"Wobblers" is a syndrome of neurological deficits caused by compression of the cervical (neck) spinal cord. The classic sign is a wobbling or stumbling gait, like a horse that has been given a sedative or tranquilizer. Other signs include an uneven, spastic, exaggerated gait; abnormal wear of front toes or unusual sores on front heels from over-reaching; knuckling over of the fetlocks and even falling. A variety of conditions can lead to compression of the spinal cord in the neck such as fractures, subluxation and arthritis, but the term "Wobblers" is generally reserved for horses with malformation of the cervical vertebrae, a developmental orthopedic disease or DOD.
Any horse displaying neurologic signs should have a complete physical examination and separate neurological exam by a veterinarian. If the signs continue to point to a neurological condition rather than lameness, then further tests should be performed to confirm the diagnosis. These may include bloodwork, a CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) tap, X-rays and a myelogram, which is the process of taking X-rays after a contrast dye has been injected into the spinal canal.
Some horses with Wobblers improve with simple nutritional and medical management. Others require surgery and extensive physical therapy. Prognosis depends on location of the lesion, severity of the condition, how long the horse showed signs before treatment, quality of rehabilitation and other factors.
About Dr. Lydia Gray