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Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Wobbler syndrome is a compression of the spine in the neck.

Wobbler syndrome is the term used to describe a specific type of cervical (neck) vertebral instability in dogs. It occurs when there is compression of the last few vertebrae in the neck.

Cause of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Wobbler can occur in two ways. The first is a disc-related condition that occurs mainly in large and giant breed dogs. This type occurs most often in older dogs and is caused by degeneration and herniation of discs in the neck.

The second is vertebrae-related Wobbler syndrome, and it occurs in young dogs. It has to do with misshapen or improperly articulating vertebrae (the bones in the spine).

In both cases, the spinal cord and nerve roots are compressed, and that leads to neurological signs.

Disc-related Wobbler is seen more commonly in Dobermans while Great Danes are prone to the vertebral-related type.

The exact mechanism or cause of the condition isn't known with certainty. Ideas that the disc-related form is related to nutritional deficiencies or fast growth haven't been borne out in studies.

Signs of Wobbler in Dogs

The signs of this condition can be quite variable depending on where in the spine the lesion is, how severe the compression is, and how long it's been going on. Some signs of Wobbler syndrome in dogs include:

  • Neck pain
  • Trouble standing from a lying or sitting position
  • Loss of muscle in the front legs
  • Worn toenails on the tops
  • Wobbliness (ataxia) in all four limbs, especially the rears

Diagnosis of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

When a dog is showing signs of Wobbler, the doctor will also be considering other causes of disc or vertebrae problems. X-rays can show a narrowing of the space between vertebrae in the neck or strangely shaped vertebrae.

Myelography may help a veterinarian visualize the collapsed disc spaces and rule out other causes. It involves placing dye around the spinal cord and then doing fluoroscopy (x-rays in real time).

Treatment of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Surgery to relieve pressure from leaked disc material and fuse the unstable vertebrae is the general treatment for Wobbler. If a dog is unable to walk, nursing care includes keeping him on a soft bed, turning him over periodically, and emptying his bladder manually or through a catheter.

Steroids are used to decrease swelling. If a dog is not going to have surgery, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and strict rest may be useful, but the condition will most likely progress.

The earlier surgical intervention is pursued, the better the outcome in most cases, but some dogs that are treated surgically will have a recurrence of the condition.

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