WTF is “Wobbler’s”?

Wobbler’s.  Kind of sounds like an ingenious toy from the ’90s, right?

Not Wobbler's. But kind of what I pictured at first. (Photo:


And if it’s not a fun toy for adults kids, it still can’t be a bad thing, right?


This "wobbles", but it is not "Wobbler's". There is an important verb/noun distinction. (Photo: ProductWiki)


Wobbler’s is, technically speaking, “[t]he syndrome of cervical spinal cord compression due to abnormalities of the caudal cervical vertebrae, their articulations, or both”, so says the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Computer Aided Learning program.

Why do I know this?

Because we are currently waiting for blood tests to confirm Moses’ diagnosis of Wobbler’s.  We should have those results tomorrow, but we have two vets (we always like a second opinion, and we highly respect both our veterinarians) near certain that’s what it is.

Wobbler’s is a neurological condition.

What started out with some limping around Easter has progressed to pretty reduced mobility for our big guy.  Symptoms we’ve experienced include Moses walking with his head carried lower than normal, lazy steps with his front feet meaning he scrapes his toes and knuckles on walks, reluctance to go up/down stairs, jump, or play with other dogs, and occasional tripping on walks as one front leg seems to fold beneath him before it’s planted properly.  Over the recent weeks the tripping increased significantly to about every 10 minutes while on a walk, and he lands so hard he has a couple scrapes on his nose from it.

It is heartbreaking.

Moses has always been pretty stoic, so even if he’s in pain, he’s not going to show it.  He bloated seriously in 2009 and was doing his best to power on with out a peep.  But scraping his toes can’t tickle.  And even though it’s clear he knows to walk and his brain is communicating instructions to his limbs, there is something wrong in the lines of communication.  And his knowledge that something is wrong is indicated by his discomfort with stairs, reluctance to play, and refusal to go in water more than a few inches deep.


Of course, as per the usual course, after the initial diagnosis on Friday all I’ve done in my spare time is read about Wobbler’s.

It is apparently more frequent in Great Danes and Doberman pinschers, though top ten breed lists often include mastiffs, Newfoundlands, Bassett Hounds, and other large breeds, and it is always noted it is also found in horses.  An exact cause is unknown, but it is likely genetic and usually involves fast-growing large breed dogs.

Though, from source to source, the jury still appears to be out on the proper use of the apostrophe in the term, it was given the ridiculous name “Wobbler’s” because of the way it impairs the ability to walk properly, often causing the dog or horse to lose stability (wobble) as if drunk.

In more plain English: “Wobbler syndrome (cervical (neck) vertebral instability) is caused by compression of the cervical spinal cord as a result of cervical vertebral malformation-malarticulation or instability. Spinal cord compression injures the portion of the spinal cord necessary for an animal to stand and move normally.”

And treatment?

Moses left the vet today with a prescription for Metacam, which according to its packaging is a “nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) indicated for the alleviation of inflammation and pain in both acute and chronic musculoskeletal disorders in dogs”, and we will give it to him daily with his food.  Many online sources say mild cases of Wobbler’s can be managed or stabilized with corticosteriods, that will reduce the swelling and alleviate the compression, regaining a full range of motion, and several anecdotal stories I read online were about Great Danes living long and happy lives after this treatment.  Moses’ vet prescribed the nonsterioidal anti-inflammatory as a preferable option to steroids because of many of the negative side effects steroids can have, including stomach and skin problems and salt and water retention.

In addition to Metacam, Moses was prescribed a low-impact exercise regime, and we had to promise not to give him more than two 15 minute walks per day – a big change from our regular routine.  And even if we see drastic improvements in his movement and energy levels, she made us promise not to go beyond the two 15 minute walks.  We promise.

Permanent resolution of Wobbler’s can be provided through surgery: “significant spinal cord compression requires decompression, and significant vertebral instability requires stabilization” (from: the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Computer Aided Learning program).  Some dogs do not get diagnosed with Wobbler’s until they are already experiencing partial or complete paralysis, and surgery is the only remedy for these cases.

There are a few experts here in Calgary to see if your dog has Wobbler’s, but unfortunate circumstances have meant both experts recommended to us are out of town at the same time and we are waiting for a consultation that will hopefully be scheduled for July (hence the interim Metacam/low exercise prescription).  We could push for a rush appointment with someone else, but our two vets agree on which experts would be preferred, and since Moses’ symptoms are relatively mild – and assuming he responds well to the Metacam – we won’t be making things worse by waiting for the best to be available.

Upon consultation with an expert, Moses will go in for a CT Scan, and once the exact nature of the problem is discerned, he will remain under anesthetic and go right into surgery.  Luckily, prognosis for recovery after surgery is very good since he is young and perfectly healthy otherwise.  If and when we go down that road, we will have to be diligent with his rehab, too.

Sticking with a medicinal treatment such as Metacam for a long time can help him to regain movement and feel better, but if we want him to get back to completely 100% and going on long backcountry camping trips, surgery appears to be the solution.

Have I ever told you how glad I am we have pet insurance?

Wobbler's sucks. But Moses is still the best.

Online resources for Wobbler’s:

– University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, Computer Aided Learning program, chapter 63:

– “A collection of information about Wobblers Disease”:

– “Wobbler’s syndrome in dogs”:

– “Wobbler Syndrome: Cervical Vertebral Instability”:

About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

14 Responses to WTF is “Wobbler’s”?

  1. Maggie Baker says:

    I’ve never heard of this before. I sure hope everything works out.

  2. Oh that just SUCKS. Big time. I hope he’s one of those dogs that responds to the NSAIDs and goes on.

    In the last two months I’ve heard three stories at the park about dogs that needed treatments of $3,000+. No way could we afford that (I’d have to sell a kidney, and I’d consider it!), but pet insurance in these parts runs $600/year. You’re better off banking the money in case of an emergency! Glad you’re covered. Poor Moses. *hugs*

    • thatjenk says:

      Well it’s only been a couple of days, but he has responded VERY well to the NSAIDs which is great while we wait for surgery.

      Our insurance payments work out to more than $600/year, but – even though we don’t have an exact quote yet – I expect the surgery will work out to more than a few years of payments. Glad we’re covered. It really helps to take some of the financial concerns out of the mix.

  3. lexy3587 says:

    Hopefully the meds help, and he improves quickly until you can get the surgery or whatever the experts recommend.

  4. Tami says:

    I totally agree with you on Pet Insurance…we have our highly active Pitbull insured and are greatful as 3 knee surgerys later….we would be crying…best investment in big dog most definately =)

  5. Shawna says:

    Poor, Moses…

    Our thoughts are with him and you both. Hoping for a quick diagnosis and appropriate treatment to help Moses get back to his lovely self.

    Hugs…and gentle, slow chest rubs for Moses…

  6. Oh no! I was so happy after reading your last post and now my heart just sunk. I can’t imagine how worried you’ve been – it is the absolute worst when something is wrong and you can’t immediately fix it.

    Picturing poor Moses scraping his toes/knuckles on the ground is heartbreaking. 😦

    I will be thinking of you while you make your treatment decision. And once again, I’m reminded we really need to get pet insurance.

    Please give Moses a tummy rub for me!

    • thatjenk says:

      Thanks, Lori. It’s definitely been worrisome, but the Metacam and reduced exercise both seem to really be making a difference already, and we can tell he’s at least starting to feel much better – which, of course, makes us feel a bit better, too.

  7. furfilled says:

    Awww – I’m so sorry to hear about health troubles for Moses. That must be terrible for all of you. It sounds like there are some options available for you guys, which is good news. Armed with all of your knowledge, and your vet advice, I’m confident that you’ll pull through. I’m sending my best wishes for a healthy Moses!

  8. Pingback: One Long Day « Back Alley Soapbox

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