Wobbler syndrome is a neurological problem affecting the cervical
(neck) spinal cord and has been referred to by various names such
as cervical stenotic myelopathy, caudal cervical
spondylomyelopathy, and cervical malarticulation/malformation
Signs consistent with this disease include neck pain, scuffing
nails, stumbling, incoordination (ataxia), difficulty rising, and
difficulty walking. Often, signs start in the back legs and
progress to involve the front legs. In some instances, dogs are
rapidly affected and quickly become unable to walk after seemingly
normal exercise or innocuous trauma.
The cause of wobbler syndrome is not fully understood and likely
involves many factors including genetics, nutrition, conformation,
and growth rate.
Two distinct categories have been used to highlight differences in
certain clinical features. A young dog form sometimes referred to
as type I wobbler syndrome, affects Great Danes, Mastiffs, and
other giant breeds. These dogs are typically affected early in life
(4 - 12 months of age), but may not show signs until later.
A middle-aged form, the so-called “disk-associated” or type II
wobbler syndrome, affects large breeds such as the Doberman
Pinscher and Bernese Mountain Dog. Typically dogs develop signs in
early to mid-adulthood (4 - 9 years) but occasionally will have
Diagnosis is based on clinical features and diagnostic imaging
such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography
There is currently not a consensus among veterinarians regarding
the optimal treatment for dogs with wobbler syndrome.
Generally, treatment goals include controlling pain, reducing
inflammation, and alleviating spinal cord and nerve compression.
For mildly affected dogs and dogs unable to undergo surgery,
medical treatment is instituted. This may include pain medication,
reduced activity, and anti-inflammatory medication.
Dogs with more severe signs or that have signs unresponsive to
medical therapy are surgical candidates. Surgical goals include
spinal cord and nerve root decompression and, in some cases,
distraction and fusion (“spinal fusion”) of the affected vertebrae.
Depending on the details of a case, various types of stabilization
methods may be utilized.
In some situations, titanium implants are used to allow for
post-operative MRI follow-up precluded by traditional stainless
Cases are evaluated on an individual basis to determine an
appropriate treatment plan. Prognosis is highly dependent on the
severity of clinical signs, the degree of spinal cord compression,
and chronicity (length of time since disease onset).
Most Frequently Affected Breeds