Wobbler Disease in Dogs: A Quick Guide What Is Wobbler Disease and How to Treat It?

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Wobbler disease is a neurological disorder that usually affects large breed dogs. Learn more about how to diagnose and treat the condition.

Wobbler disease, also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy, is a condition that affects the cervical spine (neck) of dogs. It is characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal, which can lead to pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. 

This can cause a range of symptoms, including weakness in the legs, difficulty walking, and neck pain. Wobbler disease is most commonly seen in large breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Dobermans, and Greyhounds, but it can occur in any breed. 

In this article, we will provide a quick guide to wobbler disease in dogs, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. By understanding this condition, you can work with your veterinarian to get your furry friend the care they need.

Symptoms of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

The symptoms of wobbler syndrome in dogs can vary, but some common signs to look for include the following:

  • Weakness in the legs: Dogs with wobbler syndrome may have difficulty standing or walking and may appear wobbly or unsteady on their feet.

  • Difficulty walking: Dogs with wobbler syndrome may have a hunched or unsteady gait and may appear to be "wobbling" when they walk.

  • Neck pain: Some dogs with wobbler syndrome may show signs of neck pain, such as holding their head low or rubbing their head against objects.

  • Loss of appetite: Dogs with wobbler syndrome may lose their appetite or have difficulty swallowing due to neck pain or difficulty positioning their head.

  • Changes in behavior: Some dogs with wobbler syndrome may become less active or less social due to pain or discomfort.

It's important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it's important to have your dog examined by a veterinarian if you notice any changes in its behavior or mobility. Only a veterinarian can accurately diagnose and treat wobbler syndrome.

Causes of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

The exact cause of wobbler syndrome in dogs is not fully understood, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some potential contributing factors include:

  • Breed: Wobbler syndrome is most commonly seen in large breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Dobermans, and Greyhounds, but it can occur in any breed.

  • Genetics: Some dogs may be more prone to developing wobbler syndrome due to inherited traits.

  • Obesity: Being overweight can put extra strain on the neck and spine, which may contribute to the development of wobbler syndrome.

  • Rapid growth: Dogs that grow quickly may be more prone to developing wobbler syndrome.

  • Trauma: Trauma to the neck, such as a fall or car accident, may increase the risk of developing wobbler syndrome.

It's important to note that the cause of wobbler syndrome may be different for each individual dog and maybe a combination of several factors.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Diagnosing wobbler syndrome in dogs can be challenging, as the symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions, such as intervertebral disc disease or spinal tumors. To diagnose wobbler syndrome, your veterinarian will likely perform a thorough physical examination and ask about your dog's medical history and any symptoms you have noticed. 

They may also recommend one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

  • X-rays: X-rays can help to visualize the bones in the neck and spine and may show signs of narrowing in the spinal canal that is characteristic of wobbler syndrome.

  • MRI: An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can provide detailed images of the soft tissues in the neck and spine, including the spinal cord and nerve roots. This can help to confirm a diagnosis of wobbler syndrome.

  • CT scan: A CT (computed tomography) scan can provide detailed images of the bones in the neck and spine, similar to an x-ray. It may be used in conjunction with an MRI to get a more complete picture of the spine and spinal cord.

  • Neurological examination: A neurological examination can help to assess the function of the spinal cord and nerve roots. This may involve tests such as reflex tests and muscle strength tests.

Based on the results of these tests, your veterinarian will be able to determine if your dog has wobbler syndrome and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.

Treating Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

Treatment for wobbler syndrome in dogs may involve a combination of medications, physical therapy, and surgery. The goal of treatment is to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and improve the dog's quality of life. The specific treatment plan will depend on the severity of the condition and the individual needs of the dog. Some common treatment options include:

  • Medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Prednisone and Carprofen can help to reduce inflammation and pain, while corticosteroids can help to reduce swelling in the spinal cord. Your veterinarian may also recommend pain medications or muscle relaxants to help manage your dog's discomfort.

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help to improve muscle strength and mobility in dogs with wobbler syndrome. This may involve exercises such as swimming or treadmill work, as well as massage and other techniques.

  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and improve the dog's mobility. This may involve procedures such as laminectomy (removal of part of the vertebrae) or spinal fusion (joining two or more vertebrae together).

It's important to note that wobbler syndrome is a progressive disease, which means that it can get worse over time if left untreated. Therefore, it's important to work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate treatment plan as soon as possible. With proper care, many dogs with wobbler syndrome are able to live happy and active lives.

Recovery and Management of Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

The recovery process and long-term management of wobbler syndrome in dogs will depend on the individual dog and the specific treatment plan. In general, dogs that undergo surgery may need several weeks to months to fully recover and may require physical therapy and other rehabilitation to regain strength and mobility. Non-surgical treatments, such as medications and physical therapy, may also require ongoing management to help manage the dog's symptoms.

To help your dog recover and manage its wobbler syndrome, it's important to follow your veterinarian's instructions and care recommendations closely. This may include:

  • Providing a suitable exercise plan: Exercise is important for maintaining muscle strength and mobility, but it's important to balance the need for exercise with the need for rest. Your veterinarian or physical therapist can help you develop an appropriate exercise plan for your dog.

  • Monitoring for signs of pain or discomfort: It's important to pay attention to your dog's behavior and look for signs that they may be experiencing pain or discomfort. This may include changes in appetite, behavior, or mobility.

  • Administering dog medications as prescribed: If your dog is prescribed medications, it's important to give them as directed to help manage their symptoms.

  • Providing a suitable diet: A healthy diet can help to support your dog's overall health and well-being. Your veterinarian may recommend a specific diet for your dog, such as a weight control diet or a diet with specific nutrients that may be helpful for managing Wobbler syndrome.

By following these recommendations and working closely with your veterinarian, you can help your dog manage Wobbler syndrome and live a happy and active life.

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