What is Wobblers?
‘Wobblers’ is a generalized term that is used to describe a disorder resulting in ataxia (incoordination) and weakness in horses.
The technical term is Cervical Vertebral Stenotic Myelopathy, and the disorder can be divided into two main categories. In younger horses, typically less than 4 years old, the signs are usually caused by a developmental abnormality of the vertebra in the neck, which results in spinal cord compression; this means that the nerves that are responsible for moving the limbs normally are dysfunctional, resulting in the signs of incoordination and weakness.
The second category of Wobblers occurs in older horses, typically over 8 years of age, and is due to arthritis in the joints between the vertebra. These joints are very close to the spinal cord, and so when they become enlarged with the arthritis, they can compress the spinal cord, resulting in incoordination and weakness. The diagnosis relies firstly on identifying the signs – your vet will perform a neurological examination to identify the incoordination and weakness. Once that has been confirmed, xrays of the neck are used to identify either the abnormally formed vertebra, or the arthritis. Because the spinal cord itself cannot be seen on xrays, a procedure called a myelogram can be used in some instances to determine where the compression is occurring. Treatment can be challenging in young horses, as the vertebra themselves cannot be changed.
In horses less than one year old, dietary modification in conjunction with a nutritionist has been shown in some cases to be beneficial. A surgery can also be performed to fuse the vertebra, which can minimise the spinal cord compression – this is a major surgery and is only performed in selected cases. Management of the arthritic form of Wobblers is more straightforward. Most horses respond well, and can indeed return to being an athletic horse.
The most common treatment is medication of the joints with a steroid – this will decrease he inflammation in the joint, which can then decrease the spinal cord compression, allowing the nerves travelling to the legs to function normally. This treatment does not sure the disorder, but can last up to several years, and can be repeated if necessary.
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