Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Close-Up Of Doberman Pinscher
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While more commonly seen in certain breeds of large dogs, wobbler syndrome can affect dogs of all sizes and breeds. Often recognized by the classic wobbling a dog does when standing or walking, this disease is a result of issues with the spinal cord. Learning more about this syndrome and what can be done about it can help minimize the issues a dog with this disease struggles with.

What is Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs?

Also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), cervical vertebral instability (CVI), cervical vertebral malformation (CVM), cervical vertebral malformation-malarticulation (CVMM), and cervical spondylopathy, wobbler syndrome is a disease that occurs in the neck. In dogs with wobbler syndrome, the portion of the spinal cord that is located in the neck is compressed or squished. This pressure on the spinal cord causes issues with a dog's neurological system and makes it difficult to move around normally. The name of the disease is directly related to the move obvious symptom of wobbler syndrome—wobbling when standing or walking.

Symptoms of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Dogs with wobbler syndrome are typically large or giant breed dogs so it is very obvious when they are wobbling while walking. Incoordination and difficulty walking are often seen alongside this wobbling and as the disease progresses, dogs will trip over their own feet and stumble. The hind limbs are typically affected first so this part of the body may seem to have the most trouble functioning normally. A slower gait, general weakness, and difficulty getting up or lying down are also commonly seen in addition to walking with the head hanging down. Dogs with wobbler syndrome appear normal until they begin to try to move around and that's when these symptoms are seen.

Signs of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

  • Wobbling when standing
  • Incoordination or ataxia, especially in the hind limbs when walking
  • Walking with head down
  • Walking slowly
  • Difficulty standing up when sitting or laying down
  • Weakness
  • Stumbling/tripping

Causes of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Wobbler syndrome has a few suspected causes but no one really understand the root cause of this spinal cord compression. A genetic component may exist due to the high occurrence seen in certain breeds but there is no definitive proof. Some people suspect nutrition may play a role in some dogs, specifically those receiving high levels of protein, calcium, and calories, and others have discussed how fast growing puppies may be more at-risk.

Diagnosing Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

After you have discussed the possible signs that your dog may have wobbler syndrome, a full physical and neurological examination will be performed by your veterinarian. Next, other diseases that can have similar symptoms will be ruled out by running some blood tests and taking some X-rays.

If the X-rays of the neck do not show another reason for the neurological symptoms that your dog is exhibiting than an MRI (magnetic resonance image) or CT (computed tomography) scan will be needed to say whether or not your dog has wobbler syndrome. Alternatively, some veterinarians may still perform a myelogram which is an older, less sensitive test involving injecting dye into the spinal cord and taking X-rays of where it travels. Myelograms carry more risk of making the neurological symptoms worse than an MRI or CT do so more veterinarians are diagnosing wobbler syndrome with the use of these newer, safer methods.

Treatment of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Wobbler syndrome can be managed with medications that help to reduce the inflammation in the neck and activity will need to be restricted. Alternatively, surgery to reduce the compression on the spinal cord may be recommended. There are almost two dozen different types of surgery that can be performed to help a dog with wobbler syndrome and will vary based on the severity of the disease. Surgery typically has a higher rate of success in treating the disease than solely relying on medications but the expense of surgery may not be an option for every dog owner.

Neck collars and leashes are not recommended for dogs with wobbler syndrome so harnesses should be utilized instead regardless of how the disease is treated.

How to Prevent Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Since the cause of wobbler syndrome is not fully understand, there is no way to knowingly prevent it from occurring in a dog. Preventing diagnosed dogs from producing offspring may be the best preventative measure to take until more research is done. At-risk breeds include doberman pinschers, weimaraners, great Danes, rottweilers, and dalmatians but other breeds, including the occasional small breed, can still be affected by wobbler's.