Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Wobbler syndrome is more properly called cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM).  It is caused by a compression of the spinal cord at the cervical vertebrae.  It is common in large and giant dogs.  The term wobblers describes the characteristic wobbly gate caused by the damage to the spine.

Disk slippage between vertebra and or bony malformation in a narrowed vertebral canal can cause the spinal compression.  Disk associated spinal compression is most often seen in adult dogs over three years of age.

Doberman pinschers are predisposed to slipping intervertebral disks.  Vertebral malformation is most commonly seen in giant breed dogs, usually young dogs less than three years of age.

Breeds that appear to be most predisposed to this condition are Doberman pinchers, rottweilers, great Danes, Irish wolfhounds and basset hounds.

Symptoms include the strange, wobbly gait that gave the syndrome its’ name, neck pain, stiffness, weakness, possible short strided walking, spastic with a floating appearance or very weak in the front limbs, possibly unable to walk, possible muscle loss near the shoulders, possible worn or scuffed toenails from uneven walking, increased extension of all four limbs, and difficulty getting up from lying down.

Possible causes are excessive protein, calcium, and calories in great Danes, or fast growth in other large breeds.

Your veterinarian will do a standard blood test and urinalysis to rule out any other causes for the problem.  He will take as much of a genetic history as you have of your dog.  If any of your dog’s relatives has had wobbler’s syndrome, that is very important to tell your veterinarian.

The veterinarian will also take x-rays of your dog’s spine.  These are used mainly to rule out bony malformations.  A CT scan, MRI, or myelograph will be used to rule out or rule in compression of the spine.  Diseases that will need to be ruled out though a differential diagnosis include diskospondylitis, neoplasia, and inflammatory spinal cord diseases. The results of the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) analysis should pinpoint the origin of the symptoms.

Treatment depends on the location of the spinal compression and the severity of the problem.  Non-surgical treatment may be given on an outpatient basis.  Dogs that cannot walk should be kept on soft bedding and turned every four hours to prevent bed sores.

Dogs that have difficulty walking may have their bladder catheterized to keep them from having to go outside.  Your veterinarian can instruct you on how to do this properly to prevent a bladder infection.

Dogs that are treated with surgery may have to have their activity restricted for two months.  Surgery often offers the best chance of improvement (80 percent) but there is a small risk of significant complications associated with cervical surgical procedures.  Physical therapy is essential for post-operative dogs to avoid muscle loss, atrophy, fusion of bones, and hasten recovery.  Your veterinarian can instruct you in this therapy for your dog.

Dogs who have been treated surgically cannot run or jump for two or three months post operatively.  They should be restrained with body harnesses since collars can make an already compressed area of the neck worse.