Wobbler Syndrome in Horses: An Overview

Horses affected by wobbler syndrome have sustained spinal cord damage that leads to ataxia (incoordination).
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There are few things more enjoyable than watching a herd of young horses frolic around a pasture. But when one of the foals looks shaky, incoordinated, and almost wobbly on his feet, this could be a sign of a serious–and sometimes fatal–neurologic problem: cervical vertebral stenotic myelopathy, or wobbler syndrome. At the 2011 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 20-24 in Las Vegas, Nev., Steve Reed, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, an associate with Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Ky., spoke about wobbler syndrome and the scientific advancements that are allowing more "wobblers" to recover and lead a healthy and normal life.

What is Wobbler Syndrome?

Very simply put, horses affected by wobbler syndrome have sustained spinal cord damage that leads to ataxia (incoordination). Most veterinarians say that an affected horse’s gaits make him appear as if he’s wobbling, hence the common name of the disorder.

Causes of the spinal cord damage can include developmental malformation of the vertebrae in the neck, rapid growth, and trauma. Regardless of the cause, Reed explained, "The most important feature of this condition is a narrowed vertebral canal … resulting in the compression of the spinal cord." Generally, he added, this compression occurs between the third and seventh cervical vertebrae (C3-C7, located in the neck)

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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