Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs
In continuation with our A to Z Challenge theme of giant breed health issues and needs, we’re talking about Wobbler Syndrome. This is an issue I see far too frequently in giant breeds, specifically Great Danes.
More formally known as cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), Wobbler Syndrome is a disease of the cervical spine that is commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs. Taking place at the neck, the disease is characterized by the compression of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots. This compression leads to poor neurological signs and neck pain.
Wobbler Syndrome can affect dogs in several different ways and some breeds are more disposed to a certain cause. Doberman Pinschers are more likely to suffer from slipping intervertebral disks while giant breeds under three years of age are likely to experience vertebral malformation. This malformation can compress the spinal cord from the top and bottom, top and sides, or simply from the sides. Regardless of the type of compression, dynamic spinal cord compression (compression changes with different cervical spine positions) is always present.
- Wobbly gait (hence the name “Wobbler Syndrome”)
- Neck pain and/or stiffness
- Overall weakness, specifically in the front limbs
- Partial or complete paralysis
- Muscle loss
- Worn toenails from uneven walking
- Difficulty in standing
Particularly in giant breeds, fast-growth is a suspected cause of Wobbler Syndrome. This can occur due to excess calories and an inadequate calcium to phosphorus ratio in their food as they grow. Giant breed puppies should always be on a calorie-controlled diet with appropriate vitamins and minerals to foster slow, steady growth.
A blood chemical profile, complete blood count, urinalysis, and electrolyte panel will be conducted to rule our any other diseases and a thorough medical history will be conducted by your veterinarian.
In order to diagnose Wobble Syndrome, visualization, X-rays, myelographs, CT scans, and MRIs will allow your vet to get a good view of the spine and vertebrae. These tests will help to rule out any other diagnoses such as neoplasia and inflammatory spinal cord diseases.
Treatment will depend on the severity and location of the spinal compression. Severe cases will be treated with surgery which will require at least two to three months of restricted activity to allow the bone to heal. Post-operative dogs will require physical therapy to avoid muscle loss and bone fusion and to encourage a speedy recovery. While surgery has an 80% chance of improvement, there is a small risk of significant complications which are associated with any cervical surgical procedure.
For dogs that do not go through surgery, soft bedding is essential to keep them comfortable and help prevent bed sores. Some will require bladder catheterization so the dog does not have to rise to do his business outside. It will be important to keep your dog as comfortable as possible.
To prevent further injury, dogs wearing neck collars should be switched to body harnesses. Neck collars have the potential to harm the already compromised spinal structure. Your vet may also recommend a diet change to cut down on excess protein, calcium, and calories.
Have you ever had a dog with Wobbler Syndrome? How was the treatment process for your dog?