Wobblers disease, also known as cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), is a serious neurological condition that affects large breed dogs. It causes instability and weakness in the hind legs due to compression of the spinal cord in the neck region. As the disease progresses, dogs lose function and control of their hind legs and may eventually become paralyzed.
Deciding when to euthanize a dog with wobblers is an incredibly difficult decision fraught with emotion for pet parents. This article provides information to help assess your dog’s quality of life and determine the most humane time to say goodbye.
Understanding Wobblers Disease and Its Progression
Wobblers disease is caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal that puts pressure on the spinal cord. As a dog ages, vertebrae in the neck can thicken, grow bone spurs, or slip out of alignment leading to compression issues. The compression interrupts signals from the brain to the legs causing a loss of coordination known as ataxia.
Common early symptoms include:
- Unsteady gait or wobbling
- Weakness in rear legs
- Stumbling frequently
- Difficulty standing up and lying down
- Reluctance to walk, play, or go up stairs
As wobblers advances, dogs gradually lose proprioception – the ability to perceive where their legs are in space. They may drag their paws, cross their legs, stumble often, and have great trouble standing for more than a few moments. In the end stages, the rear legs become completely paralyzed.
The speed of progression varies between individual dogs based on factors like breed, size, age of onset, and severity of spinal compression. Smaller dogs generally have a slower decline than larger, heavier breeds. All cases eventually lead to loss of hind limb function if left untreated, but quality of life can be extended in milder cases.
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Nonsurgical Management Options
If caught early, wobblers may be managed without surgery through a combination of:
- Steroid treatment – Steroids like prednisone reduce inflammation and may provide temporary improvement.
- Pain management – Medications alleviate nerve pain from the spinal injury.
- Physical therapy – Exercises strengthen core muscles to better support walking. Can improve balance and stability.
- Harnesses – Provides extra support for rear limbs. Helps stabilize walking.
- Ramps/Soft bedding – Makes movement easier and prevents falls.
- Maintaining a healthy weight – Less strain on the spinal joints.
These conservative options focus on keeping dogs comfortable and mobile for as long as possible. Even with aggressive nonsurgical care, dogs eventually deteriorate becoming unable to rise on their own or losing bowel/bladder control.
For dogs with severe compression or rapid progression, the ONLY chance at recovery is decompressive surgery. By surgically removing part of the vertebrae, surgeons can take pressure off the spinal cord and halt further damage.
Potential outcomes of surgery include:
- Complete recovery of limb function
- Significant improvement in gait/stamina
- Mild ongoing weakness/incoordination
- No noticeable improvement
Age, severity at time of surgery, amount of cord damage already incurred, and size/weight of the breed influence success rates. Surgery cannot reverse damage already done, only prevent it worsening. Many owners pursue surgery in order to “buy more quality time.”
Assessing Quality of Life
Determining when euthanasia becomes the most humane option is extremely difficult. Focus on preserving quality rather than quantity of life. Consider:
- Can your dog walk or stand without assistance? How far?
- Does he stumble or fall down frequently? Any head trauma from falls?
- Is he struggling to rise on his own?
- Is he fully or partially paralyzed in the rear?
- Is mobility so limited that he can’t enjoy walks or play? This is no life for an energetic dog.
Pain Levels & Comfort
- Is your dog showing signs of pain like crying out, panting, restless nights, or irritability?
- Does he lick excessively at limbs or pressure sores?
- Are steroid meds and pain relievers no longer providing adequate relief?
- Does he avoid being touched around neck/shoulders? This indicates tenderness.
- Does your dog have frequent accidents in the home due to loss of bowel/bladder function?
- Is he unable to voluntarily relieve himself outside without assistance? This leads to discomfort and humiliation for formerly house-trained pets.
Interest In Food and Activities
- Has your dog’s appetite declined? Significant weight loss indicates dogs have lost the drive to eat.
- Does he still wag tail or initiate play or affection? Loss of joy and engagement with life is a grave sign.
- Is your pet depressed, sleeping excessively more out of escape than mere rest?
Monitor all these parameters with your vet and keep a detailed journal tracking good vs. bad days. Quality days should still outweigh the bad ones for continued quality living.
Making the Final Decision
Euthanizing a beloved companion is the hardest choice most pet parents face. But we owe dogs a painless, dignified passing once their spark for life dims. Forcing them to endure humiliation, pain and fear of falling robs them of basic dignity.
Many owners know in their hearts when the time comes before the vet confirms it. But guilt over “giving up too soon” haunts many, even when keeping a dog alive benefits our needs over its best interests.
Talk openly with your vet regarding terminal nature of wobblers and realistic expectations moving forward. Have candid conversations around euthanasia criteria early in the disease process – what factors matter most for quality living? Outlining guidelines ahead helps mitigate guilt over ending a dog’s discomfort when the time comes.
No perfect answer exists, as each situation differs. But erring on the too early side is far kinder than too late. Wait too long and you risk your final memories being of an utterly miserable, terrified dog – that helps no one. Enable your pet the chance to pass calmly at home surrounded by those they love instead of dying in agony or panic.
Wobblers robs vibrant dogs of mobility and dignity slowly but inevitably. Know you are not “killing” your dog but rather releasing them from suffering and inevitable decline. View euthanasia as the last act of love left that you can give your four-legged friend after medicine has lost all power to save them pain.
Allow yourself to grieve losing their cherished companionship while finding peace in knowing their struggle is over. Their spirit will remain with you even once their poor, broken body passes. There are always more dogs needing homes desperate for devotion you provided such a gift to offer again.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the survival rate for dogs with wobblers disease?
Without surgery, the prognosis is poor long term. Dogs may stabilize for a period of time with medical management but eventually lose hind limb function. Only 15–25% survive >1 year past diagnosis if untreated surgically. Those undergoing surgery average 2–5 years life post-op depending on case variables.
Should I use a wheelchair or cart for my wobblers dog?
Support carts enable dogs to stand upright supporting their weakened hindquarters. For some owners, seeing their dogs joyfully romping around again brings immense satisfaction. The apparatus allows dogs to rebuild leg muscle, stimulate circulation, and enjoy outdoors without face-planting.
However, carts have serious drawbacks. Getting the dog in/out repeatedly risks injury for both parties. Open wounds, ulcers or urine scald easily develop. Dogs with poor proprioception sense frequently hurt themselves trying to “walk” normally. Carts don’t resolve continence loss creating miserable hygiene issues. Finally, cart activity burns tremendous calories – malnourishment often results which further decays health.
Evaluate your own health and dedication before committing to cart care. Realistically, at some point dogs outpace even ideal owner devotion.
Is euthanasia painful for dogs?
No, euthanasia is a peaceful, painless passing when properly performed. Vets use an overdose of anesthetic that causes dogs to gently slip into an eternal sleep. Most dogs relax into their owner’s arms once the injection is given showing no signs of distress. Holding them calmly with familiar scents and sounds in their last moments brings them comfort.
How do I prepare my household for our dog’s passing?
Inform family members of imminent euthanasia plans so all can mentally prepare. Decide if other household pets will attend appointment to understand dog sibling won’t return. Consider private cremation services to return remains to home or schedule burial rituals honoring your dog’s life.
Spend the last days capturing paw prints/photos and making favorite treats allowing dog joyous but calm activities. Have therapy resources lined up if kids require counseling processing grief. Most importantly, convey your unconditional love and gratitude to your dog through gentle affection and reassurance which they sense keenly. Their only desire is to depart this world at peace surrounded by your caring presence.
Wobbler’s disease poses excruciating choices for owners as mobility and dignity slowly but irreversibly fades despite best efforts. Use the criteria outlined gauging whether more good days remain relative to bad and focus on priorities sustaining quality over quantity of life. Lean on your vet as an objective sounding board checking emotions biasing objectivity. No perfect answers exist except following your heart. Lastly, forgive yourself for the innate limitations caretaking imposes – your dog asks no more than the incredible gift of devotion already given.
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