Wobblers in Horses 101: Causes, Symptoms, and Recovery


Known by many different names, Wobblers in horses is not a singular disease, but a term that refers to many neurological ailments that can severely affect the gait and strength of a horse. Wobblers is distinguished by damage to the spinal cord and could be caused by several possibilities, including having a genetic predisposition. Although it is not connected to a specific breed of horse, it is most commonly acquired by horses that are tall and Thoroughbred or Standardbred. The best chance for recovery from Wobblers in horses is to see your veterinarian as soon as possible to attain a proper diagnosis and treatment.

General Information about Wobblers in Horses

Wobblers in horses can be referred to by several other names such as wobbles, wobblers disease, cervical vertebral myelopathy (CVM), vertebral stenotic myelopathy, equine wobbles anemia, wobbler’s syndrome, and cervical arthritis. It gets its name because the horse will start to “wobble” and the symptoms can develop gradually. It is believed to be a neurological problem originating in the neck that causes painful inflammation and arthritis in the joints. There is some evidence that Wobblers in horses is a congenital or hereditary condition that is prone to certain breeds of horses such as Thoroughbreds, American Quarter Horses, or racehorses.

Wobblers in Horses Symptoms

Symptoms with Wobblers in horses may start with ataxia or weakness in the hindquarters.
Another clue to the condition is stiffness in the neck and back. A horse may be reluctant to lay down or not be able to get up easily. They may also exhibit lameness that happens in a relapsing-remitting pattern. In an advanced case of Wobblers in horses, there may may be frequent falling or tripping and extreme listing to one side.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Tripping and Falling;
  • Weakness;
  • Frequent stumbling;
  • Stiff Neck;
  • Awkward Gait;
  • Legs crossing while moving;
  • Abnormal wear on your horse’s hooves;
  • Rear feet striking front feet.

What Causes Wobblers in Horses?

There are several possible causes that can be attributed to Wobblers in horses. One possibility is an injury to the spine that creates some kind of trauma, such as a skull fracture, collision with another horse, a blow to the head from a fall, or a kick from another horse.

Certain horses seem to be predisposed to the illness and may not actually inherit the disease but may carry the genetic traits. It may affect a horse that grows too big too fast or a horse that has a wide vertebral canal. It is also more common in males than females. Signs usually begin showing around the age of two years old, when the horse begins training. However, this condition can appear in horses of all ages.

Wobblers in horses can be survived if treated as soon as possible. Some horses have gone on to make fairly good recoveries, such as the famous racehorse, Seattle Slew. However, neurological and physical effects may linger in some horses.

Treatment Options Available for Wobblers in Horses

If your horse starts to show signs of clumsiness, a lack of coordination, or trips often, a visit to the veterinarian should be considered as soon as possible. Upon examination of your horse, your vet may want to take blood, X-rays, and perhaps do a spinal fluid test to determine if there is a neurological component to your horse’s condition.

If Wobblers is present, the X-rays may show signs of arthritis, bone spurs, or any structural anomalies in your horse. Other neurological testings for Wobblers in horses would include turning the horse in a circle to check for coordination, and a gait and postural examination to check the head, neck, and body position.

Treatment options for Wobblers in horses will depend on the degree of ataxia, the site of the injury if known, and the activity expectations of the horse. In some cases, your vet may want to take a conservative approach to changing your horse’s diet and adding nutritional supplements. Alternative therapy such as acupuncture, physiotherapy, and water walking may also be considered.

More moderate treatment options may include the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or osteoarthritic articular act injections, supported by a specific activity and exercise plan.

For more severe cases, spinal fusion surgery might be the best option for Wobblers in horses. The use of titanium baskets are used to fuse the vertebrae, preventing compression of the spinal cord. The surgery requires the use of an anesthetic and careful monitoring, after which a compression bandage is applied. Recovery should be provided in a quiet and calm environment. The compression bandage is removed and replaced every week by your veterinarian.

Prevention of Wobblers in Horses

No cure is known for Wobblers in horses. The following are a few tips for prevention but be aware that the tips mentioned above will not necessarily guarantee that your horse will not get Wobblers, but it may decrease the chances.

  • Teach a young horse to stand quietly while tied.
  • Make sure to tie adult horses in a safe area where a stumble is preventable.
  • Carefully watch your horse’s gait to catch Wobblers early on.
  • Keep your horse’s feet in good condition and check them often for signs of wear.
  • Call your vet to discuss symptoms as soon as you see something unusual.

Conclusion

Although there is no cure for Wobblers in horses, early training and good nutrition may help to prevent this condition. After seeing the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis, some horses will recuperate fully and be able to return to work or compete professionally. However, some horses may have difficulty recovering and need long-term care.

Image source: Pixabay

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