Nervous System Conditions for Dog Breeds

What is Cervical Spondylomyelopathy? 

Cervical Spondylomyelopathy, also known as Wobbler syndrome, is an abnormal development of the vertebrae in the neck. This abnormal development leads to squeezing of the spinal cord. It can lead to poor transmission of nerve signals between the brain and the body. In dogs that are infected, there can be various morphological problems of the neck bones. 

The abnormalities predispose animals to problems with the intervertebral discs, causing those discs to degenerate and protrude against the spinal cord. Along with issues within the neck, Wobbler Syndrome can cause incoordination and an abnormal stride in walking. Neck pain, muscle spasms, paralysis or weakness, and joint changes in the legs are also common symptoms. This syndrome is a common cause of neurologic disability in large breed dogs. Wobblers is also known as, CVI- cervical vertebral instability, CVM- cervical vertebral malformation, CVMM- cervical vertebral malformation-misarticulation, or cervical spondylopathy. 

What Causes Wobbler Syndrome and What Breeds Can Get It?

Wobbler syndrome does not have a specific cause and is still being researched, but many believe it is passed down genetically. The disease is primarily found in large and giant breed dogs. Small dogs can get the disease, but it is incredibly uncommon. 

Breeds that can get the disease include Great Danes, Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Weimaraners, German Shepherds, Swiss Mountain dogs, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Doberman Pinschers. The most commonly affected are Dobermans and Great Danes, and the disease tends to be different between the two breeds. Dobermans can get the disease around six years old and Great Danes around three years old. 

What Are The Symptoms?

The most common sign of Wobbler syndrome is a wobbly, uncoordinated gait, and stumbling. Dogs can have neck pain even if they may not show discomfort, and symptoms can progress to complete paralysis of the dog’s limbs. The stumbling tends to be more visible when a dog is on slippery floors or when they walk at a slower pace. If a dog is having trouble getting up, buckles over when they try to walk, they appear weak, or walks with their head down, these are signs of Wobbler syndrome. If not caught and treated, all four legs in the dog can become acutely paralyzed. 

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Wobblers? 

If you think your pet has Wobblers syndrome, your pet has to be examined by your veterinarian. During this examination, your vet will perform a usual physical exam along with a neurological exam. For vets to look for all the signs and issues previously listed, a diagnosis can be confirmed using imaging tests. X-rays are typically done first to see if there are any apparent broken bones or problems that can mimic the syndrome. After, tests like myelograms, CAT scans, and MRI scans can be done. A myelogram is an x-ray taken of dye injected areas around the spinal cord. An MRI is safe and is used to examine the spinal cord and the discs between the cervical vertebrae. A CAT scan can be used to examine the bones shape within the vertebral column. 

What Do Vets Look for During Examinations?

If you bring your pet in to be checked out for the disease, the vet is going to look for neurological signs of pain. The most significant symptom is spinal cord or spinal nerve compression. The spinal cord compression can be caused by a combination of a small spinal canal with disc herniation or a small spinal canal secondary to bony changes impinging upon the spinal cord. If the nerves are compressed, they cause pain and discomfort. Vets will also look for spinal fractures, congenital abnormalities, tumors of the spinal cord, metabolic disease like Cushing’s or hypothyroidism, clotting disorders, and meningitis. 

Can Wobblers Be Treated? 

With any disease, there are treatments, but they can vary depending on the cause and severity of the issues. After your veterinarian examination, your vet will provide you with the next steps that are needed to be taken and individualized treatment for your pet. 

Dogs can be treated either medically or surgically. Medical treatment can use anti-inflammatory drugs. Non-surgical treatment can be changing your dog’s leash and harness, so issues within the neck are not exacerbated. There are around 21 different types of surgery that can treat Wobbler syndrome, these can include decompressive surgery, vertebral distraction-fusion, and cervical disc prosthesis (disc replacement). Your neurologist or surgeon will provide you the best options for a successful treatment and surgery. Lastly, ongoing physical therapy can be vital for rehabilitation. 

BrightCare Animal Neurology and Imaging is dedicated to providing exceptional treatment for animals throughout Mission Viejo, Ladera Ranch, and Rancho Santa Margarita. Our 24-hour emergency animal hospital is equipped with the latest technology and tools to diagnose and care for animals. If you have questions regarding Wobblers Syndrome give us a call at 949-716-9270 and we’ll be happy to help. If you would like to be seen by our neurologist, you can request an appointment online at our BrightCare Veterinary Group website.