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Cervical Spondylomyelopathy, also known as Wobblers, is a disease of the cervical spine or neck of the dog.

It is more commonly seen in giant and large breed dogs, most notably the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Mastiffs and Bernese Mountain Dogs, although any breed and size of dog can be affected. Dogs with Wobblers experience compression of the spinal cord in the neck, resulting in impaired nerve function.

This compression of the spinal cord has two causes. The first of these is herniation of the intervertebral discs of the neck, whilst the second is narrowing of the spinal canal due to bony changes. The first type of compression is generally found in medium to large breed dogs, whilst the second is normally found in giant breed dogs. The age of onset of this condition is largely varied depending on the type of compression and the breed and size of the dog. Giant breeds can typically develop this condition much younger than large breed dogs.

As the name suggests, dogs that have Wobblers syndrome typically have a ‘wobbly’ gait. This is as the spinal compression causes a lack of coordination and weakness in the dog’s hind limbs. Dogs with Wobblers can also be seen to walk with the head down, to alleviate any discomfort they may feel and can often have a slower gait and struggle to stand or turn. As the condition progresses and the muscle wastage worsens, the dog’s sensory awareness and proprioception reduces, often causing tripping of the back feet as well as scuffing of the back toes, causing their toenails to become worn. The condition progresses over time to affect the forelimbs and cause a short and choppy forelimb gait. If the spinal cord is severely compressed, the condition can cause complete paralysis.

Currently, the cause of the condition is uncertain. It has been suggested that high levels of protein, calcium and calories in the diet may be a factor, and whilst no genetic link has been found, Wobblers is believed to be a congenital condition.

Wobblers is typically diagnosed using Xray and/ or MRI scans. There are two main treatment options for dogs with this condition. The first is surgical correction, which involves fusing together the spinal segments that are unstable. The second treatment option is conservative medical management, which involves decreasing pain and inflammation caused by spinal cord compression through the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and activity restriction. This is more beneficial for dogs with mild pathology. As this condition affects the neck of the dog, it is really important that collars are not used, and instead the dog is secured with a harness. The best treatment plan is based upon the severity and cause of the problem and will be advised by a neurological clinician.

Physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, and K Laser therapy are key in the rehabilitation of cervical spondylomyelopathy regardless of treatment method. The rehabilitation process focuses on building strength, coordination and sensory awareness which are all negatively affected by the condition.

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