, or is that a myth? Thank you so much for your time.
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