ABOUT WOBBLER SYNDROME
What is Wobblers?
Wobbler Syndrome is also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM). Wobbler Syndrome is a disease of the neck (cervical spine) that is most commonly seen in large and giant dog breeds. These dogs experience compression of the spinal cord and the spinal nerve roots, resulting in nervous system deficits and/or neck pain.
Approximately 50% of the cases of Wobbler Syndrome seen in dogs occur in Doberman Pinschers. Other breeds commonly affected include Weimaraners, Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Dalmations. Despite certain breed predilections, any dog breed may be affected, including small dogs.
Most giant breed dogs with Wobbler Syndrome are diagnosed before the age of three, although symptoms may emerge later in life. They usually present to the veterinarian for clinical symptoms when they are a bit older - the mean age of onset is 6 years. Slightly more males than females are diagnosed with Wobbler Syndrome.
Clinical Signs of Wobbler Syndrome
Many dogs with Wobbler Syndrome develop a progressive, uncoordinated gait in the rear limbs, hence the common name "wobblers". The lack of coordination may progress to include the front limbs as well. These dogs can lose muscle mass in the rear legs as well as over the shoulder blades. Their toenails may become worn because they tend to drag their feet.
Some dogs with Wobbler Syndrome will instead develop very acute signs, including neck pain (which can be quite severe), and acute weakness. The weakness can be so severe it can hinder walking altogether.
Common Treatment for Wobbler Syndrome
If a dog with Wobbler Syndrome can be treated medically, rather than surgically, their treatment is generally conducted on an outpatient basis. Conservative, non-surgical treatment consists of managing pain and restricting activity for several months. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are generally prescribed to decrease inflammation of the affected tissues and reduce pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots.
Non-ambulatory dogs are kept on soft bedding and turned regularly to prevent “bed sores”. Their bladders and bowels must be emptied manually on a regular schedule. Physiotherapy may contribute to maintaining muscle mass and speeding recovery.
Surgical treatment of Wobbler Syndrome involves fusing the segments of the cervical spine that are unstable.
The Outlook with Wobbler Syndrome
For dogs with Wobbler Syndrome who are treated surgically, there is a 1 – 5% chance for significant complications related to surgery, and approximately 20% will have a recurrence. Those dogs treated medically will need management for the rest of their lives, and their treatments will change as their symptoms progress. Approximately 25% of dogs treated without surgery will remain stable.