Canine Wobblers Syndrome

Rottweilers, the Weimaraner, German shepherds, Irish wolfhounds, Bernese mountain dogs and Swiss mountain dogs are also known to be affected by wobblers.

Wobbler syndrome (cervical vertebral instability – CVI) is a disease of the cervical spine in the area of the neck, in which the spinal cord and its nerve roots are compressed, leading to neck pain and neurological problems.

The wobbly gait dogs with the syndrome exhibit involves taking short, floating steps with the front legs and a swaying movement of the hind legs. Commonly seen in large and giant breeds of fast-growing dogs, especially younger Great Danes and older Doberman Pinschers.

Wobbler syndrome develops in one of two ways:

  • Slipped, bulging or herniated discs
  • Bony malformation in the vertebral canal surrounding the spinal cord

The slipped disc presentation is most commonly seen in Dobermans, who tend to develop the disease in middle age – six to seven years old.

Compression caused by bony vertebral malformation is most common in other large and giant breeds, including Great Danes and mastiffs. The problem is most often seen in dogs under the age of three.

Besides the wobbly gait and neck pain, other symptoms of Wobbler’s can include:

  • Limb weakness and difficulty rising after sitting or lying down
  • Partial or complete limb paralysis
  • Muscle loss through the shoulders
  • Worn or scuffed nails from dragging the foot
  • Increased extension of limbs

Wobbler’s is usually a slow, progressive disease except in cases of acute trauma when it develops very rapidly. Weakness, loss of muscle coordination and toe dragging usually begin in the rear limbs. Dogs with these symptoms often stand or walk in a crouched position with the head held very low. The condition then progresses to involve the front limbs, but usually with less severe symptoms.

A definitive diagnosis of Wobbler syndrome is made through x-rays, myelographs, a CT scan or MRI. X-rays can rule out bony malformations but cannot diagnose disc disease. An MRI is generally considered the best and safest test to diagnose Wobbler’s.

The two primary treatments for Wobbler’s are medical management and surgery. Medical management usually consists on the use of anti-inflammatory drugs (steroidals or non-steroidals) with restricted activity. Often cage rest is recommended. Because they have a neck problem, neck leashes should not be used, and a chest harness is strongly recommended. Medical management is typically attempted with older dogs with mild symptoms, and dogs with multiple locations of spinal cord compression.

A more holistic therapeutic approach for Wobbler syndrome in dogs is physical rehabilitation – essentially dog physical therapy. Aqua therapy, laser therapy and acupuncture can be beneficial for dogs suffering from Wobblers syndrome. Natural anti-inflammatories, Chinese herbs and antioxidants that cross the blood-brain barrier to help reduce trauma to the central nervous system.

If medical management and/or rehabilitation and complimentary therapies are unsuccessful in bringing relief to a Wobbler’s dog, the only other option to improve quality of life is surgery. There are several things to consider when deciding if surgery makes sense, including what technique might be most effective, the number and severity of lesions in the spine, the dog’s age, and other concurrent disease processes.

At-risk breed for developing Wobbler’s may benefit from supplements like glucosamine sulfate and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) added to their meals early in the dog’s life. Maintenance chiropractic care, along with use of a harness instead of collars that place stress on the neck. Helping your pet maintain muscle tone is also very important.