Cervical Vertebral Instability (includes Wobblers, Spondylosis)

Description of the disease by Jessica Wilcock, DVM

Wobblers Syndrome; is the term used to refer to compression of the cervical spinal cord in Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes. This disorder has many names but most of us refer to it simply as Wobblers.

Wobblers is characterized by progressive neurological dysfunction of all four limbs, usually starting with the hind legs. Common symptoms are an abnormal ‘drunken’ or ‘wobbly’ gait, scuffing or dragging of the hind feet, a short, choppy gait of the front legs, neck pain, and holding the head and neck in a flexed (downward) position. Signs may progress to the point where the dog may not be able to walk or get up on its own.

Wobblers usually occurs in older Dobermans (3 to 8 years of age) although it has been reported in dogs less than two. The spinal cord compression occurs in the lower neck, most commonly in vertebrae C5, C6 and C7. Some dogs may have multiple areas where the spinal cord is compressed.

Treatment depends on the severity of the compression. Milder cases may respond to rest and corticosteroid (i.e. cortisone) treatment to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the spinal cord. Acupuncture has also been shown to be helpful, especially in relieving pain. Chiropractic adjustment has also been suggested- however, in the case of a dog that has instability of its vertebrae, chiropractic adjustment has the potential to cause serious complications. In more severe cases, surgery is the only option. A myelogram or MRI must be done prior to surgery to determine where the compression is, whether there is more than one area of compression, and how severe the compression is. Different surgeries carry different success rates and it is suggested that you do your research before undertaking a surgery of this magnitude for your dog.

An alternative to surgery is Gold Bead Implants, a procedure where magnetically charged gold plated beads are implanted into the dog at specific locations to relieve the pain.  Dr. Terry Durkes pioneered this procedure, and several other veterinarians are currently practicing in the USA and Canada.  Click here for more information on this alternative treatment.

Testing for Wobbler’s Syndrome
The cause of Wobbler’s Syndrome is still unknown. Genetics, conformation of the neck, nutrition, injury- all have been theorized to play a part. Neck x-rays prior to breeding have been suggested, but since the malformation and malarticulation in an unsymptomatic dog can be very subtle, they can be very difficult to interpret. Preventative breeding can be frustrating as most dogs do not show symptoms until they are past their prime breeding age. The best we can do at this point in time is to be aware of Wobbler’s in pedigrees, and breed responsibly.