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Wobbler Disease in Dogs

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If your pet collapses or is unable to walk or get up, these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!

If your pet is experiencing weakness, incoordination, or neck pain, these are considered a “YELLOW” – or semi-urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within 24 hours. Call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you, and if your pet’s condition worsens, call the team back to inform them of the status change.


Wobbler disease, also known as Wobbler Syndrome or Cervical Spondylomyelopathy (CSM), is a disease of the cervical spine – or simply put, the neck. The cervical spine is composed of the spinal cord and is surrounded by ligaments, fat, spinal fluid, intervertebral discs, and bones. These all play an important role in protecting the spinal cord, which transmits signals from the brain to the rest of the body.  

But in a dog with Wobbler disease, the bones, ligaments, and/or discs of the cervical spine change shape or position over time. These changes cause compression of the spinal cord and associated nerves which leads to the visible signs of the disease.  

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Signs of Wobbler Disease 

In some large breed dogs like Great Danes, signs can develop within a year of age. For other breeds, signs may not be seen until middle age. Dog parents will first notice the following:  

  • Weakness and/or incoordination (wobbly gait) in all four legs. The back legs may be more affected than the front legs, especially in earlier stages of the disease. 
  • Inability to walk. Note: Visible in a small proportion of dogs.  
  • Pain in the neck or reluctance to move the neck (especially to the floor during meal times) and carrying the head in a low position. 

 If your pet is displaying any of these signs, further testing is important because many diseases of the cervical spine can present this way.  

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Diagnosis 

Wobbler disease is typically diagnosed with an MRI. This type of advanced imaging will show soft tissue structures, neural structures (spinal cord and nerves), and bones of the spine. MRI can help your veterinarian know the severity and extent of the disease, eliminate other possible causes of clinical signs, and determine treatment options.  

 Treatment 

Treatment options for Wobbler disease include both medical and surgical options:  

  • Medical Management 
    • Medical management includes a combination of neuropathic pain medications and anti-inflammatories. With this option, it’s important to limit certain activities. While these treatments do not fix the structural abnormalities seen with Wobbler disease, they can significantly improve comfort and neurologic function. Physical therapy can be an excellent additional therapy. 
  • Surgical Treatment 
    • Surgical treatment typically involves relieving compression of the spinal cord to improve neurologic function and/or delay progression of signs. Various techniques can be used to accomplish this, depending on the nature of the disease. It is important to understand though that Wobbler disease is a progressive disease, meaning that clinical signs can return in the future even after surgery.  

Deciding the best treatment for your dog depends on a variety of factors, including the severity of signs and MRI findings.   

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If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s cervical spine health, talk to your family veterinarian about steps to a diagnosis and treatment options. They may choose to refer your pet to a board-certified veterinary neurologist. 

Learn more about Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Neurology Service here 

Tess Smith, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology), Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, board-certified veterinary neurologist, Twin Cities veterinary neurologist

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