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Wobbler’s Syndrome in Dogs

What is Wobbler’s Syndrome in Dogs?

Wobbler’s Syndrome, also known as Cervical Spondylomyopathy, Cervical Vertebral Instability, Cervical Vertebral Malformation, Or Cervical Vertebral Malformation-Malarticulation, is a disease of the neck in dogs. This neurologic disease is commonly seen in large breed dogs, however, any dog breed can be affected including small dogs. 

When a dog has Wobbler’s Syndrome, the gait observed in dogs is abnormal due to the spinal cord compression in the neck. The abnormal gait is described as the dog taking shorter steps with their front limbs and a swaying or wobbly movement in the hind limbs. 

What Causes Wobbler’s Syndrome in Dogs?

Unfortunately, there is not a known cause of what exactly causes Wobbler’s Syndrome in dogs. Some believe there is a genetic basis behind the disease, however, there is not sufficient evidence to prove that at this time. 

The compression of the spine itself can be caused by a combination of a small spinal canal with disc herniation, or a small spinal canal secondary to bony changes impinging upon the spinal cord. In addition, the spinal nerves or nerve roots can be compressed. 

Who’s At Risk of Developing Wobbler’s Syndrome?

Dogs who are at risk of developing Wobbler’s Syndrome are primarily large and giant breed dogs. However, small breed dogs are not excluded from the disease. Dobermans and Great Danes are the most commonly observed to have Wobbler’s Syndrome. 

In addition to these two breeds, other large and giant breeds that are more likely to be effected include Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Weimaraners, and German Shepherds. 

What are the Symptoms of Wobbler’s Syndrome?

There are a variety of symptoms that are typically presented in dogs with Wobbler’s Syndrome. The most common and concerning symptoms include:

  • Weakness and uncoordinated gait that is typically first seen in the hind limbs (also known as ataxia) 
  • Lameness and stiffness in the forelimbs 
  • Neck stiffness and pain 
  • Wobbling upon standing 
  • Walking with the head positioned down (a sign of pain) 
  • Walking more slowly than usual 
  • Difficulty standing up after sitting or laying 
  • Stumbling and incoordination 

How Can Wobbler’s Syndrome in Dogs Be Prevented?

There is no known way to prevent Wobbler’s Syndrome in dogs. Preventing those dogs with the syndrome from reproducing is the most effective preventative measure that can be taken. 

How is Wobbler’s Syndrome Diagnosed?

In order to properly diagnose Wobbler’s Syndrome, your dog will need to be examined by your veterinarian. A very thorough physical and neurological exam will be performed. This will determine whether or not the difficulty in walking and abnormal gait can be attributed to a neurologic issue.

In addition, imaging tests will most likely be performed. X-rays will be done to see if any obvious bony lesion can be identified, or any other signs present that may mimic Wobbler’s Syndrome. However, more advanced imaging tests in addition to the x-rays will need to be performed. Most often, an MRI will be done. In some cases, a CAT scan may be performed. 

What is the Treatment for Wobbler’s Syndrome?

The treatment for Wobbler’s Syndrome involves either medical or surgical intervention. Medical management typically consists of anti-inflammatory drugs and restriction of activity. Your vet will recommend switching from a normal collar/leash combination to a chest harness, in order to avoid further pressure on the neck. 

If surgery is determined to be suitable for your dog, your vet will discuss the different types of surgery options with you. There are a number of types of surgery that can be performed to treat Wobbler’s Syndrome. There are several factors that will determine what type of surgery is best for your dog. The severity of symptoms, amount of lesions present in the spine, the severity of the lesions, and the presence of other concurrent medical conditions all need to be taken into account when determining proper surgical intervention.

The success of treatment depends upon a variety of factors. Approximately 50% of dogs’ condition will improve with medical management, 30% will remain stable, and 20% will worsen. Surgery offers a higher rate of success with 80% of dogs improving, the remaining 20% of dogs will remain stable or worsen.

How Long Do Dogs With Wobbler's Syndrome Live For?

The prognosis of wobbler’s syndrome in dogs is fairly dependent on the severity of the condition and spinal cord compression. The average survival time, according to studies done by Ohio State University, is approximately 4 years.