Two-year-old Great Dane Charles has a big personality to match his enormous frame – he stands six feet high on his hind legs. But six months ago, Vicky and Steve noticed he was becoming unsteady, and their vet diagnosed a spinal condition known as ‘wobblers disease'.
Wobblers disease is a condition where the spinal cord in the neck of larger breed dogs is compressed either by genetically damaged discs or abnormal bone formation. Charles was affected by the latter form, where malformed vertebrae were squashing his spinal cord at six separate sites in his neck.
There are other forms of surgery, but due to the poor outcomes he has experienced in such severely affected dogs, Noel developed a continuous spinal fusion system with special intervertebral spacers called a ‘CerFitz’. He is the only surgeon in the world performing this surgery successfully for several years. In Charles’ case, this will involve fusing his entire neck.
Vicky and Steve are pinning all their hopes on spinal surgery for Charles – which Steve knows only too well is a hugely serious undertaking, as he had multiple surgeries following a bike accident a decade earlier. When they first come to see him, Noel advocates caution – “This is such a massive surgery it would need to be a life or death procedure,” and when he first saw Charles he did not feel that surgery was ethically justified and just gave him medication.
Unfortunately, by three months later, Charles’ condition had deteriorated to the point where he was regularly stumbling over and crashing to the ground on his head. His quality of life was very poor and he could hardly stand. “The reason we have been so reticent to do this is he could die,” explains Noel. “That’s the bottom line. Something could go wrong... but you’re between a rock and a hard place now.”