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Wobbler Syndrome is an insidious, progressive neurological disease in large and giant breed dogs. Sadly, this diagnosis leads to more questions than answers.
This is a personal journey of a Mastiff puppy and an adoring Big Dog Mom.
Here you will find no answers, only questions.
I am not asking for comments or likes or shares. I ask for your understanding and your prayers.
My purpose here today is to share and to make a difference. A difference in the life of a Mastiff puppy who does NOT deserve the hand he has been dealt.
With heartbreak and tears, this is our story.
MRI – An Incomplete Answer for Wobbler Syndrome
On Thursday, July 12, 2018, at 3:40 pm, after blood work, x-rays, an MRI and four months of neck pain, Junior, my heart dog, was diagnosed with Wobbler Syndrome.
“Wobbler Syndrome” / Caudal cervical spondylomyelopathy / Cervical vertebral malformation – malarticulation. Osseous proliferation of C4-5 and C5-6 articular facets as well as hypertrophy of soft tissues/joint capsule with secondary mild vertebral canal stenosis at these locations (predominantly right-sided).”
With a prescription for Gabapentin (900 mg 2-3 times a day as needed), Rimadyl (150mg twice a day), and a forceful recommendation for a diet change, I gathered up my children and my Junior and we drove home.
From heartbreak to determination.
I want answers. Let the research begin.
What is Wobbler Syndrome?
Junior’s discharge papers explain it this way:
“Wobbler Syndrome is a disorder of large and giant breed dogs in which spinal canal narrowing (stenosis) results from developmental abnormalities such as malformed vertebral articular facets or vertebral laminae (bodies). Neurologic signs develop because of progressive spinal cord compression from degenerative changes and hypertrophy (overgrowth) of surrounding vertebral bony and soft tissue structures. There is a gradual onset of pain, ataxia (wobbly gait), and limb weakness. Unfortunately, cervical vertebral malformation/malarticulation syndrome (CVMM) is a degenerative condition, and it is possible Junior’s signs may progress over time.”
My mind spun, I want answers.
Why Junior? Why now? And of all of the possible big dog health problems, why Wobbler Syndrome?
Junior is 21 months young.
What is the Cause of Wobbler Syndrome?
Put simply, the cause of Wobbler Syndrome is undefined and unknown.
Because Wobbler’s disease is most common in Doberman pinschers (disc-associated) and Great Danes (CVMM more similar to Mastiffs), most of the research has been done in those breeds.
While current scientific research is focused on both surgical and non-surgical approaches to treatment and understanding the genetics behind the disease, all of the sources I found mentioned the role diet and nutrition might play in the development of Wobbler Syndrome.
- “Nutrition in some cases – excess protein, calcium, and calories have been a proposed cause in Great Danes
- Fast-growth is suspected in large dog breeds”
And according to University of Pennsylvania’s Textbook of Small Animal Orthopedics,
“Clinical and experimental evidence suggests a role of nutrition as well as genetics in the development of [Wobbler] syndrome. The previously cited over-nutrition study involving paired Great Dane litter mates supported a role for both. Clinical evidence in this study of excessive feeding and supplementation of some affected dogs and closely related affected dogs from different litters also supports this hypothesis. …..Rapid growth, which has also been suggested as a cause, may be related to both over-nutrition and genetics.”
“Undefined” Cause is NOT Good Enough
Junior has no family history of Wobbler Syndrome that I know of. None. Maternal and paternal pedigrees show no evidence of disease going back at least 4-5 generations in all directions.
I am not a scientist. I am just a simple-minded Big Dog Mom who is able to decipher facts clearly when they are seemingly this black and white. Genetics does not seem to be the cause of Junior’s Wobblers. Could they have played a role? Certainly. I am willing to concede that possibility.
So that leaves diet. That leaves me.
Junior was raw-fed on and off as a young puppy, then consistently raw fed since he was 9 months old. Sandwiched in the middle were months of kibble torment and dietary guilt when his menu consisted of semi-intelligently rendered hodgepodge and mishmash. (Read What To Do About Dog Food? First, Let Go Of The Guilt!)
Junior’s discharge papers state unequivocally “In order to help reduce the risk of further proliferative bony changes as Junior finishes growing, we recommend feeding him a diet that is less dense in calories… to prevent developmental problems which may occur with too-rapid growth.”
I was not entirely surprised by this advice given many veterinarians disdain for raw diets, but it has forced me to stop and think. Not about all raw diets, just Junior’s.
More Questions than Answers about Wobbler Syndrome
I have spent the last 5 days reflecting on every food I fed, every supplement I added, and every choice I made on behalf of my Junior for the last 20 months.
Were the kibbles I fed too high in protein? Were they balanced in their ratio of calcium to phosphorus? How often did I add an eggshell? Nupro has calcium citrate… how much was I giving? How much calcium citrate was he getting?
When I transitioned Junior to raw at 10 weeks, all I was giving him was chicken (advice common in raw feeding circles). After two weeks and seeing the deterioration in his hind legs, I switched him back to kibble and he got better. Was THAT when this ‘bone proliferation’ started?
What is considered too high in protein? In calcium?
If you could structure a raw food diet that WAS too high in protein and calcium, so much so that it could cause Wobbler Syndrome, what would that look like? Would it look like what I fed Junior?
And, if Junior’s diet is to blame, will following my neurologists’ recommendation to switch to kibble halt the progression of his disease?
My heart is broken and there are no words to describe the guilt I feel.
“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.” ~ Helen Keller
I can hear them now. Raw feeders will say I am wrong. Kibble feeders will say “See I told you so.”
While I say they are both right and they both are wrong, the only one who truly matters in this story is my Junior. He is the victim, not the diet.
He is my victim. That is the cross I have to bear now. The painful reality of my new normal.
But as heartbroken as I am, sitting here and continuing to sob does nothing to help Junior.
I am determined to find answers and to fix what I have done wrong.
Wobbler Syndrome will not define us. We will not live in secrecy because that does nothing to help the Mastiff breed or the thousands of other big dogs afflicted with Wobbler Syndrome.
So, as time goes on, if you notice Junior’s gait changing or his head hung low, please do not think less of him.
He has a spirit and a heart like no other and I am confident we can fight this and win.
Will our battle be waged through diet, surgery, acupuncture, or exercise? I don’t yet have the answer to that.
This is just the beginning of our story.
For more on Wobbler Syndrome, read: