Cervical Vertebral Instability (Wobbler Syndrome)

Wobbler Syndrome is caused by abnormalities in the spinal vertebra which cause compression to the discs that provide cushioning between each vertebra. The compression causes the discs to expand and rupture into the spinal canal where it applies pressure to the spinal cord.

In the Doberman Pinscher affected by this syndrome, these abnormalities usually occur in the fifth, sixth, and seventh vertebra in the neck. Here, the pressure on the spinal cord disrupts nerve function to the legs, mainly the hind legs.

A dog suffering from Wobbler Syndrome will lack coordination in the legs. The hind legs will usually stand crouching, not fully extended, with the feet far apart. In walking, the feet often scuff the ground while the body clumsily sways side to side. Affected dogs are still fully aware and responsive; they have just lost communication with their legs.

Causes of the abnormality that brings on Wobbler Syndrome are unknown. Studies suggest both genetics and nutrition may play a role in their development. Studies also show that for puppies and young dogs, a diet too high in protein, calcium, and phosphorous accelerate growth. This may be a cause of such skeletal abnormalities responsible for Wobbler Syndrome.

Many Doberman breeders tend to feel that irresponsibly breeding the Doberman for a long skinny neck, over a small number of generations could have something to do with producing these abnormalities. Heavy lead work could also contribute to or aggravate this disorder.

The Doberman is one of the breeds with a high instance of Wobbler Syndrome. Also, Dobermans affected by this syndrome are commonly older than four years. This is likely due to a mild abnormality, which over time does damage with movement.

Wobbler Syndrome cannot be diagnosed using simple X-ray. A myelogram is needed to make a firm diagnosis and to determine location of the abnormality and the severity of spinal cord swelling. A myelogram is an X-ray done after a special dye is injected, enabling the space around bones to be revealed.

Initial treatment includes steroids and other medications to reduce swelling in and around the spinal cord, but benefits from this are usually temporary. For a permanent solution, surgery is required to correct the problem by removing the ruptured disc and stabilize the vertebrae.

Recovering from this type of surgery is tough. Some Dobermans recover quickly while others require months of significant care.

Diagnosing Wobbler Syndrome early involves recognizing the symptoms and knowing your Doberman well enough to recognize a change in his coordination. If Wobbler is suspected, the Doberman should see a veterinarian soon. He may be in pain that is not yet recognizable and early treatment is more effective.