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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert

UPDATED: Nov 17, 2020

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Wobbler syndrome in dogs, or cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), causes a dog’s spine to compress which causes a wobbly gait.

This painful disease is typically progressive, but can also be more acute.

Large breeds, like Great Danes and Doberman Pinschers, are more prone to wobbler syndrome. It is most often seen in large female dogs, though it has been seen in smaller breeds as well.

The disease usually occurs in the neck when there is compression on the spinal cord causing the dogs to wobble.

Cats are very rarely affected by wobbler syndrome.

  • Wobbly gait
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Weak limbs
  • Muscle loss near the shoulders
  • Paralysis
  • Scuffed or worn toenails from uneven walking
  • Extension of limbs is increased
  • Difficult getting up when lying down

Cause of Wobbler

There isn’t a defined cause of wobbler syndrome.

Genetics, particularly in large breeds, seems to be a factor since many large breed dogs get wobbler’s disease. There are theories that because of the rapid growth from puppies to adult, this could contribute to the cause.

Nutrition is also thought to possibly cause wobbler syndrome, with too much calcium, protein, and even calories, particularly in Great Danes.

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Wobbler Diagnosis

In order to see if a dog has wobbler syndrome, the veterinarian usually conducts a neurological  & physical examination.
wobbler sydrome in large dogs

The physical test is completed to find the cause of the abnormal gait and if this is a result of a neurological problem of an issue with the dog’s neck.

Standard x-rays are used to see if there are other conditions that could have caused the disease. If other conditions aren’t the cause, and MRI is typically used as it is the most accurate and safest test for your dog.

Another diagnostic test, which is an older type, that your veterinarian might use is called a Myelogram. This is an x-ray and there is a dye injected around the dog’s spinal cord.

However, this test isn’t as safe as the newer ways to test for Wobbler.

An MRI is typically the most common and the best of all the test. It is safe and accurate. A CAT scan might also be used which isn’t as accurate or safe as the MRI.

Testing for Wobbler is typically done in a hospital or some specialized clinics.

Related: 10 Things You Must Know Before You Buy Pet Insurance

Wobbler Treatment

There are many different approaches to treating wobbler syndrome.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Of course, non-surgical treatment is always the preferred choice but depends on the severity of the disease.

Dogs which are treated non-surgically have a 50 % success rate of recovery while surgery typically results in a much a higher success rate.

Some of the non-surgical methods used to help alleviate wobbler syndrome are the following:

Anti Inflammatory Drugs:

Steroids and no-steroid drugs are typically the first choices of treatment, especially in the early stages of the disease. Corticosteroid therapy and rest is an effective treatment.

Electro Acupuncture:

This type of acupuncture) is a deep needle insertion that targets the affected areas and has also been very effective in dogs. There is a high success rate with this therapy with very few side effects.

Gold Bead Implantation:

This type of acupuncture is permanent. What happens here is that there are tiny beads that are implanted in the dog’s back and the head was affected by the disease. The long term stimulation helps to relieve the symptoms.

Neck Wraps For Wobblers:

There are some specialized neck wraps that can be helpful for the dog and are typically used in addition to steroids and rest.

Your vet can help with a recommendation and/or if your dog will benefit from a wrap.

Surgical Treatment

While surgery is always the last choice, it might be the best treatment for your dog.

If your dog is less than 8 years old, surgery is the most successful.

The goal of the surgery is to stabilize and decompress the area of the spinal cord that is affected. The treatment is an effort to fuse the unstable segments of the spinal cord.

An artificial disc is sometimes used in place of the affected disc to help correct the disease depending on the location of the affected area.

Dogs who have had the surgery will be in the hospital for a few days.

And, following the surgery, very little activity for 2 to 3 months following is recommended so the fusion of the cervical areas can stabilize.

Physical therapy is also an important post-surgery to help the loss of muscle strength and to help for a successful recovery.

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What Is The Cost Of Wobbler Syndrome Surgery?

The cost of the surgery including all the tests and the post-operation rehabilitation can cost from $5,000 to $6,000.

If you have a large dog that is pre-disposed to wobbler syndromes like a German Shepherd or Great Dane, it would be wise to look into pet insurance particularly when your dog is young and before any symptoms occur.

Pet insurance can help offset the high cost of medical treatment while paying up to 90% of the bills.

Healthy Paws is just one insurance company who offers excellent coverage and including rehabilitation therapy in all of their plans.

Recovery from Wobbler

Depending on the type of treatment provided, the recovery is slow but your dog can gain movement and strength in the area.

If the damage is severe, there may be a lesser chance of your dog to fully recover, but can help prevent any more damage. If non-surgical treatments are used for your dog, rest and minimal activity area typically recommended aiding recovery.

Dogs should always be walked with a chest harness to help speed recovery.  If the dog is younger, a low protein diet is usually recommended, particularly in the larger breeds like Great Danes.

It could take up to 10 months to recover from surgery and inactivity and crate rest will be recommended.

Make sure to avoid all neck collars for your dog and to raise food bowls to help ease drinking and eating.

Return to the Dog Health Problems glossary.

 

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Constipation in Dogs

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Intervertebral Disc Disease In Dogs

Nasal Solar Dermatitis In Dogs

Patellar Luxation in Dogs

Progressive Retinal Atrophy In Dogs

Renal Failure in Dogs

Seizures in Dogs

Wobbler Syndrome In Dogs

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