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Wobblers Syndrome is known by many names; caudal cervical spondylomyelopathy, cervical vertebral instability, and spondylolitheses, are just a few of them. No matter the name this syndrome can be devastating. In Wobblers Syndrome the vertebrae in the lower neck of the dog put pressure on the spinal cord. This pressure comes from either malformation of the vertebrae or can be caused by trauma or a ruptured disk. As pressure increases the nerves in the spinal cord become damaged. This causes them to be unable to send signals to the body. The result of this is that the dog appears to have a lack of coordination, hence the name Wobblers.
Although any breed of dog can develop Wobblers, large and giant breeds seem to be at a greater risk than others. Some breeds in which the disease may be genetically linked are Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, Borzois, and Basset Hounds. In Great Danes Wobblers is normally seen in young dogs, however in other breeds the onset of Wobblers does not come until later in life.
The cause of Wobblers Syndrome is not known but it is thought that genetics and diets are major contributors to the disease. In some cases the syndrome appears when large dogs grow very fast as puppies due to excessive nutrition. In other cases there is no clear evidence as to what brought on the syndrome, which supports the genetic theory. Each case is different and varies in terms of disease progression, clinical signs, and severity.
Without a genetic test for Wobblers Syndrome, the best prevention is careful monitoring of the dog's diet, so that the growth rate is kept to a normal, rather than a rapid, rate.
As with most conditions, symptoms can vary but in wobblers syndrome you are most likely to notice motor function diminish. This can be seen as general instability of the dog, clumsiness, unnatural falling down, an unsteady gait, inability for the dog to raise its head, or paralysis in the forelimbs, hind limbs, or both. The severity of the case will determine the extent to which clinical signs are present. In some cases symptoms can come and go as pressure on the spinal cord increases and decreases.
Diagnosing wobblers is initially done using x-rays. An x-ray can show a veterinarian if the vertebrae are formed incorrectly or are in a position which is putting pressure on the spinal cord. To determine exactly the extent of the pressure being put on the spinal cord, a myelogram is usually performed. In a myelogram a contrasting material, or dye, is injected around the spinal cord. This dye allows veterinarians to view the more exactly the amount of damage being done to the spinal cord. In addition to the x-ray and myelogram, CT scans and an MRI can also be performed to aid in the diagnosis.
With cases which are slow to progress and mild, treatment normally starts with steroids, such as prednisone, to reduce inflammation and swelling. This along with a lifestyle consisting of very minimal activity can help keep symptoms from worsening. In more sever cases a neck brace may be required to help stabilize the neck. Surgery is also an option. Surgery will be performed to remove the pressure on the spinal cord, along with fusing the unstable vertebrae. There are many ways which this can be performed with none being more successful than another. Surgery is considered to be more helpful in sudden onset cases as opposed to chronic, slowly progressing cases. Treatment will vary depending on severity and on the dog itself and is best determined on a case by case basis.
If your dog has been diagnosed with Wobblers Syndrome there are certain steps which you can take to make your dog more comfortable. As always following your veterinarian's instructions is a must. In addition to this limit your dog's activity. Any high energy activity can increase the pressure on the spinal cord and cause symptoms to worsen. When walking your dog a harness is recommended. This decreases the amount of pressure put on the dog's neck and is more comfortable for them than a collar is. For more information on wobblers syndrome and care contact your local veterinarian.
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