How to Recognize Wobbler's Syndrome in Dogs

Wobbler’s syndrome, also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy or cervical vertebral instability, is a condition in which the spinal cord in the neck becomes compressed. This compression on the spinal cord and nerve roots leads to neurological complications and pain. While the most common sign of wobbler’s syndrome is the way a dog walks, the condition comes with many symptoms. If you suspect your dog has wobbler’s syndrome, consult your veterinarian for a full workup.

Woman walking through snow with dog
Woman walking dog through snow.
credit: Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images

The Wobbling Gait

The most common sign of wobbler’s syndrome is the way a dog walks. Wobbler’s gets its name from the wobbly gait it causes. You may notice your dog wobbles, especially in the back legs, when he walks. This change in gait is often easier to notice when your dog walks slowly or on a slippery surface. Due to pain in the neck, dogs with wobbler’s often hang their heads down while walking. As the condition worsens, you may see wobbling in all four legs and you may notice it is difficult for your dog to stand.

Other Signs to Look For

In addition to a wobbly gait, look for other symptoms of wobbler's syndrome. You may notice that your dog flinches due to pain when you touch his neck or spine. Look at your dog’s toenails. The nails may be worn down or scuffed due to an irregular walking pattern. You may notice your dog experiencing general weakness, especially when trying to get up from a nap.

Certain Breeds Require a Closer Look

While wobbler’s can affect any dog, certain breeds show a predisposition. These breeds include Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, mastiffs, Weimaraners, German shepherds, Bernese mountain dogs, Swiss mountain dogs and basset hounds. If you have one of these breeds and notice a change in your dog’s gait, consult your veterinarian.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Wobbler’s Syndrome

To diagnose wobbler’s, your veterinarian will need to run a few diagnostic tests, such as a blood panel and urinalysis, to rule out any underlying causes. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs are necessary to visually confirm spinal compression. In mild cases, your veterinarian may opt for care with anti-inflammatory medications and reduced activity. In cases where severe spinal compression has occurred, surgery may be necessary.