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Diagnosis: Wobblers - need advise

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  • Diagnosis: Wobblers - need advise

    Hello everybody, this is my first time posting here so please bare with me

    I recently took in (rescued) a 2.5 arab colt, Rocco, who came to me as a stallion, got him gelded 3 days later. I noticed something was off in his movement from day one, but was told by people that he was boarding/training with people that he just has a weak stifle. I had my vet come out and look at him, and he said wobblers or epm. Rocco doesn't trip or fall, he just walks like he is drunk, like he doesn't know where his hind legs are, drags his toes and hits his fronts with his rears.

    I had him x-rayed yesterday, and unfortunately was told it's wobblers, between C5-6 and C6-7. The doctor did not do the standard "wobblers exam" on him, he just looked at Rocco being walked in a tight circle and rated him at 4 out 5. I thought 4 was where a horse can barely walk? Rocco crosses his leg when turning, and doesn't swing his other leg out.

    I was given 2 options - euthanasia or a growth restriction diet. Since the vet assured me that wobblers doesn't cause pain, I am going to give the diet a shot.

    Was wondering if anybody has dealt with wobblers before, and what the outcome was?

    I have requested copies of his x-rays and will post them when I get them.

    Here is a video of Rocco last week:

    This boy is so sweet, and I am heartbroken. If I can't give him the quality of life he deserves, then I will make the right decision, but I want to know I have at least tried....

  • #2
    My b/o bought a lovely young stud several years ago who was shipped in from out west. The PPE did not pick up movement issues, let alone wobblers. She noticed he was having some problems with his back end that did not show up on the video the owner sent. She had the xrays and all sorts of other testing done, and they found two, or maybe three lesions in his neck. Because of the extensiveness of the problem and a poor prognosis, she made the tough decision to put him down. She has a remarkable eye for picking up lameness and movement issues, probably better than a lot of vets. I know if there were any real possibility of getting him to a better place, if not 100% well, she would have done it.
    Providence sometimes takes care of idiots. Agnes Morley Cleaveland in No Life for a Lady.


    • #3
      Our first homebred was a wobbler, we noticed around weaning time that she wasn't quite right in the hind end, she especially had a hard time backing up and would occasionally flip herself over backward. Vet looked at her (no x-rays) and said to put her on very restricted diet to keep her from growing too fast. We didn't starve her, but we definitely kept her lean and didn't do much with her, just let her be turned out and be a horse. February of her two year old year I took her to U of I as she was having a harder time getting up if she laid on a certain side, etc. They did a myleogram and the vertebrae at the base of her skull was crooked, pinching her spinal cord. Based on their recommendation, I elected to have her put down, I didn't even make her try to get up from the anesthesia from the myleogram. This was in 1996, so I don't remember all the details, but I don't remember them even offering surgery as an option. Unfortunately, I was also fairly young and if I had known then what I know now, I'd have done a lot more diagnostics while she was still a weanling and would have asked a lot more questions. I still wonder "what if", even though I realistically know there probably wouldn't have been another option. Neither of her parents were very large (15.2-15.3) so we think it was just a freak thing that happened.

      A friend also just had to put down her three year old as he had a couple of vertebrae impinging his spinal cord. He was fine until a few months ago and all of a sudden had a bunch of problems going to the right, etc. He was very, very unstable and it was affecting his personality as well. He was pretty big though, maybe 16.3+, so not sure if that figured into it.

      Wish I had better stories for you. Will cross my fingers you get a better outcome!
      It's not about the color of the ribbon but the quality of the ride. Having said that, I'd like the blue one please!


      • #4
        He is a cutie...I am so sorry for the diagnosis.

        Not wobblers exactly, but my homebred gelding developed arthritis in his neck at a young age. It took a long time to reach this diagnosis, but the vet who found it labeled him a 4/5 on the neuro scale as well. His movement was very similiar to Rocco's.

        I decided to turn him out and see what happened. He never got worse, never got better. He is a pasture pet, but has a decent life.

        If I were you, I would go the diet route and see what happens. Good luck!


        • Original Poster

          I emailed Richard Ketch from this article:

          and heard back from him. Here is what he said:
          Yes, I’ve been rehabbing wobblers for about ten years, but stopped counting at 40+, with a 90% success rate. Most of them were grade 3-4. I’m assuming yours is gr. 3 or worse? I stay away from drugs and/or surgery, relying on the body’s ability to heal itself. The process is as simple or complicated as you want to make it, but it all revolves around intent……your intent to heal and your horse’s intent to be healed. You also have to be a bit on the crazy side to even think of working with a wobbler. The best thing is to just call me.

          Will be talking to him later tonight


          • #6
            I would be interested in hearing about how this goes, if you decide to try any alternative treatments. For what its worth, I did do several chiropractic treatments on my gelding early on. They did take away the lameness, but unfortunately they did not last.

            Dr. Reed from the article is now at Rood and Riddle. He is a very nice guy and I am sure he would give you his opinion if you called.

            Best of luck!


            • #7
              We have a 17 year old gelding in our rescue who was diagnosed with Wobbles at age 4. I got him at 12. He's a 16.2 hand QH. He is LOW on the scale, our vet said 1-1.5 out of 5. The scale was described to me as follows:

              1 - if you know what you are looking for, you can see he is neurological
              2 - everyone in the room can tell there is something wrong, but not clear what
              3 -
              4 -
              5 - Down and unable to rise

              Our vet encouraged us to "never canter" and "avoid hills" with him. We put him on 6500 IU of Vitamin E per day for the first 2-3 years, and have found that now about 2500-3000 IU per day keeps him stable. He has not progressed, he still is ridden regularly, handles very difficult trails/hills just fine, and is healthy as can be. He actually uses his rear better on the hills than some of our non-wobbles horses and is affectionately called "Tommy the Tank" due to his size and strength.

              http://youtu.be/DJC0rZ0tCJI - this is from earlier this summer; he's the sorrel. (sorry for the wiggly video, I'm on the back of a horse while videotaping!)

              No matter what, start him on Vitamin E. Yours is young, and until he's done growing you likely won't know the extent of his compression. There is also surgery to correct it with a lot of success; but it's expensive; the vets in Iowa quoted us from $5-10,000 with several months rehab. For our 17 year old with few symptoms and no progression, it's not worth it. For your 2 year old, maybe?

              A lot of vets will suggest euthanasia for Wobbles, but more and more people are finding results in rehabbing them using Vitamin E and basically physical therapy. However, usually wobbles is a progressive disease and can be heartbreaking. I know I watch Tommy like a hawk, because I want to let him go with dignity before he gets to the point he can't walk or get himself off the ground.
              If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
              ~ Maya Angelou


              • #8
                We had one many years ago. A wobbler's horse is not, and will never be, safe to ride. He can also be a danger to himself and others in the field. Keep that in mind if you decide to keep him -- you aren't going to want to put yourself in a situation where he can gallop up to you. He might just trip and fall out of the blue. We found a new home for ours because we had a busy program with a lot of kids, and we did not want him to smush someone. You had to be very careful around him as it was not at all uncommon for him to trot around and just fall. he was not as bad as your guy.

                Ours went to a farmer that wanted a pretty palomino face to eat grass with his cows. No kids, just the farmer and his wife.


                • #9
                  I have a mare with some neuro deficit stemming from arthritis at C6/C7, which was diagnosed when she was about 11. She is barely positive on a neuro test but unable to swing evenly from behind, so not really sound to ride. I love her to pieces, and she has a home with me forever, but if I was ever unable to keep her, I would put her down as the future for a lame horse is so uncertain. I will also put her down if she progresses, as a horse that is more profoundly neurological can be terribly dangerous to work around.

                  By all means, investigate options, but also be realistic. Are you prepared to keep this guy as a pet for the rest of his life? I would probably not sign up to do it all over again with a youngster. 4 out of 5 neurological is a very serious deficit.


                  • #10
                    He's adorable! Best of luck with him. I had a guy with cervical arthritis but he developed it later in life so the prognosis is quite different. There are a couple of threads on this topic if you want to do a search.


                    • Original Poster

                      I think, if I see him trip or fall just once, that will be it for me. He is in a paddock where nobody else but me can go, so he is not a danger to anybody (at least for now).

                      The vet said in addition to his diet to put him on 6000 IU of Vitamin E. I just can't put him down without first trying, especially since he is not in pain. I am also having a second set of eyes to look at his x-rays.

                      Bloodwork for EPM just came back negative, not that it matters at this point.

                      Thank you and I will keep you posted. Can't wait to hear what Richard Ketch has to say!


                      • #12

                        OP, I've read your post with great interest. I breed pure Shire horses (actually, my last two foals are now 3 years old and I won't be breeding in future).

                        In 2009 I had two colt foals. I sent them away to be weaned when they were about 7 months old. They came back to me four months later in May, 2010. The boys are 5 weeks apart in age. When the younger one was about 11 months old, I noticed, one afternoon, he was unwilling, or unable, to raise his head or neck above the height of his withers. He was acting quite peculiar, avoiding me despite him always being a very personable young chap. I rang the vet and told him of my concerns. I also mentioned that he wasn't wearing a head collar or halter. He was grazing quietly so we decided to leave it until morning. The next day, at 7am, I found him lying down, on his sternum, having eaten a semi-circle of grass around his body. I ran and got his halter, put it on, and attempted to get him to stand up. When he finally stood, it was clear he was neurologically challenged. I rang my husband and he came down to the field and helped me to get the colt into our pole barn. How he managed to walk the distance in his condition I'll never know. The vet was with us within 15 minutes. He did the typical test for Wobblers: pulling the tail to one side (which almost caused the colt to fall over); attempting to have the colt turn tightly to the right or left (he couldn't); trying to have him back up (again, he couldn't). The colt couldn't stand without his front legs being splayed. He was completely "out of it." Vet gave him a steroid injection. He gave me a couple of choices: euthanasia or a stringent diet of strictly weighed hay, based on a percentage of his body weight, and a daily high dose of Vitamin E. I chose the latter. The colt remained in the pole barn in a section that is 30' x 45', next to his "brother" in the adjoining section. He was so unsteady on his legs that the next morning I found him with gashes and wounds on his face. I also found the water tap pulled off the wall. He must have lost his balance when he went for a drink and caught his face on the tap. He dragged his front and hind legs because of his lack of proprioception. A few days latter, the vet came out with his portable X-ray and spent the morning radiographing his cervical spine. The colt was found to have a compression at C5/6.

                        Thus began months of weighing hay, feeding it in very small amounts around the clock, and administering his Vitamin E in small amounts of chaff. He had no hoof trimming for fear he would fall over on the farrier. At first, he never interacted with his "brother" over the divide, despite them being extremely bonded. Then, one day, I found the boys mutually grooming. I also noticed there were fewer scuffs in his bedding from where he dragged his feet. In spite of these improvements, I had decided to have him put down. I arranged to have a digger prepare a burial hole, and the vet to come out a hour or so later. On the morning this was to be done, I got a call from the digger driver saying he had an emergency and could he come in 3 days. I told him I'd ring the vet and get back to him. When I rang the vet, she said that she would be available, but that she had some time to spare that morning and could she come out and see the colt. When she arrived, she had me move the colt in a wide circle to the right, then to the left. Then she had me back up the colt, which he did easily. Then she had me turn the colt in a tight circle to the right and then to the left (this to see if he were able to cross his feet over each other without tripping, again, which he did with ease). When I was removing his lead rope, and turned to the vet, I noticed she was smiling from ear to ear. I asked her what I had done wrong. She said "nothing." She said she had never seen a Wobbler go from a high grade 3 to a grade 1. I asked her what she would do if the colt were hers. She asked me if he would ever be ridden or driven, to which I answered in the negative. She suggested he have his feet trimmed (for the first time in 4 months), be gelded and take it one day at a time, which is precisely what I did.

                        Today, he is a handsome, 18h 3 year old gelding. He moves effortlessly and in complete balance. This, I was told, came about because of his tender age when he was diagnosed. It was suggested to me that had he been 3 years old or older at diagnosis, putting him on the strict regimen of weighed hay, etc., would have been for naught because at that age he would have attained most of his adult growth, which could not have been manipulated through diet at that point.

                        I'm not a vet, but having viewed the video of your boy and knowing what my boy looked like when he was at his worst, there is no way I would classify Rocco as a grade 4 Wobbler. No way at all! Grade 5 is recumbent and grade 4 is not too far behind. Go for the restricted diet. I took my bathroom scale down to the hay barn and weighed out the amount allowed in a 24 hour period everyday for 4 months. From that amount, I fed my colt a small quantity several times a day until it was all consumed. I will warn you: he was ravenous. There wasn't a piece of hay left on the floor. Source the vitamin E. Use only d-alpha-tocopherol, which is natural. Don't use the synthetic E, which is dl-alpha-tocopherol. I was using an equine product, but it was exorbitant in price. I used a human E capsule, pierced it and squeezed the contents onto a small amount of moistened chaff. When I attempted to put the capsules whole into the chaff, he ate around them, so that was a waste.

                        I wish you all the best of results. Please keep us posted.


                        • Original Poster

                          Amazing results Rutland H2O. They do say that the younger the horse, the better are results! I am glad it all worked out for you and I hope he lives a happy healthy life!

                          I, too don't agree that Rocco is grade 4. Grade 5 is when a horse can't even get up, and my Rocco doesn't even fall, ever.

                          Thanks for good wishes and I will keep you all posted.


                          • Original Poster

                            Had Richard Ketch watch the video, and based on that video he said he would have hard time grading Rocco anything higher than 2. Just as I thought! I will attempt to video the neurological exam tomorrow.


                            • #15
                              That would be helpful. The thing that makes me concerned is that you can see that "wobbler's gait" behind even just walking around. Our horse didn't have that to the same extent and still he'd periodically, once a year or so, have a gigantic wipeout. Never let your guard down.

                              Ours was older, in his teens. Apparently he had to be pulled out with chains at birth and the wobbler's was a result. Of course, someone sold him to us as a "child safe" trail horse. This was many decades ago and he was one of our first horses.

                              That Ketch dude sounds like a total kook, honestly. Doesn't hurt to listen but I wouldn't spend any money on his "therapies."


                              • Original Poster

                                He is not charging me anything I spent almost an hour talking to him on the phone last night and there was no mention of any moneys. He has 19 wobblers on his farm right now that he is rehabbing, and yes, I am assuming he gets paid for that. We talked a lot about energy healing, about acupuncture and chiro, and I realized that a lot of things he was telling me I was already doing, without realizing it.

                                I am a very skeptical person and don't get easily sold on things. But in this situation, I am not losing anything by trying, but I might gain quite a bit. And none of it is invasive or painful to the horse.


                                • #17
                                  I'm a bit surprised no one has really mentioned that there IS a surgical treatment option for wobblers. Not saying it's right for your horse/situation, but it is out there:

                                  This is also an excellent article about diagnostic and treatment options, including the "official" scoring criteria:
                                  *Absolut Equestrian*

                                  "The plural of anecdote is not fact...except in the horse industry"


                                  • #18
                                    I had a wobbler horse that Dr. Reed performed the Bagby Basket surgery.

                                    The surgery went well and by three years old we started under saddle work. 6 months later he was vaccinated and had a high fever and became neurological again. I had further diagnostics done and his brain stem was punctured during the EPM test and had to be put down.

                                    I would definitely try the diet program and see what happens. A few things to keep in mind:

                                    Keep him in an area that his safe - probably not with other horses it might be hard for him to move quickly from a kicking horse.

                                    Be very aware of your surroundings when you are handling him. You don't need to get injured.

                                    Work him in hand practicing gradual turning, going over slight hills, walking on different surfaces like gravel, dirt, concrete at a walk so he learns to use and strengthen his body.

                                    The diet also includes avoiding things like certain vaccinations and worming etc that can cause inflammation.

                                    Supplement with 10,000 IU of Vit E

                                    I have found grass hays like Timothy with the use of a ration balancer to work really well (and the added Vit E). When I was dealing with my wobbler horse I worked with Dr. Reed and Dr. Don Kapper at the time worked with Buckeye Nutrition. KER is a wonderful resource as well.

                                    Having two neurological horses, possibly three (ugg - another story) Nutrition, Chiropractics, acupuncture, exercise and steering clear of certain vaccinations/wormers/herbs/ that cause additional problems is pretty much all you can do for them.

                                    I would rate from your video 2 - 3 grade... which is something if you are willing to spend the time and money you can do with the assistance of your vets etc.

                                    Good luck and jingles for your cute boy.
                                    Live in the sunshine.
                                    Swim in the sea.
                                    Drink the wild air.


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Originally posted by Absolut Equestrian View Post
                                      I'm a bit surprised no one has really mentioned that there IS a surgical treatment option for wobblers. Not saying it's right for your horse/situation, but it is out there:

                                      This is also an excellent article about diagnostic and treatment options, including the "official" scoring criteria:
                                      Oh I know there is surgical treatment. However the success rate is 25-80% for those that have problems in C3-4, but drops drastically for those with problems in C5-6 or C6-7. And since ours is the latter, surgery is out of question. Even if I was loaded with $$$ I wouldn't go for surgery in Rocco's situation.

                                      And here is the grading from that article:
                                      0 No deficits detected
                                      1 Mild deficits detected by a trained clinician
                                      2 Deficits detected by most observers
                                      3 Prominent deficits detected by all observers
                                      4 Marked deficits (e.g., the horse may fall during the
                                      5 The horse cannot rise

                                      Doublestable, do you have more information as to which wormers/vaccinationis/herbs should be avoided?
                                      Last edited by TimelessRanch; Oct. 5, 2012, 01:21 PM.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by TimelessRanch View Post
                                        Oh I know there is surgical treatment. However the success rate is 25-80% for those that have problems in C3-4, but drops drastically for those with problems in C5-6 or C6-7. And since ours is the latter, surgery is out of question. Even if I was loaded with $$$ I wouldn't go for surgery in Rocco's situation.

                                        I had the surgery done on my horse and was paid through my insurance company. The surgery was done to C 5 and C 6

                                        When the vet completed the necropsy after I had him euthanized they asked if they could keep the vertebra for medical reasons because it was so successful and a great example of the surgery performed. I actually watched the surgery along with many other vets and students because it is a surgery that is not done too often.

                                        I understand why you would not want the surgery done and think you can try to manage it with those you have contacted already.
                                        Live in the sunshine.
                                        Swim in the sea.
                                        Drink the wild air.