Recently, we discussed intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) in dogs and focused on disc herniations that occur in the spine located between the front and hind limbs. In this blog, we’ll address the kind of disease that big dogs like Great Danes and Doberman Pinschers get – cervical instability, or Wobbler disease/syndrome.
As a review, IVDD occurs when the cushiony discs that live between the bones in the spine weaken and herniate out of their normal space. When this happens, they can press on the spine, causing spinal damage and possibly paralysis.
Cervical instability, or Wobbler disease, is IVDD that occurs in the neck. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. A few other conditions may also be present in dogs that display signs of Wobbler disease:
- Small vertebral spinal canal in the area of the neck;
- Malformation of the bones of the spine in the area of the neck; and/or
- Vertebral instability.
All of these changes cause chronic compression of the spinal cord in the neck, resulting in weakness in the hind limbs followed by weakness in the front limbs as well. This can result in a wobbly walk, hence the term “Wobbler.” Affected dogs are unsteady on their feet. Some cases are acute, meaning that the onset occurs suddenly, but in most cases, clinical signs will occur slowly and then progress over time until they are severe.
In general, diagnosis is not made using plain X-rays. Instead, a procedure called a myelogram is performed. A liquid is injected around the spinal cord that will show up differently on an X-ray, and can help to reveal the exact spot of spinal compression.
If your veterinarian suspects Wobbler disease, your pet will likely be referred to a neurologist for diagnosis and treatment. The treatment of choice for severe cases is surgery, and the exact type will depend on the location of the compression, as well as the individual surgeon. Mild cases may be treated medically, with the goal of decreasing inflammation with anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers.
The goal of both treatments is to restore the dog’s quality of life. In severe cases of paralysis, this means returning the ability to walk. The recovery period after surgery depends greatly on the severity of the disease, but you can expect that a significant amount of tender loving care, physical therapy and confinement will be needed. Mild cases that are treated medically will also require plenty of TLC and confinement, as well as monitoring for progression of disease.
Disc herniations are no fun, no matter where they happen. Remember – if your pet appears paralyzed, or loses the ability to use his front or rear limbs, this is a veterinary emergency. Get to your vet or emergency veterinary center ASAP!