Wobbler disease in dogs

Wobbler disease in dogs

What is Wobbler disease?

Wobbler disease is a condition affecting the cervical vertebrae of a dog and causing cervical instability. Wobbler disease is not only found in dogs; horses can suffer from it too. The term Wobbler disease is used for a wide range of different conditions that affects the cervical spinal column, since they all cause similar symptoms. Wobbler disease is also referred to as cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), cervical vertebral malformation (CVM), and cervical vertebral instability.

When a young dog develops Wobbler disease (which is especially common in Grate Danes) the problems are usually caused by a narrowing of the vertebral canal, so called stenosis. Studies show that a high protein diet might contribute to the development of this problem.

When middle aged and old dogs (such as Doberman dogs) develop Wobbler disease, the dogs will normally have a bulging disc or herniation of the disc contents.

Dog breeds commonly affected by Wobbler disease

Wobbler disease is much more common in large dog breeds, particularly Dobermans and Great Danes. It is believed to be hereditary in dogs. This list consist of dog breeds especially prone to developing Wobbler disease:

Basset Hound
German Shepherd Dog
Great Dane
Old English Sheepdog
Rhodesian Ridgeback
St Bernard

Symptoms of Wobbler disease in dogs

The symptoms of Wobbler disease tend to get worse and worse over time. If the disease is the result of trauma the progress can however be very rapid.

Common symptoms of Wobbler disease include general weakness and a crouching stance where the neck is flexed downward. The affected dog can seem clumsy and have problems coordinating its limbs and torso. In some dogs, dragging of the rear leg toes is one of the first signs of Wobbler disease. Eventually, the disease will progress and the dog will start showing symptoms of Wobbler disease from the front legs as well (normally less serious symptoms than from the back legs). Some dogs will also develop neck pain.

When the vet investigates a dog with Wobbler disease, X-rays commonly show malaligned vertebrae and narrow disk spaces. For a more definite diagnosis, a myelogram is recommended since this will show if there is any stenosis of the dog’s vertebral canal. In addition to this, a MRI can be used to pinpoint the exact location of the spinal cord compression. An MRI will also tell the vet important details about the nature and severity of the compression.

Wobbler disease treatment for dogs

Wobbler disease treatment for dogs can be medical or surgical, and the prognosis is guarded for both types of treatment. The most common type of medical treatment for Wobbler disease is the administration of corticosteroids to control the symptoms. This will normally be combined with strict cage rest. The surgical option is to surgically correct the spinal cord compression, including dorsal decompression, vertebra stabilization, and the so called “ventral slot technique” which causes ventral decompression of the spinal cord. In some dogs surgery will make the Wobbler disease go away completely, while other dogs suffer from relapses. This type of surgery is technically difficult and you might have to do a bit of searching before your find a qualified surgeon. A recent study has shown that electroacupuncture might be a third option for dogs suffering from Wobbler disease, but more research is necessary.

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Wobbler disease in dogs