Wobbler syndrome in dogs


Also known as Cervical Spondylomyelopathy or Cervical Stenosis for short. Affected dogs develop a wobbly gait due to pressure on the spinal cord in the lower part of the neck.  Often the hind legs are affected first. 

How does it happen?

This disease begins because there is an instability between two or more vertebrae in the lower part of the neck.  When instability exists, the body attempts to correct the problem.  This results in a thickening of the ligaments that are within the joint; one is above the spinal cord and two are below it.  As these ligaments thicken, they put pressure on the spinal cord.

The spinal cord is much like a large telephone cable that contains thousands of wires, each carrying important messages.  When the telephone cable is crushed, the tiny wires within are broken so they cannot transmit information.  In Wobbler syndrome, the spine can’t carry messages from the brain to the nerves in the legs, so the legs cannot move as they should.

In severe cases, all four legs can become paralysed.  This is caused when the instability present between the vertebrae also puts unnatural stress on the disc that is located between the bones.  After weeks or months of stress, the disc will rupture.  

Are certain breeds of dogs more commonly affected than others?

Any large breed dog can get Wobblers syndrome, however Great Danes,  Dobermans and Basset Hounds are more commonly affected breeds.  

How is the diagnosis made?

X-rays of the neck often reveal that the cervical vertebrae are not properly aligned but do not show the actual spinal cord.   A myelogram is an x-ray made after a special dye is injected around the spinal cord.  The dye outlines the cord so that points of pressure can be readily observed.  A myelogram is needed to give conclusive evidence of the wobbler syndrome. 

What is the treatment?

Anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers are often prescribed in the early stages of this disease.  They may provide some relief from the symptoms, but this improvement is usually only temporary.  As the disease progresses, medication will no longer be helpful.  

In some dogs, a specially-fashioned neck brace can be helpful in limiting motion in the neck, however, most dogs have progressive disease and prompt surgery is recommended.

Successful treatment requires that the pressure is removed from the spinal cord.  There are several surgical procedures that have been used, but none have been successful in all cases.  The findings on the myelogram are used to determine the surgical procedure that is most likely to be helpful.

What is the prognosis?

If surgery is performed at the time the dog is uncoordinated, there is a fairly good chance of success.  If paralysis of all four legs has occurred the prognosis is unfortunately often poor.

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