Wobblers - Abby's Story Part 1

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andrew's picture
Joined: 2013-01-11

Hello, this is a story about Abby and her progress with a condition identified as “wobblers”.

Before I begin this story, it is important to know that the term wobblers is used loosely in the veterinary community because it covers many conditions that may result in the disruption of signals from the brain to limbs and other body functions. There are genetic degenerative diseases like Degenerative Myelopathy, where much like multiple sclerosis the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that protects the nerves leaving nerve fibre, eventually, irreparably damaged. There are many heart breaking videos online that show this painless progress from paraplegic to quadriplegic to respiratory failure and death. Essentially this is the worst “wobblers” as the healthier your dog is the faster the condition progresses. There is some early research in stem cells taken from the brain and injected in affected areas but these are unrealistic options for pet owners right now.

There is another condition where the over development of bone structure around the nerve cords, particularly in the neck of Dobermans cause constriction and damage to the myelin protective sheath and nerves fibre. This condition can cause instant, acute symptoms from nerves being severed or pinched. It is thought that over exposure to high protein foods too early in life can contribute to this condition. There are surgical options where bone is cut out or grinded away to relieve the pressure. There is also palliative treatment to live with the condition that centres on preventing swelling. This is because nerves need to move freely within the myelin sheath, swelling can cause constriction that leads to damage of the delicate nerve fibre. “golden beads” surgically implanted to permanently acupuncture affected areas can prevent swelling and there is medication that prevents swelling as well but can cause adverse side effects that I will discuss further into my experience with Abby.

There are many other conditions, most all wobblers cases are determined by the process of elimination. That is to rule out all identifiable conditions, this then leaves the condition to be identified as Wobblers. This was the case for Abby, an X-ray was used to confirm the condition to be likely caused by disc miss-alignment. This is where the discs in the neck, particularly C1, C2 migrate and the ligament begins to fail causing damage to the nerve. This condition is usually managed by medication to reduce swelling and living with limited physical activity. There are surgical options where a plate or wire can be fitted to stabilise the discs position.  Please refer to this document for detailed surgical options with percentage of success projections. It also talks about experimental surgical options tested on cadavers and is very comprehensive


                                                                  Part One

My story begins with playing fetch, I was out in the yard after coming home from work to help draw out some of the days energy from my Dobermans Abby and Jeter by throwing a soft rubber hollow ball. The ball started out as a toy that had a solid ball inside this soft rubber cage but as with most toys it did not last long in this design. Oddly, though the solid ball was destroyed the rubber cage was holding up quite well as a fetch ball and had the added benefit that each dog could grab hold of it from each other for a tug of war.

Abby would often win, Jeter, though now a very large Doberman grew up the runt of the litter and just assumed to be over powered in most confrontations with Abby. He would just stand back and bark watching Abby destroy or devour whatever prise she had taken from him.

I can usually approach her and say “drop” and they almost always stop and leave the toy and assume the position for another game of fetch. I walked over to Abby munching on the toy, Jeter was a safe distance away so as to not evoke the deep growl that Abby used to intimidate him to not try anything stupid. I said “drop” and she spat the drool soaked ball between her front paws and almost before her burst of movement let out an out of character yelp. Concerned as to what just happened I approached her to see what could have caused this but she was already in position for the next round of fetch like it never happened. I checked her paws thinking she must have stepped on a thorn but couldn’t see anything of concern. I dismissed the situation to an awkward movement and continued the game.

Sometime weeks later my wife asked me if I noticed anything wrong with Abby, she explained that on the odd occasion when offering a treat she would yelp when taking it. I had experienced this too and began to think that it could be something to do with her teeth or gums but could not see anything out of the ordinary. Later still, driving home from work I began to think it best we take her to the vet but was reluctant as mystery problems attract expensive pointless tests. I arrived in my driveway and at the gate was Jeters usual boofy, happy to see me greeting but Abby was very ‘out of the ordinary’ missing for this ritual of fan fair for my return.

She was sunning herself further away in the yard where the light cut through the trees and she had no intention of moving. She looked content in the beam  of golden afternoon light and I headed over to give her a pat and let her know I was home. She looked at me, as she did sometimes like she was studying what an absolutely ugly thing humans were but also in a way that showed her affection for me. Again I didn’t think much of it, I prepared their dinner and placed their bowls on the ground.

Abby to the left and Jeter to the right, they sit like statues, solders at attention until the “ok” command allows their eating frenzy to begin. This time though Abby would not sit, I let this pass off as her defiance attitude you sometimes get but she also hesitated to eat. She eat far slower than usual and as she finished, Jeter was already at the kennel and sitting at attention waiting for the end of day treat. I moved behind Abby as she finished a reached down to give her a concerned pat but as I did she let out a startled yelp.  I felt terrible but she wondered off to her spot for the end of day treat, again not sitting at attention. In sympathy I handed her the treat without the expectation of her compliance to the rules.

This was becoming a great concern, I began to think that it may be her vision all along. Maybe she is being frightened or startled by things, treats touching her face, Jeter appearing out of nowhere, me patting her when her attention was on her food? Is this what we will spend money on investigating at the VET? It was far too vague and besides the occasional yelp she seems ok.

too be continued in Part Two

andrew's picture
Joined: 2013-01-11

Months went by through the winter season like this, random yelps that seem to have little causal connection and no sign of any other concern. Many discussions were had between family and recollections of events to point blame, A trainer who believed in yanking on the collar may have torn a muscle, the time she was attacked by a Staffie on our walk (a story for another time maybe) or her aggressive pull on the lead while out walking that we could never really train out of her.

Something we all agreed on was that she has always had a twitching shoulder muscle, thought originally to be the dog shivers many Doberman owners  are aware of, this seemed different, more acute and more discomforting. It never stops, it looks like the back of your hand when you wiggle your index and middle fingers alternatively. It was certainly something to bring up at a vets visit

As the weather warmed and the days drew longer, walks were becoming an easier option. I occasionally walk them because of the difficulty and when I do it is usually through the bush. The first 100 mteres I run as fast as I can to burn off the excitement and manage a half reasonable walk through Bushland before the suburbs where, by then they are far more settled and generally don’t react to other dogs.

I was fitting Abby in her Harness early before the dew lifted so that we could make an escape before other dog walkers started roaming the streets. She was very excited but I had noticed a patch on her back like a scab or dried blood. At closer inspection it was dry, rough and slightly swollen with redness. It looked like she had been bitten or stung. I scrapped the area to pull a bee sting out if there was one but it lifted the entire patch of hair and the first few dermal layers like it was no longer part of her skin. Underneath was raw like I’d just pulled a scab of skin, you could see the dots of hair follicles in the deeper layer flesh. I dressed the wound and checked her over, her breathing was not laboured, her mouth was salmon pink and by all means the same Abby girl by any other day. I didn’t want to let her down so I packed up and went on our walk.

That afternoon I opened up the back gate that opens up onto an extended part of the property where we have our garden beds. There is a small step down from a concrete patio at the gate, Abby and Jeter can hear the chain move that locks the gate from any location on the property no matter how quite you try to be to sneak out – It’s the forbidden zone. You can watch Abby defend this gate from Jeter here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8g3YfCbb_dA

I had just taken the chain of and opened the gate to hear the galloping footsteps behind me and quickly made way for their arrival. Jeter bound through first with Abby giving chase, I watched as she approach the step where she would usually bound over but it was like she just forgot. Her front legs didn’t make the following stride and she fell hard onto her chin and chest with a thud and slide in the grass some distance as her momentum came to an stop. He was yelping as before but with a far greater despair and came to me hobbling three legged holding the twitching front right leg up for me do something, anything! I placed my hands on her and calmly said “its ok” and again, the tension fell from her as I gave her a firm rub on her shoulders and she returned to a unsure standing position. “What the hell happened there?” I said not realising I had spoken the words out aloud.

Abby has always been the co-ordinated one, she can out flank my fetch games and is usually fearless but this had frightened her, it frightened me. I started to think that patch of skin may have been a White Tip Spider bite, they are aggressive, poisonous creatures that can cause skin to go necrosis and administer toxins that disrupt movement. I had seen them around the yard and the house and started scheming to poison the place so that no crawling insect would survive.

To be continued in Part Three

andrew's picture
Joined: 2013-01-11

Further into spring, after a good few weeks of rest and the patch of hair only just visible I tried playing fetch in the afternoon to restart the ritual. Abby had attempted to grapple the ball from Jeter but suddenly let out the loudest yelp I had ever heard from her. She continued a distressed scream and was holding that leg up again so I rushed to comfort her. She was clearly horrified, a mix of shock, distress and dread but I could not tell if she was in pain.

The leg became the focus point, it had been twitching none stop while she was under observation the last few weeks. Forum searches, google and google scholar searches turned up nothing like it. She was due for a check up / vaccination so we thought to bring it up then.

At the vets we showed them another patch of skin that seemed to have died and left another raw scab, we mentioned our wandering thoughts of poor vision, spider bites, tooth aches and muscle twitching. We were told of invasive nerve conduction tests, blood tests and xrays – Shots in the dark like our own guess work but concluded that in most cases rest is all that can be done regardless of the outcomes of these tests. We left with the idea to minimise her activity, restrict her diet and monitor closely with the intention to xray if things continue to deteriorate. It was suggested to watch for Allergy, plants or foods so this was another thing to heap onto the “what could be” list.

After weeks of a clearly unhappy puppy she started to show some enthusiasm, I thought to lift her spirits we would try to complete a short walk, skipping the bushland and keeping to even terrain of the suburbs to get her away from the depressive capture of my yard. Both Abby and Jeter were ecstatic to hear the clunk of the plastics and rigging that make up their walking harness. Abby doing her front pore ballet tap dance and Jeter sprinting gate to back door as if to hurry me up to leave.

Walking Abby and Jeter is never a pleasure, they pull with a force that makes a grown man unsure of his ability to remain upright. They were like this from the start, many trainers and thousands of dollars later they still defiantly dragged me behind and now I carried a water pistol to terrorise them into compliance should I need them to let up and this works well… for now.

We set off unceremoniously heading towards the quieter part of the neighbourhood and she seemed to be quite happy, this lifted my spirits too. We walked through a small reserve and cut through a back street to arrive where we would normally come out of the bush exhausted but they were still wound up tight. They spotted a cat and dragged me like a rag dole if it wasn’t for my feet, just keeping up with the burst of acceleration. Abby and Jeter were galloping in slow motion at the end of the lead tethered to me like a hand break left on, on a monster truck.

I reached for the water pistol and fired a few squirts into their faces, it startled them into hearing my command to stop but did not take their attention away from the hunt. We moved on cautiously and arrived at the main street at the other side of the suburb. It is an awkward level of road as it rises steeply to the left. As we approached the road Abby seemed to want to run across but it being a busy road I usually make them sit and wait until the commend “cross the road”

Standing there with the crest of the hill to the left you have to move quickly across in case someone speeding appears over the hill. It seemed clear so I said the command and began to walk across, I was a few steps when Abby yelps and collapses onto the road.  Jeters Harness stops him in his tracks and I’m standing in the middle, on a blind hill crest with a dog pulling to cross the road and get his treat for fulfilling the command and Abby writhing in confusion on the hard bitumen. The force of Jeter and the dead weight of Abby was causing her harness to begin to slip over her head. If she gets free, ill or not, I will have a hard time stopping her going for that cat or running around the circuit of our walk with no regard to traffic. Here, in the middle of the road,  time was running out before we all go under a b double on its way to the coal mines on the other side of town.

To be continued Part Four

talisin's picture
Joined: 2011-02-25

omg that sounds horrible for her, I hate it when they have something we have no control over, give her a big rottie hug from me and "the girls"

andrew's picture
Joined: 2013-01-11

Thanks Talisin, I wanted to tell this story so that others can see it coming far soon than we did. Its going to be a bit long though, hopefully people are interested in the story.

SIH002's picture
Joined: 2014-12-15

Yes, I am very interested.  I had been following Abby's tale, now you are giving all the details.  Please keep it up.

Slober kisses to Abby and Jeter!



karie's picture
Joined: 2014-10-10

Pet Profiles

yes i have also been following the story, it's like a good book can't wait for he next chapter and am hoping for a happy ending !!!

andrew's picture
Joined: 2013-01-11

I couldn’t tell if it was the sound of my heart pounding in my ears but my intuition was telling me, we were about to be run over.  A panic washed over me, I commanded a “lets go” and applied a force on Jeters harness he had never before known. Holding both leads in one hand I reached down and grabbed Abby by the scruff above her shoulders because I had no confidence in the harness that now looked like a half undressed tshirt over her head. What I remember is lifting her off the ground and throwing her struggling limbs off the road back to where we came as if she didn’t weigh 28kg!

She landed evenly and then cowered along with Jeter in my nearness, I think it had crossed their mind that they had miss heard the command and instead of the water pistol, they had received this berating. I softened my tone and checked on Abby, like usual she had returned to herself as if the collapse had not happened. I comforted Jeter, the poor boy was confused, all he wants to do is keep me happy so he can scoff treats. I re-assured him and the tone settled along with my heart beat back into the nagging question – What the hell is going on?

I returned home and explained what had happed to my wife, she told me of her growing concern about Abbys defiance to sit before eating and her increasing hesitation to eat. We decided to change her diet and increase the frequency of small walks to increase her fitness and overall health to overcome her mystery illness. I began to think if it could be a cognitive issue, I seen people develop twitches, phantom pains loss of appetite and odd behaviours because of stress. Jeter was an ever present tormentor, she has no personal space and lately because of our toddler Alex, she was having less and less engagement with us. Could it all be in her head? Jesus! The “what if” list as getting long, we decided to give her two weeks rest before kicking off the walks again.

Tec tec tec tec, tec tec tec tec tec… My wife says, “Have you noticed you can hear Abby walking on the concrete all the time now?” I guess it come on so slowly I hadn’t picked up on this. I dismissed this concern explaining that the walk we were all about to go on should “wear down the tread”.

Pram in tow, the general public look at you like a negligent parent when you are walking Dobermans. It’s sad, people don’t understand what “people dogs” they are but my Dobes don’t help this preconception with their own presentation. Straining at the lead, they want to break free to attack with licks and tail wags but most passersby imaging those big teeth snapping at them.  Tec tec tec tec tec, Abby approached the same crossing that just a few weeks earlier had defeated her and I began to point out where the events happed to my wife. I asked her to cross first with Jeter so that my attention could concentrate on Abby to ensure her safe crossing and maybe see what could have happened.

I gave the command and we began to cross, almost on que Abbys front legs just gave away. She collapses onto the road with a yelp and I can hear my wife’s shock to see her for the first time since the game of fetch, fall helpless to the ground. More experienced now, I assist her to her feet and met up on the other side. Abby, as usual, continuing as if nothing happened but now, we had both agreed another Vet visit was needed.

We returned home and I grabbed the nail clippers, Abby was standing in the shade on the coolness of the concrete that had yet to catch up to the warmth of the day. I kneeled down to inspect what needed to be trimmed and noticed blood. I looked closer to see where it was coming from and noticed that her rear right paw was flipped up. Her paw “pads” would normally be on the ground but it was facing forward and her nails were kind of pointing up. Her nails were worn down to the wick and looked like fine blood soaked fibres, almost like paint brush bristle but heavily damaged.

I called out to my wife and asked for the tea tree cream, I didn’t want Abby to move and get any more dirt into these wounds. I dressed the exposed wicks and called to make the VET appointment. Over the next few days before the appointment she was still walking but seemed to have a longer stride in an awkward type of walk. On the rare occasion she ran she was now bunny hopping on her rear legs and if bumped by Jeter she seemed easily knocked over. I decided I would enquire about Hip Dysplasia and other leg injuries at the vet and after I had got home from work, I packed her for her first trip separated from Jeter. I decided I would stop off at a quiet cricket ground to let her burn some energy after the examination.


 I took a short video of her and posted a question on this forum in the hopes someone could shed some light on our situation. I was so confused, I needed to narrow the investigation down before spending money in a direction of no benefit. The visit to the vet was to mark the beginning of the worst to come.

To be continued part five

talisin's picture
Joined: 2011-02-25

oh my gosh I see what you mean with the change in how she moves......my previous whippet began to have issues after being bit by a neighbors dog - with no body fat the puncture went through muscle and almost to his spine....it got to where we would be standing at the front door just the two of us looking out at the yard and suddenly without warning he would fall over and flail around as if he was trying to get up but couldn't get his feet under him, scared the crap out of me.....we never did find the source of the issue but it started after the bite, he used to run like the wind and could turn on a dime but after that bite he never ran again, he loped in a weird movement that was very gangly and clumsy like.... I worried about his safety all the time, we put down carpet runners throughout the house and never let him out of my sight.

You have my deepest sympathies on this journey, ours lastest from the time TJ Whippet was 5 years old till he passed at 13 1/2 years......we went to the vet every week for those 8 1/2 years for spinal therapy

You are a good person to hang in there for her....