Wobblers disease: a story of hope

Wobblers disease, or cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), is a disease of the cervical spine (at the neck) that is commonly seen in large and giant-breed dogs like Great Danes, Rottweilers, Dobermans and Bassets. It is characterised by compression of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots, which leads to neurological signs and/or neck pain. The term Wobblers disease is used to describe the characteristic wobbly gait (walk) that affected dogs have.
This video shows Halo as a young pup

Symptoms of Wobblers

  • Strange, wobbly gait
  • Neck pain, stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Possible short-strided walking, spastic with a floating appearance or very weak in the front limbs
  • Possibly unable to walk – partial or complete paralysis
  • Possible muscle loss near the shoulders
  • Possible worn or scuffed toenails from uneven walking
  • Increased extension of all four limbs
  • Difficulty getting up from lying position

Prognosis

“The prognosis is generally quite poor,” says Country Animal Clinic veterinarian Dr Ingrid de Wet. “However, Halo (see her story below) has exceeded all expectations thanks in no small measure to the incredible dedication of her owner, Carla Kelly.

“We weren’t sure Halo would even make it to her first birthday at one stage but multiple MRIs, vet visits and physio appointments later and she has exceeded all of our expectations,” Dr de Wet says.

“She is now living quite a happy, functional life.”

Causes of Wobblers

  • Fast-growth is suspected in large dog breeds
  • Nutrition in some cases – excess protein, calcium, and calories.

Halo’s story, as told by her mom Carla Kelly:

“We identified that something wasn’t right with Halo, our Great Dane puppy, at 4 months. She was knuckling over badly. Xrays of her front legs revealed nothing; at 6 months of age she was tested for Wobblers.  Again nothing.
 
At 12 months she had what we can best describe as an episode where she couldn’t walk, couldn’t get up, was in pain. This resulted in her going back to Panorama for MRIs of her neck, back & brain. It was here that Wobblers was diagnosed.
 
We started physio with her immediately; at first every 2 weeks and then every month. I do exercises with her every day. She was prescribed 4 tablets of Prednisone (a corticosteroid) a day. This resulted in her getting a stomach ulcer 9 months later. She was hospitalised over Christmas for 5 days.
 
As a result we attempted to reduce her cortisone. We are doing this very slowly, reducing her cortisone to 2 tabs every second day.
Halo today
She is better now than she has ever been and we have had no ulcer-related issues or severe Wobblers symptoms. She does curl her toes in on her right front foot but other than that, she is our miracle.
 
All of her doctors are inspired by Halo; we all believed she wouldn’t make it past two years of age. She turned 3 on 21 January 19 2019. I have been told by all of her doctors that most people would not have kept her alive; that she would not have been given a chance.
We know that 4 years would be a good milestone but as she is right now there is no reason why we won’t surpass that.
 
I want to say that we would not be here without the love and expertise of everyone at Country Animal Clinic and Liezel, Halo’s beloved physio. “