What is Wobbler Syndrome?

Wobbler syndrome is the common term for cervical spondylopathy, a neurological disease that affects the development of the bones in the neck and spine. These bones result in the compression of the spinal cord, which affects the transmission of nerve signals that go between the brain and the body.

Wobbler syndrome gets its name in reference to the characteristic ‘wobbly’ walking style which many dogs develop, where they take short ‘floating’ steps with their front limbs. It’s largely a genetic condition, although some dietary factors can contribute to its development.


What are the symptoms of Wobbler Syndrome?

As mentioned before, the main sign of wobbler syndrome is an uncoordinated, wobbly gait. Dogs may stumble, sway from side to side or scuff their feet, and their legs will appear weak.

Other symptoms of wobbler syndrome include:

  • Inability to walk
  • Difficulty turning
  • Paralysis of one or all limbs
  • Difficulty lowering head
  • Incontinence
  • Wide based stance
  • Signs of discomfort or pain around the neck
  • Reluctance to jump

Symptoms can appear at any stage in life, and the onset is usually slow and gradual. The condition often affects larger dogs such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds and Dobermans, but can also be seen in some smaller dogs.

 

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How is it diagnosed?

In order to diagnose wobbler syndrome we will typically start with an X-ray of the spine and neck, to see if there are any abnormalities in the bones. We’ll then carry out advanced imaging scanning in order to see what is compressing the spinal cord. An MRI scan will identify how many compressions there may be, as well as allowing us to look at the discs between vertebrae. A CT scan allows us to understand more about the shape of the bones within the vertebrae. This not only helps us to diagnose the condition, but also determine the best method of treatment.

Alongside any physical examination and imaging, we may also take some bloods or spinal fluids, which we’ll send to a lab to help us further confirm the diagnosis.

How do we treat Wobbler Syndrome?

There are a few ways we can treat wobbler syndrome. The best method will vary depending on the severity of the condition and the general health of your pet.

Non-surgical treatment

For older dogs, or those whose surgical outlook is poor, we’ll opt for non-surgical management of the condition. While not a cure, it will allow for some stablisation. Non-surgical treatment options include:

  • Exercise restriction – Your dog should rest completely in the short term, while their exercise should be modified in the long term, including avoiding jumping and climbing and going for short walks rather than long ones.
  • Anti-inflammatories – Some pets will benefit from anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling, as well as additional painkillers, particularly if they show signs of neck pain.
  • Physical and hydrotherapy – Rehabilitative services like these can help to ease symptoms, rebuild strength and improve mobility.
Surgery

Surgery is the most effective form of treatment, with the aim being to try and relieve the compression on the spinal cord. There are two types of surgical treatment available:

  • Decompressive surgery – This type of surgery involves removing a window of bone from the spinal canal. This allows us to remove any disc material that’s adding to the compression.
  • Vertebral distraction-fusion – This surgery involves stretching the abnormal vertebral tissue in order to reduce the compression. They vertebrae may also be fused so as to stabilise it.

All surgery is carried out by one of our highly experienced specialists. They will explain the procedure in depth beforehand, as well as highlight any potential complications.

What is the prognosis?

The success of treatment depends on a number of factors, including the number and type of compressions, as well as the age and weight of the dog.

In general the outlook for dogs with wobbler syndrome is good. As with most surgical procedures, there is a small chance that the patient may have complications, but many if not most dogs go on to have an improved quality of life. For dogs who have non-surgical treatment, their condition will need managing throughout their lives.

We’re always here to help should you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s condition – just drop us a message or give us a call. If you’re a veterinary professional and wish to make a referral, head on over to our referrals page for more information.