Spondylolisthesis - Wobbler's Syndrome

Spondylolisthesis - also called wobbler syndrome and cervical spondylomyelopathy and tapeworms

Question: Hi Dr. Richards

I'm a new subscriber and would like your opinion on a couple of problems I'm having with my 8 year old female doberman.

During the past year she has started having an awkward time going down stairs. Instead of coordinating one front foot forward then the other front foot forward she is moving them both at the same time the same way (like hopping). When she is doing this it's hard to tell if the back legs are causing this or if they are all mixed up because of the way the front legs are moving. This only happens when she goes straight down (which is most of the time). If she starts off on either the left or right side of the stair and works her way down toward the other side (side slanted) she is okay. She doesn't seem to have trouble climbing up them.

She had a very large lipoma on one side of her chest so we had it removed but to my surprise it hasn't made a difference.

She drinks a lot of water(has for some time) is always starving (worse than ever, weights 105 lbs and we're having a very hard time keeping it at that), has a bloated stomach sometimes, and has mild seizures (not very often as far as we know).

Last year we had her checked for almost everything. She had liver tests, kidney tests, Cushing's disease blood test, etc. Everything came back negative except that one of her stimulating hormones for her thyroid was high so she is on medication for a low thyroid. We just had her thyroid tested again and everything is fine. I'm still very concerned about the starving, not sure whether it's a habit or the poor thing really is famished. Last week at our vets suggestion we tried her on tapeworm medication. I was surprised when he mentioned this because I thought she would be very thin if she had a tapeworm? He is still suspicious that she could have Cushing's and wants to do another blood test, a liver biopsy and an ultrasound (I think of her pituitary gland). Her skin is dry but not in bad condition. Last year the Cushing's blood test was just done of our local vets and this time it will be done at more specialized referral clinic.

She's on one sudafed a day and two stilbesterol every three days for incontinence. She's been incontinent since she was 6 months old.

Tks Sheilah

Answer: Sheilah-

My first thought when I read your note was that your doberman might have spondylolisthesis (also called wobbler syndrome and cervical spondylomyelopathy). This is a disorder that occurs most frequently in great Danes and doberman pinschers. It is the result of malformation of the vertebrae. Intervertebral disc disease of the cervical spine is another possible problem. This can occur in any dog breed. Signs of this problem are often subtle at first, with slight incoordination of any of the limbs, but most commonly the rear limbs most noticeably. Sometimes there is pain when the neck is moved, sometimes not. She may prefer to go up and down the stairs on the slant because she can move her neck a smaller distance while using the stairs. It would be worth asking your vet about this possibility.

Your vet's thoughts on the problems are also reasonable and it is possible that the only way to sort through the possibilities is to start testing for them and rule them out one by one. It is entirely possible that your doberman could have more than one problem, too. Cushings disease sometimes causes neurologic signs and causes muscular weakness at times, too.

Tapeworms don't cause many problems. They are considered to be a "well adapted" parasite. If you think about it, the perfect parasite wouldn't cause any harm at all to the animal it lived in because the less harm it causes, the less likely that the animal will die or mount a strong immune response to it. Tapeworms are one of the least harmful parasites. Many dogs have them with no weight loss and no other discernible signs, either. Sometimes clinical signs do occur and when they do, weight loss is one sign, so you aren't entirely off in your thinking.

Hope this helps some.

Mike Richards, DVM 2/10/2000

Spondylolisthesis (Wobbler's Syndrome) possible

Q: Dear Dr. Mike: My 11 YO female doberman has been on rimadyl (1 mg/lb) now for nearly 3 months for hip arthritis. At first it seemed to greatly improve her condition to the point she would even go upstairs several times daily. During the past 2 weeks and especially the past 4 days I have seen considerable loss of rear leg control and this is now spreading to the front legs. Reading the drug data sheet, I notice several comments about "The recommended course of therapy was repeated as needed at 2-week intervals...." In spite of other comments indicating longer dosage periods at much higher levels, I wonder if perhaps my dog has not developed reaction to the continued usage of this new drug. Your comments will be appreciated. Though I am a microbiologist, this area of science totally escapes me. Thanks for your help! Bob

A: Bob- There is a period when medications are new in which a lot of information is lacking. The manufacturers are pushing carprofen (Rimadyl Rx) as a medication for chronic use but there isn't a lot of information on continuous usage. Based on our experience with other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications I suspect that there will be few long term problems with carprofen but that it is not always safe to assume those sorts of things.

I would worry a lot about spondylolisthesis (Wobbler's Syndrome) with the signs you are seeing, considering that your dog is a doberman. It would be worthwhile to discuss this possibility with your vet. Obviously it is not possible to make a diagnosis like that over the world wide web but it is definitely worth considering as a possibility.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...