Wobbler Syndrome in Dogs

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Cervical Spondylomyelopathy in Dogs

Cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), or wobbler syndrome, is a disease of the cervical spine (at the neck) that is commonly seen in large and giant-breed dogs. CSM is characterized by compression of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots, which leads to neurological signs and/or neck pain. The term wobbler syndrome is used to describe the characteristic wobbly gait (walk) that affected dogs have.

Intervertebral disk slippage and/or bony malformation in a narrowed vertebral canal (the bony canal surrounding the soft spinal cord) can cause spinal compression. Disk associated spinal compression is most often seen in dogs older than three years of age.

Doberman pinschers are predisposed to slipping intervertebral disks (in between the vertebrae). Vertebral malformation (bony associated compression) is most commonly seen in giant breed dogs, usually in young adult dogs that are less than three years of age. The bony malformation can compress the spinal cord from the top and bottom, from the top and sides, or just from the sides. Dynamic spinal cord compression (compression that changes with different positions of the cervical spine) always occurs with any type of compression.

Breeds that appear to be predisposed to this condition are Doberman pinchers, rottweilers, great Danes, Irish wolfhounds, and basset hounds.

Symptoms and Types

  • Strange, wobbly gait
  • Neck pain, stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Possible short-strided walking, spastic with a floating appearance or very weak in the front limbs
  • Possibly unable to walk – partial or complete paralysis
  • Possible muscle loss near the shoulders
  • Possible worn or scuffed toenails from uneven walking
  • Increased extension of all four limbs
  • Difficulty getting up from lying position


  • Nutrition in some cases - excess protein, calcium, and calories have been a proposed cause in great Danes
  • Fast-growth is suspected in large dog breeds


Along with the standard medical tests, which include a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel to rule out other diseases, your veterinarian will take a thorough history of your dog's health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, such as traumas to the back or any previous illnesses. Any information you might have on your dog's genetic background may be helpful as well.

Wobbler syndrome is diagnosed via visualization. X-rays, myelographs, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will allow your doctor to view the spine and vertebrae. X-rays should be used mainly to rule out bony disorders while myelographs, CT and MRI are used to visualize the compression of the spinal cord. Diseases that will need to be ruled out though a differential diagnosis include diskospondylitis, neoplasia, and inflammatory spinal cord diseases. The results of the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) analysis should pinpoint the origin of the symptoms.

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