Wobbler’s Syndrome In Dogs: Signs & Symptoms

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From the name alone you probably have a pretty good idea of what the symptoms are for Wobbler’s Syndrome. Clinically it’s referred to as cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM) or cervical vertebral instability (CVI). In most cases a slipped disk or bone deformity in the spine is responsible for causing spinal cord compression, which ultimately leads to a dog walking with a wobble.

Wobbler’s Syndrome can be very uncomfortable and painful for dogs, so as a dog parent, educating yourself and implementing the proper care is very important.

Dogs Most At Risk for Wobbler’s Syndrome

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Certain breeds are more likely to be diagnosed with Wobbler’s. Big dogs and giant-breeds such as Great Danes are more likely to suffer vertebrae malformation, creating detrimental pressure on the spinal cord. Doberman Pinschers are highly susceptible as well. However, the most common cause for Pinschers is a slipped vertebrae disk.

Rottweilers, Basset Hounds, Mastiffs, Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Shepherds, and Irish Wolfhounds are also common victims of Wobbler’s syndrome.

Symptoms of Wobbler’s Syndrome in Dogs

The onset of Wobbler’s is usually slow and progressive, but in some cases trauma may lead to an acute case. If your dog has a secondary spinal column injury, like a herniated disc, it may also accelerate the disease. Either way, here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Awkward and wobbly stride – sometimes stride is characterized by short steps
  • Physically weak
  • Pain and immobility in the neck
  • Walking with head down due to pain in neck
  • Trouble getting up from lying position
  • Partial or full paralysis in dogs
  • Worn out toenails on hind legs
  • Turns may cause them to fall
  • Spread out legs, trying to find balance
  • Collapsing – front legs give out
  • Trouble getting up from lying position

Note: Dobermans tend to develop Wobbler’s at around 6-7 years of age. Great Danes and other large dog breeds are usually under 3 years of age.

Causes of Wobbler’s Syndrome

The exact cause of Wobbler’s Syndrome in dogs is not completely understood, and although there seems to be some sort of genetic factor, it has not been fully proven. Poor diet has been cited as one possible cause — excess calcium, protein, and calories.

It is also believed that the accelerated growth in large breeds may play a role, particularly in the bone malformation type off Wobbler’s. Prevention is tough because some dogs are just prone to it and there’s not much you can do. However, if you do have a big dog, establishing a specialized meal plan can reduce his growth rate and lower his chances of developing the disease.

Diagnosing Wobbler’s Syndrome in Dogs

Typically your vet will begin with an x-ray to make sure you are dealing with a spinal issue. Since the spinal cord is affected, neurological tests are also common. If your doctor wants to run more extensive tests, they may suggest an MRI, a Myelogram, or CAT scan. It may cost the most, but the safest test for dogs is an MRI.

Treating Wobbler’s Syndrome

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The best form of treatment for your dog is physiotherapy. Some common methods include acupuncture, aquatic therapy, and laser treatment. Approximately half of dogs with Wobbler’s can progress through non-surgical methods. But some people have tried everything, and surgery is the only option.

The good news is, despite the cost, surgery has been proven to have high success rates for dogs under the age of 8. However, all treatments will vary based on the severity and type of Wobbler’s disease. Other common treatments are:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs – In early stages this can be very successful when paired with inactivity and rest
  • Neck wraps – Used to relieve spinal compression
  • Gold Bead implants – A type of permanent acupuncture which applies simulation to precise locations in the body

Unfortunately due to the long-term recovery process, and highly skilled recovery methods it can be a very expensive illness to remedy. The average cost is between $3,000 and $8,000.

Life with Wobbler’s Syndrome

In severe cases, it can be challenging for dogs to recover from such a debilitating disease, so it’s important to act fast if you notice any signs of weakness or change in your pup’s gait. Oftentimes, full recovery is not possible, but you can stop things from getting any worse.

Life with Wobbler’s usually includes some lifestyle adjustments such as walking with a chest harness, a low protein diet designed to hinder growth, and raised eating and drinking bowls to accommodate neck pain. In the case of surgery, an extended regimen of rest and inactivity is prescribed.

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