By Margot Schwag, VMD
** Permission of author is required for use of this article.**

Wobblers disease, scientifically known as Cervical Vertebral Instability (CVI), is a disorder of the stability of the vertebra in the neck that causes damage to the spinal cord, resulting in anything from intermittent neck pain to paralysis.  It is believed that most commonly, the cervical (neck) vertebra C5-6, C6-7 are involved.  Due to these joints being unstable, i.e. the vertebra shift in place causing the intervertebral disks to shift which then either herniate into the spinal cord, which causes paralysis, or onto nerve bundles exiting from the spinal cord, which causes mild to extreme pain.


 There is no direct inheritance pattern but many genetic factors may be shared.  Most dogs are greater than 5 years of age but it may occur in those 2 years old.  There is no sexual predilection.


CVI may range from sudden and extreme to chronic and progressive.


Physical exam finding include:

  • Neck pain

  • Difficulty standing

  • Dragging the front or rear paws

  • Ataxia – a wobbling gait (thus the name for the disease)


Differential diagnosis (other similar diseases) include:

  • Neck injury

  • Diskospondylitis – inflammation of the vertabra


Primary disk disease

  • Cancer

  • Inflammation of the spinal cord


Blood work and urinanalysis are typically normal.  Diagnosis is most accurately made with the aid of  MRI, CT scan, or myelography-injecting a dye into the spinal cord and looking for a narrowing in its flow.  Plain radiographs may be inaccurate.

Treatment depends on the severity and chronicity of the damage to the spinal cord.  If sudden and debilitating, immediate surgery is the dogs best chance of regaining function of it’s limbs.  If the disease process has been long term and progressive, surgery may be indicated but may not reverse damage to the spinal cord, just halt any further damage.  If mild neck pain and no gait changes are the case, analgesic medication may be satisfactory.


The take home message is that Wobblers can be chronic and stable, slowly progressive, or acute (sudden).  If you Dobe is standing with it’s neck outstretched and is painful, or if the are starting to walk with a swagger, or is suddenly paralysed, CVI may be the diagnosis.  Make an appointment with your Veterinarian as soon as possible.  Untreated, the dog could either be left with recurring neck pain, or at the other extreme, paralysis of all 4 limbs.


© Margot B. Schwag, VMD. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint contact author at Landisville Animal Hospital, 3035 Harrisburg Pike, Landisville, PA 17533.