Accommodating Wobbler’s

Our house has a new fixture.

This is new.

In order to help accommodate Moses’ current reduction in range of motion, the Husband whipped this ramp together the very evening of our initial vet appointments.

It works!

The ramp is now Moses’ sole entry and exit to the house and it helps to cut the incline in half.

Even though stairs are a mandatory vet restriction, the ramp would be inevitable; getting the big guy in and out of the car alone is quite the endeavour – equal parts comical and sad.

But the CT Scan and (probably) surgery are exactly one week away now, and although surgery is of course itself risky, I am focusing on looking forward to getting Mo on the road to recovery.

7 days, buddy

[Update:  it’s not Wobbler’s.  You can read more here.]

15 Minute Walks Suck

Mark your calendars for July 4th, because that is when Moses is going into see the specialist, get a CT Scan, and then probably straight into surgery to remedy his Wobbler’s.

Until then, it’s Metacam, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), and a low-impact exercise regime.  Very low-impact.

And, of course, a bit of a diet to accommodate for the more leisurely lifestyle.  He’s healthy at 185 pounds (185!), but we’d like him to be on the slim side to both ease the load on his joints and prep him for surgery.

I mentioned earlier that our vet made us promise, actually promise, not to exercise him more than two 15 minute walks per day.  And I see why.  After less than two full days of the NSAIDs and you could tell Moses was feeling significantly better; his energy levels have definitely improved.

But we’re sticking true to the 15 minutes, because we don’t want to push him.  Even though he’s feeling better doesn’t mean he is better.  The NSAIDs are good interim relief, but that’s all they are.

And when I say we’re sticking true to a 15 minute limit, I mean we’re trying our hardest.  My first couple attempts came closer to 17 minutes because, well, 15 minutes is ridiculously short.

15 minutes – or 7.5 minutes one way.  Less than a kilometre from home and you’ve already got to turn around and go back.  If it weren’t doctor-ordered, I would feel lazy and neglectful.

Heading back already?!

It’s a far cry from our normal routine of an hour per day.  Not to mention it totally thwarts my 2011 Resolution plan, which I was still sticking to pretty well.

On the other hand, I have found a couple of bonuses.

First of all, it’s been pretty nostalgic.  Being able to only go on short 15 minute walks keeps you pretty close to home.  When we were doing an hour plus, our walks would be about 5-7 km round trips.  But now we’re staying in our neighbourhood and revisiting routes we haven’t taken since Moses was a (relatively) small puppy and couldn’t walk for long times or distances.

Second, it’s short.  Which I suppose would be a much better bonus for me if it was still winter, -30°C, and I could be more easily convinced to stay inside.  But for Moses, it’s the summer warmth he’s not a fan of, so he’s got few complaints about having to head back early when the sun is shining.

Third – and most important – it’s helping Moses, and we can tell.  His scraped toes are healing up, and he hasn’t tripped on a walk in a few days, so it’s good to know we’re not straining his injury or making his condition worse.

Slowly healing up.

It’s also a new and weird routine to get used to, though.  Both the short walks, and the twice-daily ones.  You’d thinking being able to keep track of two walks between two people would be easier than it is turning out to be.

Not to mention, 15 minutes feels so short that I can just dart out the door quickly at lunch, after work, or before bed – even without a need to change into something more “dog walk appropriate”.  This has meant I’ve found myself a whole 7.5 minutes from home without poop bags.  But – lucky for me – I haven’t lost that gamble… yet.

I've taken "15 minute walks only" to mean just the walking part, and not include intermittent sit-stays.

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”: