How to Recognize Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

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Wobbler syndrome is a neurologic condition that affects a dog's cervical spine. Signs of the condition typically develop gradually and include an unsteady walk and neck pain. While the condition can affect any breed of dog, large and giant dog breeds suffer from the condition most often.

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Wobbler syndrome is a neurologic condition that affects a dog's cervical spine.
Image Credit: Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images

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What is wobbler syndrome?

Wobbler syndrome has several other names, including wobblers, cervical spondylomyelopathy, cervical vertebral instability, cervical spondylopathy, and cervical vertebral malformation. Wobbler syndrome is a neurologic condition that affects a dog's cervical spine, the portion of the spine located in the neck.

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Dogs who have wobbler syndrome usually have spinal cord compression that's caused by a combination of a small spinal canal and disc herniation. Sometimes, spinal cord compression is due to a small spinal canal caused by bony changes impacting the spinal cord.

Early signs of wobblers in dogs

When it comes to wobblers in dogs, the first signs can be difficult to detect. Early symptoms of wobbler syndrome in dogs usually include an unsteady gait in the hind legs. However, you may only notice an unsteady walk on slippery floors or that the dog is walking slowly. You may also see your dog walking with his head down, a sign that he may be experiencing neck pain.

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Your dog may begin to wobble on all four of his legs as the condition progresses. You may notice that your dog has difficulty getting up or stumbles. A dog with wobbler syndrome may lose muscle mass in his hind legs and over his shoulder blades.

While wobbler syndrome usually comes on gradually, some dogs with wobblers develop acute signs of pain and weakness. Weakness can be severe and can interfere with a dog's ability to walk.

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Dogs prone to developing wobbler syndrome

Any breed of dog can be affected with wobblers, but the condition is most commonly seen in large- and giant-breed dogs. Breeds of dogs commonly affected with wobbler syndrome include Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, Weimaraners, Dalmatians, German shepherds, Rottweilers, Bernese mountain dogs, Swiss mountain dogs, Saint Bernards, and mastiffs.

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How is wobbler syndrome diagnosed?

You should take your dog to the veterinarian if you notice any changes in her gait or if you suspect she is in any pain. At the appointment, your vet will give your dog a thorough physical and neurological exam.

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Imaging studies are required to confirm a diagnosis of wobbler syndrome. Your vet may begin by taking X-rays of your dog to rule out other conditions that present like wobbler syndrome. A computerized tomography scan or a magnetic resonance imaging scan are used to confirm a diagnosis of wobblers. These tests are typically performed by specialists.

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How is wobbler syndrome treated?

Dogs with wobblers can be treated either medically or surgically. The goals of treatment are to decrease inflammation, relieve spinal cord and nerve compression, and manage pain.

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Dogs who have a mild case of wobblers or those who are unable to undergo surgery are treated medically. If your vet treats your dog's condition medically, he may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and pain medication and may restrict your dog's activity.

Dogs who have more severe cases of wobblers and those who do not respond to medical treatment may be good candidates for surgery. Surgical procedures focus on spinal cord and nerve root decompression. There are several surgical procedures that can be done to treat the condition. Which procedure will be done on your dog will depend on your pet's specific circumstances.

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