What is Wobbler’s syndrome?
Wobbler’s syndrome is a neurologic disease of dogs that affects their spine in the neck region. It is a very important and common cause of neurologic disability in large breed dogs.
What are the signs of Wobbler’s?
Dogs with Wobbler’s typically have a “wobbly” gait mostly in the back end (thus the name “wobblers”). It may only be visible on slippery floors or when the dog walks slowly. They may walk with their head down, which is usually a sign of pain. In the more advanced stages of the disease the problems become obvious in all four legs. The dog may have trouble getting up, appear very weak, and even “buckle over” with the front legs. Approximately 5% of dogs with Wobbler’s become acutely paralyzed in all four legs.
What breeds are most commonly affected?
Dobermans and Great Danes are the breeds most commonly affected. About 5.5% of Dobermans will have Wobbler’s. Other breeds prone to Wobbler’s include Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Weimaraners, German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain dogs, Swiss Mountain dogs, but any large or giant breed dog can have the disease.
What causes the disease?
The exact cause is not yet know, however many people believe that there is a genetic basis for the disease. While this may well be true, the evidence for genetics is still not clear and is currently being investigated in Dobermans.
Why do they have the neurological signs or pain?
The neurological signs happen because affected dogs typically have spinal cord compression. The compression can be caused by a combination of a small spinal canal with disc herniation or a small spinal canal secondary to bony changes impinging upon the spinal cord. The spinal nerves or nerve roots can also be compressed. When the nerves are compressed this causes a great deal of pain and discomfort for the affected dog.
How can I find out if my dog has Wobbler’s?
The first step is to have your dog evaluated by your Veterinarian. The vet will perform a physical and a neurological examination to find out if the reason for the difficulty in walking can really be attributed to a neck/neurologic problem.
Imaging tests are needed to specifically diagnose Wobbler’s. Typically x-rays are done first to identify any obvious bony lesion or diagnose other diseases that can mimic Wobbler’s syndrome. To confirm the disease, more advanced imaging tests are required. In the past, myelograms (an X-ray with dye injected around the spinal cord) were used. This technique is rarely used today because there are better, more sensitive tests. The most accurate test is an MRI, which is also very safe. We do not see any neurological worsening after MRIs, whereas this happens frequently with myelograms (albeit mild and temporary). A CAT scan is also a good test, but probably not as accurate as the MRI. Typically these tests are done by specialists in larger hospitals or specialty clinics.
What are the treatment options?
Dogs can be treated medically or surgically. Medical management usually consists on the use of anti-inflammatory drugs (steroids or non-steroids) with restricted activity. Because the disease affects the neck, a chest harness is strongly recommended and neck collars should be avoided.
How is surgery done?
Surgery can be done in many different ways. There are at least 21 different types of surgery to treat Wobbler’s. Several factors must be taken into consideration when deciding on the type of surgical treatment; for example how severe are the symptoms, how many lesions are present in the spine, how severe are the spinal lesions, the presence of other concurrent medical conditions, such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), etc. The attending Neurologist or Surgeon will discuss the options with owner, taking into consideration the short and long term expectations of the family.
What is the success of the treatment?
A recent study looked at the success of surgery and medical management of Wobbler’s in 104 dogs. Based on that study, it is estimated that 50% of dogs will improve with medical management, approximately 30% will remain stable and 20% will worsen. Surgical treatment offered a success rate of approximately 80%. The other 20% of dogs either remained stable or worsened. Both medical and surgical management have shown very good success.
(This post uses data from an article submitted by OSU. You can view the entire article here: https://vet.osu.edu/wobbler-syndrome)
The information provided on this website is not a substitute for professional veterinary help. If your dog has a medical issue please take them to the vet as soon as possible.
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