Cervical Vertebral Instability, more commonly known as Wobbler Syndrome, is a deformity of the spinal column typically seen in large breed dogs like Doberman Pinchers and Great Danes. Although this syndrome is relatively rare, genetic background, lifestyle and traumatic injury can predispose some dogs to developing this disease. It is thought that early nutrition may play a role in the development of this disease. Large breeds tend to go through quick growth spurts during puppy hood.
A few studies have shown that large breed puppies which are fed diets designed to promote fast growth may be at a higher risk of developing this disease. Disproportionate growth can cause deformity and compression of the vertebrae, thereby damaging the cervical portion of the spine. As an ABC Certified Veterinary Assistant, you may be called upon to care for these animals during hospitalization. These animals typically require a high degree of care due to the sensitive and painful nature of this condition.
Dogs with Cervical Vertebral Instability typically have an obvious uncoordinated gate, weakness or lameness in the hind limbs. In a standing position, the hind legs may appear to be spaced awkwardly apart and bent (not fully extended) which makes the dog look as if it is crouching. Diagnosis typically involves injecting a radioactive solution into the spinal column. Many veterinary hospitals may not have the proper equipment to perform such a test. Many dogs suspected of having this disease may be referred to a Veterinary College for testing.
Initial treatment of Wobblers typically involves medication to reduce inflammation around the affected vertebrae. Dogs with a confirmed diagnosis of Cervical Vertebral Instability will require surgery to relieve the compression around the spinal cord in order to relieve the dog of pain and help prevent further damage. This surgery is not considered curative. However, the purpose of this surgery is to prevent further damage to the spinal cord and to relieve any pain. Success is dependant upon the amount of existing damage. Some loss of function in the hind limbs may be permanent and can predispose these dogs to arthritis of the knees, hips and back.
There is no specific diagnostic testing that can reveal when or if a puppy is going to develop this disease. Wobbler Syndrome is generally not noticed until the dog has developed a noticeable wobbling walk. Veterinary assistants should be familiar with risk factors associated with the development of Cervical Vertebral Instability in order to provide the best possible care for these special patients.