How to Treat a Horse With Wobbles


Equine Wobbler Syndrome, or "Wobbles," is a neurological condition that results from a damaged or compressed spinal cord, usually effecting younger horses, from approximately 6 months to 4 years of age. Clinical signs of wobbles include an abnormal, exaggerated and wobbly gait, unsteadiness in movement and dragging of the hind legs. In some cases, effected horses have to be humanely destroyed, but other horses can cope with the condition with the right treatment. Treatment is usually spinal surgery, followed by an extensive period of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

  • Research the condition thoroughly. More common, less severe symptoms of lameness can be mistaken for wobbles. Signs of wobbles include an abnormal gait, abnormal posture when standing, excessive wear of the hind toes, sores on front heels from hind hooves over-reaching, a delay in backing-up and a stiff neck.

  • Contact your veterinarian for further diagnosis. Wobbles is most successfully managed when treated quickly. The diagnostic process itself can take a significant amount of time.

  • Begin the diagnostic process with a neurological exam. Your veterinarian will arrange this for you. recommends videotaping the examination so you can seek the opinions of other professionals who may be too far away to travel in person to examine your horse.

  • Continue the diagnostic procedure with a cervical radiograph, to check for fractures, malformations and narrowed spinal canals. The next step is a myelogram, which is a diagnostic tool used to check spinal cord compression before surgery. Samples of spinal fluid are also taken at this point to confirm the diagnosis. Your vet will arrange all these procedures for you.

  • Arrange with your vet for surgery to take place. The procedure used is equine Cervical Joint Fusion surgery, which was pioneered by human orthopedic surgeon Dr. George Bagby of Washington, in 1977. The surgery fuses the articulation -- the space in between the vertebrae -- in order to stop the movement of the affected joints that compress the spinal cord. This is done by drilling a hole through the vertebrae and inserting an implant, which is then filled with bone marrow to speed up the fusion process.

  • Collect your horse from the hospital after around seven days. Your vet will advise you exactly when your horse is ready for collection. Once home, your horse will have to stay in a small stall for 60 days, with no exercise, to help the fusion process. Your vet will then need to visit the horse again, to advise you on beginning to allow the animal small amounts of exercise. This will very gradually build up and then another scan is advised to ensure the spine is fusing well. Complete recovery takes at least one year and exercise is important during this time.

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