What is Wobbler Syndrome?
Wobbler Syndrome, also known as Cervical Vertebral Instability or CVI, is a progressive spinal disease that causes dogs to lose control over their movements. A Wobbler dog's movements become unsteady or wobbly, the uncontrolled steps make them walk like a wiggly worm.
There are two forms of Wobbler Syndrome:
Cervical Stenotic Myelopathy which occurs in young giant dog breeds like Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Dobermans. Cervical Stenotic Myelopathy is occurs when the vertebrae in dog's neck puts pressure onto the spinal cord due to the abnormal vertebral center. Normally the middle of a healthy neck vertebrae is round, whereas with Cervical Stenotic Myelopathy the vertebrae could be square, triangle or hourglass. This abnormal shape puts pressure on the spinal cord causing it to lose its round shape over time.
The second form of Wobbler Syndrome is seen in adult dogs. In type 2 the dog has a bulging inter vertebral disk that slowly applies pressure on the base of the spinal cord. This occurs most commonly in large to giant dogs. Although not classified as a large breed, the basset hound is another common breed affected by CVI.
What Causes a Dog to Get Wobblers?
There is no single known cause of Cervical Vertebral Instability in dogs. While the condition is linked primarily to larger dogs, horses have been diagnosed with Wobblers as well. Although there have been countless studies, researchers and Vets have not been able to find a single direct cause.Most Vets believe the condition is caused by rapid growth, which is why we rarely see smaller dogs with CVI. Another possible cause of Wobblers could be connected to a dog's diet. Veterinary studies have concluded that too much protein, calcium, or calories can cause the instability of the vertebrae.
CVI Symptoms and Diagnosis
There are tell-tale signs of Wobblers that are impossible to ignore. It is time for a trip to the vet if you start to notice your dog experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Wobbling when standing
- Lack of coordination or ataxia, especially in the hind limbs when walking
- Walking with their head down
- Having difficulty standing up when sitting or laying down
- Having hind leg weakness
To diagnose, your veterinarian will perform a physical and neurological examination. This tests will help them determine the underlying reason for the dog's difficulty in walking. The symptoms of CVI can also be attributed to other canine neck or neurological problem as well, a standard blood test helps to rule out other illnesses. When other mobility conditions are ruled out, your vet will order an x-ray to check for any bony lesions along your dog's spine. Finally a spinal MRI may be ordered to confirm the Wobbler diagnosis.
How to Treat Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs
While there is no cure for Wobbler Syndrome, there are many ways to manage the disease. Typically, Cervical Vertebral Instability treatment will start with medical management. This means, activity restriction or strict crate rest. A prescription of corticosteroids will help to reduce the swelling causing the spinal compression as the dog rests. Dogs are very likely to show reduced symptoms while on the steroids, but this will not last if they are discontinued.
The surgical option for dogs with Cervical Stenotic Myelopathy is usually performed on younger dogs only. The procedure is called a dorsal laminectomy and involves enlarging the narrowed vertebral canal.
In older dogs, the surgeon will perform a ventral slot procedure which removes the disk material that is compressing the spinal cord. These are only two of the surgical options, there are more than 21 different types of surgery to treat Wobbler Syndrome. Your veterinary surgeon will help you determine the right course of treatment based on your dog's condition and age.
Life with Your Wobbler Dog
It's important to know that a Wobbler Syndrome diagnosis isn’t a death sentence. Dogs can live full, happy lives with a few minor changes, care, and some help from you!
While Wobbler’s does affect and limit your dog’s mobility, short walks are recommended. Walking helps to maintain a dog's muscle tone and strength. On walks a Wobbler dog should always use a harness, not a collar. Dog collar’s can put added pressure on the neck and cause further neck pain.
Mobility Aids for CVI
Dogs dealing with spinal compression and back pain may benefit from a back support. The Walkin’ vertebraVe is designed to stabilize the spine and alleviate pressure, allowing pet parents to easily offer more support to pets suffering from back pain and injury so it is the perfect option to put on your dog while taking them out to use the bathroom. The vertebraVe is great for use in the early stages of CVI when they are outside playing and running to help facilitate movement while keeping the spine more stabilize and less wobbly. As the Wobbler’s progresses it is great for use on bathrooms trips or during recommended crate rest.
As a dog's symptoms progress, the wobbly movement of your dogs spine may cause them to fall or even become paralyzed. Additional support is needed to keep your dog active and walking. A full support, four wheel wheelchair helps to keep your dog upright, to avoid sudden loss of balance. The Walkin' Wheels Quad wheelchair allows your dog to maintain their independence and quality of life.
Meet Stallone Wilson!
Walkin' Pets reached out to Stephanie, Stallone's mom, to tell us about their journey with Wobblers Syndrome:
Stallone was diagnosed with Wobblers Syndrome when he was 18 months old, he presented with some neck pain. We were lucky in that the neck pain was resolved quickly with rest and medication and we continued to follow up with our neurologist Dr. Joli Jarboe, twice a year.
As the years have gone on we have definitely seen his Wobblers progress with more spine instability and problems like herniated discs and other General small mobility issues creeping up each year. However; in Stallone’s case they were always manageable because his Wobblers was minor and progressed slowly. Stallone has lived most all his puppy and adult years very happy and playful with appropriate modifications and preventive holistic treatments.
We didn’t see the real effects of Wobblers creep up until about 7 years old when we started having much more issues with slipping on surfaces and much more mobility/ disc issues that needed to be properly managed. We started religiously using our Assisi loop ( a device that provides electromagnetic pluses to alleviate pain), started using CBD oil, increased acupuncture and laser treatments, and put rug runners all over the house - all of which has been extremely helpful!
This past December 2019 Stallone had a minor stroke which effected his back left leg. We are now the proud owner of a walk-in wheels wheelchair , which undoubtedly has saved his life and ours! When Stallone first lost mobility in his left leg in December my husband and I had to move a 160lb dog and not only was that incredibly stressful on us but Stallone was quickly getting depressed. As soon as his wheelchair came, he was a different dog! He took to his chair right away and it gave him his freedom and life back and he was undoubtedly back to his Great Dane silly self!
The senior years for Stallone have definitely been stressful at times and Wobblers can be a challenging journey but in Stallone’s case early diagnosis and medical management was key to keeping him pain free and still having a good quality of life. And at the end of the day that is all any of us want dog or human - is a pain free beautiful life! You can follow Stallone's journey on his Instagram, @stallonewilson!