Cervical Vertebral Malformation (Wobbler’s Syndrome)

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    What Is A Cervical Vertebral Malformation?

    The spinal column in vertebrate animals is the flexible column that is made of vertebrae and extends from neck to tail. The primary function of the vertebral column is the protection of the spinal cord. It also provides sites of attachment for muscles. The cervical (neck) portion of the spinal column consists of seven vertebrae separated by cartilaginous intervertebral discs that help absorb shock in motion.

    Cervical vertebral malformation, is also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy, cervical spondylopathy, cervical vertebral malformation/malarticulation, cervical vertebral stenotic myelopathy, disc associated cervical spondylomyelopathy (DA-CSM) and Canine Wobbler Syndrome.

    It is a complex disorder seen in larger dog that involves intervertebral discs, ligaments, and bones and is marked by instability in the intervertebral discs in the neck area. In DA-CSM, caudal cervical spinal cord compression is mainly caused by the protrusion of one or more intervertebral discs.

    Signs & Symptoms

    The disease is characterized by malformations in the spinal cord leading to compression of the spinal cord resulting in pain, weakness and instability of four legs. The ‘wobbler syndrome’ designation arises from the fact that affected animals often have poorly coordinated, wobbling or swaying gait. Most affected dogs have difficulty arising.

    Disc-associated compressions occur in adult dogs that are born with congenital vertebral canal stenosis.

    Susceptible Dog Breeds

    The Doberman pinscher breed seems predisposed for this condition.4 These dogs are prone to spinal cord compressions due to intervertebral disc protrusions. Most cases occur in the Doberman Pinscher (over 5 years of age) and Great Dane (under 2 years of age), but other breeds can also be affected.

    Ruptured discs are more common in Doberman Pinschers, while vertebral malformations predominate in Great Danes. Males are more commonly affected than females, except in Borzois.6 Unlike most other affected breeds, Dobermans also have rigid front legs.


    What causes these abnormalities is still uncertain, although genetic, nutritional (over-supplementation with calcium3), congenital vertebral canal stenosis, and hypertrophy (enlargement) of the ligament that runs down the vertebral canal beneath the vertebrae have been proposed.2


    Treatment can be conservative or surgical.

    With mild or moderate signs, strict rest, administration of corticosteroids, correction of the diet, and avoidance of microtrauma caused by pulling on the collar may lead to improvement after four weeks of conservative treatment. Although conservative treatment can improve the clinical signs, it cannot be expected to correct the underlying spinal defects, and most dogs eventually develop progressive problems.

    In severe cases with acute or chronic intervertebral disc protrusion or extrusion, surgery is often used to decrease the compression and the damage of the spinal cord, followed by an extensive rehabilitation after surgery. However, in cases when the spinal cord is severely damaged, and the lesions are irreversible, surgical treatment may be unsuccessful, and the prognosis is guarded.5

    Video Credits: MercolaHealthyPets
    Image Credits:


    1. Donald E. Thrall – Textbook of Veterinary Diagnostic Radiology
    2. Marc Vandevelde, Robert Higgins – Veterinary Neuropathology: Essentials of Theory and Practice
    3. Jackie Isabell – Genetics: An Introduction for Dog Breeders
    4. Decker et al. – Intervertebral Disk Width In Dogs With And Without Clinical Signs Of Disk Associated Cervical Spondylomyelopathy
    5. Debra M. Eldredge, DVM, Liisa D. Carlson, DVM, Delbert G. Carlson, DVM, James M. Giffin, MD – Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook
    6. Ad Rijnberk, Hans S. Kooistra – Clinical Endocrinology of Dogs and Cats
    7. Lowell J Ackerman – The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs
    8. Sharir et al. – Structural And Functional Anatomy Of The Neck Musculature Of The Dog (Canis Familiaris)


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