Dog: Wobbler’s Syndrome

General information

Other common/scientific names: Wobblers, cervical vertebral malformation, cervical vertebral instability

A dog’s spine is composed of a long series of bones called vertebrae. These bones maintain the structure of the body and protect the spinal cord which is housed within the vertebrae. The vertebrae are connected through a series of ligaments. Between each vertebra are structures called disks which act as shock absorbers. The vertebrae are divided into sections based on their location, i.e. cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (lower back) and sacrum (tailbone).

Wobbler’s syndrome is caused by malformation or instability of the cervical vertebrae. The malformed vertebrae result in narrowing of the spinal canal causing damage to the spinal cord. Cervical vertebral instability causes excessive movement of the vertebrae with resulting compression of the spinal cord when the dog’s neck is flexed.


The cause of the deformed vertebrae is unknown but studies suggest that both genetics and nutrition may contribute. Over 80% of all cases are reported in Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes. Young, fast growing dogs with a diet high in protein, energy, calcium and phosphorus may be more prone to developing wobblers.

Cardinal symptom



Incoordination or ataxia in the rear limbs is most common. As the disease progresses, knuckling of the feet and weakness occur with the forelimbs being affected. Paralysis results in severe cases. Signs are usually first seen in dogs 2 to 4 years of age. For the most part, these dogs are bright and alert and not in pain.


A complete physical and neurologic examination should be performed on all dogs showing signs of wobblers. A neurologic examination helps determine which spinal nerves are affected by testing the nerve reflexes. Cervical radiographs may reveal a malformed vertebrae. However, a definitive diagnosis can only be made with a myelogram (a radiograph taken after a special dye has been injected into the space surrounding the spinal cord), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT). A myelogram can pinpoint the exact area of spinal cord compression. An MRI evaluates the disk and spinal cord, while at CT scan shows malformation of the vertebrae. Myelograms, MRIs and CT scans are typically performed at universities or referral clinics specializing in neurology and orthopedics.

Abb. GGOUFKYI: Wobbler’s syndrome.
This is a myelogram of a dog with wobbler’s. The arrows point to areas where the dye indicates compression and narrowing of the cord in the cervical spine.


Medical treatment can be attempted in dogs with mild signs. Anti-inflammatories (corticosteroids) are used to reduce inflammation and swelling in the spinal cord. Rest and a neck brace help to immobilize the cervical region. Surgery is available for dogs with progressive disease. Surgery is used to decompress the spinal cord and stabilize the vertebrae. Surgery on the cervical spine is less successful than other areas of the spine.


Prognosis will depend on the severity of the clinical signs and degree of vertebral disease. Dogs which are still able to move will have a better prognosis after surgery. Paralyzed dogs have a poor prognosis even with surgical treatment due to the permanent damage to the spinal cord.


Dogs with wobbler’s syndrome should not be used for breeding. A balanced diet should be fed to all young dogs. Protein, energy, calcium or phosphorus should not be overfed.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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