Wobbler syndrome is a disease of the cervical spine in the area of the neck where the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots are compressed. This compression will eventually lead to neck pains and neurological problems just like the wobbly dogs with the syndrome exhibit.
This wobbly gain involves taking short, floating steps with the front legs and a swaying or wobbly movement of the hind legs. Wobbler syndrome is a very common cause of neurologic problems in large and giant dogs.
This condition is more commonly known as Wobbler’s, but medical terms used to describe it include spondylomyelopathy, cervical vertebral malfunction, cervical vertebral instability and cervical spondylopathy.
How Wobbler’s Develops
Two ways Wobbler Syndrome Develops
- Slipped, bulging or herniated disc
- Bony malfunction in the vertebral canal surrounding the spinal cord
Either of these two problems can be the cause of the spinal cord and nerve root compression seen in dogs with Wobbler syndrome. The slipped disc presentation is most commonly seen in Dobermans.
Compression caused by bony vertebral malfunction is often seen in other giant and large breeds, including Great Danes, Mastiffs, Weimaraner, German shepherds, Rottweilers, Irish wolfhounds, Swiss mountain dogs and Bernese mountain dogs.
Wobbler Syndrome is a Large and Giant Dogs Enemy
It is especially prevalent in Dobermans, Mastiffs and Great Danes. Dobermans tend to develop the disease in middle age. The average is from six to seven years old.
In Mastiffs and Great Danes, the most often seen problem in dogs under the age of three, and these two breeds usually develop Wobbler syndrome from a bony vertebral malfunction rather than a disc problem.
Wobbler Syndrome’s Symptoms
Other than the wobbly gait and neck pain, other symptoms of Wobbler syndrome can include:
- Limb weakness and difficulty rising after lying down or sitting.
- Partial or limb paralysis
- Muscle loss through the shoulders
- Scuffed or worn nails from dragging
- Increases extension of limbs
Wobbler syndrome is usually a progressive but a slow disease, except in cases of acute trauma when it develops very rapidly. Loss of muscle coordination, weakness, and toe dragging usually begin in the rear limb. Dogs with these symptoms often stand or walk in a crouched position with the heads held very low. Usually, there’s an intense neck pain that accompanies this presentation. The condition progresses to involve the front limbs but usually with less severe symptoms.
Wobbler Syndrome's Diagnosis and Treatment
A definitive diagnosis of Wobbler syndrome is made through x-rays, myelographs, a CT scan or MRI.
- X-rays can rule out bony malfunctions but cannot diagnose disc disease.
- Myelographs, which are x-rays taken after dye is injected around the spinal cord, as well as CT scans and MRI’s allow visualization of the compressed spinal cord.
MRI is generally considered the best and safest test to diagnose Wobbler syndrome. The two primary treatments for Wobbler syndrome are medical management and surgery. Medical management usually involves medications to reduce inflammation and spinal swelling.
Surgery for Wobbler Syndrome
Surgery is the only other option if rehabilitation or medical management and complementary therapies are unsuccessful in bringing relief to a dog with Wobbler syndrome.
The type of surgery to be performed will depend on the underlying cause of the spinal cord compression.
How to Avoid Wobbler Syndrome
If you own an at-risk breed for developing Wobbler syndrome, then proactive cartilage and disc support is recommended at the dog’s very early stage. Some examples are:
- Standard Canine Flex Support
- Over-the-counter supplements like glucosamine sulfate and MSM
As your dog ages, Progressive and more intense support, including egg shell membrane and Adequan are recommended. Supplying an oral musculoskeletal support supplement like Standard Process Canine Musculoskeletal can help keep intervertebral discs supple and resilient. Maintenance chiropractic care is always a good idea, along with the consistent use of a harness on the neck. All these steps will be a great help reduce your large or giant breed dog’s risk for having Wobbler syndrome.