Hello Big Barker team! I’m Dr. Jeremy, a veterinarian and co-founder of Jope. In today’s article, I’m delighted to discuss Wobbler Syndrome alongside Natalie from Big Barker. Natalie is also the proud mom of Gigi, a stunning Great Dane who has the Wobbler Syndrome. Natalie advocates on behalf of Great Danes and their health by educating others with her blog.
1) What is Wobbler Syndrome?Dr. Jeremy: Let's start at the beginning. What is Wobbler Syndrome? As its name suggests, it causes dogs to wobble. Specifically, Wobbler Syndrome is a neuropathic disease that affects dogs stability on their legs, leading to wobbling.
More specifically, Wobbler Syndrome, or Cervical Spondylomyelopathy, is a condition that causes compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots in the neck, leading to neurological symptoms. This compression often results from vertebrae malformation, spinal column misalignment, or a combination of both. Symptoms range from mild clumsiness to severe paralysis of the limbs.
2) How Can I Tell if My Dog Has Wobbler Syndrome?
Natalie: Wobblers can be hard to diagnose because it needs to be diagnosed with an MRI which is very expensive. I really recommend putting your dogs on pet insurance now, prior to ever (hopefully never!) receiving a life-changing diagnosis. Thankfully, Gigi has pet insurance and we were able to diagnose her with an MRI.
We originally noticed Gigi holding up one of her front limbs. I did not suspect Wobblers because I always thought of Wobblers being in the back end, with wobbly back legs/hips. After she got an xray of her front legs and they were unremarkable, we moved forward with an MRI.
Gigi taught me that Wobbler Dogs can have symptoms in their front end or back end, depending on which areas the compression are in. Gigi had / has had the following symptoms at one time or another:
- Lifting one leg or the other in the front
- Hanging her head lower while she walks / runs
- Whining when standing up / yelping
- Discomfort when going up stairs / down stairs
- Not wanting to go up or down stairs
- Sensitivity in paws / getting worse with paw touching or nail trims due to sensitivity
- Limping on the front limbs
- What would come across as 'shoulder' pain, when it's really neck pain
Common Signs of Wobbler Syndrome:
Dr. Jeremy: The most common signs of Wobbler Syndrome include:
- Wobbly gait, particularly in the hind legs
- Neck pain and stiffness (not always present)
- Low head posture and discomfort during movement
- Weakness and muscle loss near the shoulders
- Short-stride walking with spasticity in front limbs
- Scuffed toenails from uneven walking
- Difficulty rising from a lying position
- In severe cases, paralysis
3) Diverse Types of Wobbler Syndrome
Dr. Jeremy: Wobbler Syndrome can present in two main forms:
- Disc-Associated Wobbler Syndrome (DAWS): Common in larger breeds like Dobermans over 3 years old, this form involves intervertebral disc herniation, leading to spinal cord compression.
- Bony-Associated Cervical Spondylomyelopathy (BACS): Often seen in giant breeds like Great Danes, this form involves bony malformations compressing the spinal cord, typically affecting young adults under 3 years.
4) The Breeds at RiskDr. Jeremy: Wobbler Syndrome predominantly affects large and giant breeds, including Great Danes like Gigi, Dobermans, Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Borzois, Weimaraners, Irish Wolfhounds, German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Swiss Mountain Dogs, Basset Hounds, and Boerboels. A recent survey from the Veterinary Medical Database revealed that 4.2% of Great Danes and 5.5% of Dobermans are affected by this disease.
5) Living with Wobbler Syndrome: Natalie's Experience
Natalie: Having a Great Dane with Wobblers Syndrome is not an easy lifestyle. When Gigi got diagnosed, I thought her quality of life was going to be limited so much. Although Gigi's lifestyle is different now that she has been diagnosed, she still lives a very fulfilled and happy life.
One thing that I have learned is that our lifestyles will always be changing with Wobbler Dogs. Your lifestyle matters when you have any dog, but even more so when you have a dog who may experience daily pain or discomfort.
Be prepared to make necessary adjustments to your home, routine, and activities to accommodate your dog’s needs. Providing a loving and supportive environment, along with the appropriate medical care and therapies, will not only help alleviate their pain but also allow you to cherish the precious moments you share with your loyal and resilient friend. Remember, the bond you share with your dog can grow stronger through these challenges, making every effort you invest in their well-being well worth it.
If you are reading this and don't already have pet insurance, I highly recommend!
Gigi receiving cold laser therapy with her rehab veterinarian technician, Deena, at Elevate Animal Rehab.
- Nail Maintenance: Keep your dog’s nails trimmed to prevent them from dragging their paws, which can exacerbate pain.
- Weight Management: Keeping your dog thin allows them to not have so much extra weight on their joints. When Gigi got diagnosed, we worked hard to help her lose almost 15 lbs. It helped her so much!
- Car Ramps: Use ramps to help your dog get in and out of the car or on and off elevated surfaces with ease.
- Big Barker Dog Bed: Use a Big Barker dog bed to help keep her body off the hard ground, and eliminate pain.
- Exercise: Work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate exercise plan that keeps your dog active without putting too much strain on their spine.
- Rugs: It can be very difficult for a dog to walk on slippery floors, so laying rugs down helps them tremendously!
- Supplements: Consult with your veterinarian about introducing appropriate supplements for your Wobbler Dog. It can make a huge difference!
- Medication: Do not be afraid to introduce prescription medications into your dog's life! My veterinarian team has showed me that at times, Gigi needs a MUCH higher dose of medication than I thought she would. This is a painful disease, and it is not my job to decide if Gigi needs medications or not. I leave that up to her veterinarian team!!! They are the professionals.
Nutrition: Nutrition plays a pivotal role in managing the well-being of a dog with Wobblers Syndrome.
- Omega E and Glucosamine: Consider supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine, which can support joint health and reduce inflammation.
- UC-2: Using UC2 supports healthy joints and has even been reported to be more effective than a comparable glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplement.
- High-Quality Diet: Feed your dog a high-quality diet formulated for large breed dogs. Consult your veterinarian for recommendations.
- Veterinarian-Approved Diet: In some cases, a specialized diet prescribed by your vet may be necessary to manage your dog’s condition effectively. Regardless of if your dog's diet is prescription or not, you should always make sure your vet approves of the diet you are feeding as feeding an unbalanced diet can aggravate this disease and cause other issues.
6) Treatment Options for Wobbler SyndromeDr. Jeremy: Once again, I would remind pet owners to consult your vet to get the most appropriate treatment options and to not be afraid to talk of the different solutions with them, they might have good recommendations for specialists.
There are two primary treatment approaches for Wobbler Syndrome:
- Conservative medical management
Gigi's Treatment OptionsNatalie: Gigi's treatment options were limited due to the amount of compression she has. Gigi had 6 areas of compression in her spine, and therefore surgery is a very risky decision for her. I was told that surgery is the very last option for Gigi, or the 'hail mary'. We can consider surgery for Gigi if she ever becomes completely immobile, however right now the cons of surgery would outweigh the pros of medically managing her pain!
Because Gigi has so many areas of compression, and the compression is impacting her nerves, she has times when she is in a ton of pain! Wondering if she is in pain is one of the is one nagging questions that I have asked myself ever since she was diagnosed. It is very important to me that I make sure she is living a pain free life.
Treatment Options for Gigi / Things That Help
- Medication: Medicating your beloved dog can indeed be a daunting decision, often accompanied by worries about side effects or long-term consequences. However, for dogs dealing with chronic pain, medication can be a true blessing in disguise. It’s essential to recognize that many veterinary medications have been thoroughly researched and are carefully administered to provide relief while minimizing adverse effects. These treatments can significantly enhance your dog’s quality of life by alleviating discomfort, improving mobility, and even preventing further damage or deterioration. Consulting with a trusted veterinarian who specializes in your dog’s condition can help ease your concerns and guide you toward the most suitable medication options, ultimately allowing your dog to enjoy a more comfortable and pain-free existence.
- Acupuncture: Alternative therapies like acupuncture can help manage pain and improve your dog’s overall well-being.
- Using CBD: In addition to anti-inflammatory medication, the use of CBD is EXTREMELY powerful in relieving pain for dogs with Wobblers.
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is a medical treatment done for dogs who develop Wobbler Syndrome. Physical therapy can help dogs stabilize their neck vertebrae and improve their quality of life.
- Laser Therapy: Laser therapy is a non-invasive treatment that can reduce inflammation and pain.
- Chiropractor: A veterinary chiropractor may help improve your dog’s mobility and comfort.
- Trying New Therapies: Don’t be afraid to explore new and innovative therapies like hyperbaric oxygen treatment, which may offer additional relief.
- Veterinarian Approved Supplements: It is crucial to follow your veterinarians guidance on what supplements to use and what not to use. See supplement list below.
7) Supplement List
Natalie: It is so important to listen to your veterinarian team when it comes to fueling your dog with the right supplements for their disease. Some supplements can actually hurt your dog.
Gigi is on the following supplements, but it may be very different for your dog (all dogs are different- speak to your vet!)
1. Dasuquin® Advanced with ESM Soft Chews for Dogs: This dasaquin formula made for large breed dogs can only be purchased through your veterinarian and has been shown to help support a quick response in joint comfort and function for dogs.
2. Omega 3: Gigi takes Dr. Harveys fish oil (Omega 3 blend). When looking into omega 3 fish oil blends, you need to speak with your veterinarian about the right DHA dosage for their size / diagnosis. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in cold-water, fatty fish, such as salmon and some fish oils for pets on the market have very low proportions of DHA.
3. Jope UC-II®: Jope UC-II® is an undenatured type II collagen derived from chicken sternum cartilage with a patented extraction process and has been shown to work better for pain relief and inflammation control than glucosamine. Jope doesn't contain only UC-II ® but also Omega-3 (EPA and DHA) and Curcumin.
4. ThorneVet CurcuVET-SA150: Curcuvet-SA150 is a curcumin (turmeric) supplement for pets that works quickly to reduce inflammation and is especially beneficial to the liver, heart, GI tract and pets with joint pain.
5. CBD: CBD can be an effective inflammatory relief for Gigi when used correctly and when you use the right brand, and we use the brand from Pet Releaf.
6. VisbiomeVet: Visbiome Vet probiotic has the highest available concentration in probiotics when purchased directly from your vet. Additionally, Visbiome Vet probiotics’ blends have been clinically tested in dogs and cats which is important to me as a pet owner.
7. MYOS Muscle & Joint Formula with Green Lipped Mussel: MYOS Canine Muscle & Joint Supplement is a dog muscle supplement clinically proven to help build muscle and support canine joint health.
8. Adequan Canine: Although this is an injection and not something Gigi takes orally, Gigi receives Adequan injections which is proven to effectively treat arthritis by addressing the underlying cartilage deterioration and controlling the clinical signs.
Always speak with your veterinarian before giving your dog any supplements. All dogs are different and require different foods, supplements and treatments. Gigi's diet and supplement program are all veterinarian approved and we are so grateful for her veterinarian team.
8) Things You Should or Should Not Do For Dogs with Wobbler Syndrome
There are several things you should avoid doing if you have a dog with Wobbler Syndrome.
- Not Trimming Your Dog's Nails: Long nails can cause your dog to slip more easily on the floor, leading to potentially harmful movements.
- Allowing Your Dog to Jump Downward: We generally recommend avoiding movements that could shock the neck, such as jumping out of the car, down stairs, or off the bed.
- Cage Resting and Not Exercising: Moderate activity is recommended. Lack of activity can lead to muscle atrophy and an increased risk of becoming overweight. Maintaining normal muscle mass around the neck is crucial for stability and limiting risk.
- Allowing Your Dog to Run or Walk on Slippery Surfaces: This increases the risk of movements that can exert additional pressure on the spinal cord. (same as the nails)
- Weight Management: This is essential for joint health as carrying more weight than normal puts extra strain on the joints. Additionally, adipocytes (fat cells) produce pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can worsen the inflammatory condition in disorders like Wobblers Syndrome.
- Avoid Games Like Tug-of-War Rope: Such activities exert too much effort on the neck. It's better to opt for gentler activities for their neck.
- Not Considering Your Dog's Pain: Your dog's reaction to pain during a vet exam can provide insights into the movements you should be cautious about with your dog.
9) Additional Tips for Managing Wobbler SyndromeNatalie: Living with a dog diagnosed with Wobblers Syndrome can be challenging, but it’s important to focus on making the most out of every moment you have together. Spend quality time with your dog, engage in activities they enjoy, and ensure they receive plenty of love and attention. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian are crucial to monitor their condition and make adjustments to their treatment plan as needed.
Read more about Gigi's experience with Wobblers syndrome here!
10) Surgical Treatment for Wobbler SyndromeDr. Jeremy: There are various surgical options, depending on the type of Wobbler Syndrome. For instance, a ventral slot decompressive surgery may be performed for disc protrusion when there is no evidence of instability or root compression. This involves removing a piece of bone from the vertebra to relieve pressure.
In cases of vertebral instability, more complex techniques such as distraction-fusion are utilized, wherein the surgeon stabilizes the vertebrae using screws. It is crucial to consult with your vet and a specialist surgeon for this topic.
11) Causes of Wobbler SyndromeDr. Jeremy: The exact causes of Wobbler Syndrome are not fully understood, but genetic predisposition and dietary factors, such as overfeeding, are suspected to play roles.
Read more about Wobblers in dogs here.
12) Prognosis: Quality of Life with Wobbler Syndrome
Dr. Jeremy: The prognosis varies based on factors like symptom severity, age at onset, breed, and response to treatment. Many dogs maintain a good quality of life with proper management. According to data from Ohio State University on 104 dogs, approximately 50% improve with medical management, 30% remain stable, and 20% worsen. Surgical treatment has an approximate 80% success rate.
Wobbler Syndrome is a challenging but manageable condition. With appropriate care, medication, and sometimes surgery, dogs like Gigi can lead comfortable lives. It is essential for dog owners to stay informed and work closely with their veterinarians for the best outcomes. Natalie's experience highlights the resilience and adaptability of dogs and their owners in facing health challenges.
Early symptom recognition and proper treatment can significantly improve a dog's life quality. Natalie's approach, possibly including UC-II collagen and other supplements, underscores the importance of personalized care. Her insights are invaluable for anyone living with a dog affected by Wobbler Syndrome.
As we continue to learn more about this condition, we must remember that each dog is unique. What works for one may not work for another. But with medical expertise, love, and commitment, we can give our best friends the best support.
Let's aim for a future where all dogs can enjoy their lives to the fullest, despite any challenges they may face.