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Cervical Vertebral Instability Syndrome – Introduction

This condition presents mostly in Dobermans although other large breeds can be affected, particularly Great Danes. The fact that its presentation is so breed-related suggests that there is a genetic predisposition, although the basic genetics of this syndrome have not been clearly understood yet. It is also postulated that selection for –large- size has also had an influence as it tends to present only in large breed dogs.

Some recent studies say that around 5% of Dobermans will develop this condition, with males being twice as likely sufferers than females.

What does happen?

The problem is due to a compression of the spinal cord at the level of the neck. It presents typically in middle aged dogs. The causes are not well understood, but due to one or other mechanism involving the cervical (neck) vertebrae or the junction between them (inter-vertebral discs) the canal where the spinal cord is contained gets narrowed and this causes pain and problems with the conduction of nerve signals though the spinal cord due to various degrees of nerve damage.

These are the main symptoms of the disease. Most times it presents as a slowly progressive complaint, with the hind legs being affected first: the wobble (ataxia in technical terms) which gives this condition one of its multiple names.

This wobble can lead to paralysis and can extend finally also to the forelegs. Occasionally after a slow presentation there is an acute worsening. Less frequently the condition presents more acutely, with a sudden onset of pain, ataxia or paralysis or paresis (partial paralysis).

What can we do about it?

The diagnosis is normally based on the Medical History, Clinical Signs and Signalment (breed, age, sex…) and diagnostic imaging can confirm this clinical suspicion. MRI and CT scans are superior on determining the nature of the problem, but x-rays with or without contrast can provide some useful information.

There may be occasions where other lesions in this area of the spine i.e. fractures or luxations can present in a similar way and these tests can rule out these other causes.

Some dogs can be helped with surgical intervention, normally performed by a Specialist with expertise in spinal surgery, and in any case anti-inflammatories and painkillers of different types are prescribed to control the pain and alleviate the symptoms.

It should also be mentioned, going back to the strong breed –inherited- predisposition, that it would be desirable to get rid of this condition in breeds such as Dobermans and Great Danes, and therefore these patients should not be used for breeding.

AndreThis article was reproduced by kind permission of Andre Escudeiro-Vieites LV MRCVS
Andre is a partner at Quinton Vets4Pets in the heart of England.

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