Home Dog Health Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Ensuring your dog lives a good life can sometimes involve making hard decisions. Degenerative myelopathy is a scary disease. 

If you've ever seen a dog with a mobility aid, chances are that degenerative myelopathy was the cause.

Degenerative myelopathy is a major concern for certain breeds and can significantly impact your pet's quality of life. 

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment for dogs with degenerative myelopathy.

We have gathered the best information to answer all your questions and help you make the right decisions for your beloved pet.

What is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?

What is Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs?

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a disease found in dogs that affects the spinal cord. 

Also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM), this disease results in progressive hind-leg paralysis and muscle atrophy. 

In later stages, the forelimbs can also be affected.

DM is similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease in humans. 

It is believed to be caused by genetic abnormalities.

Unfortunately, degenerative myelopathy is irreversible and fatal. 

Life expectancy for dogs with DM is only 1-2 years, and seeing your pet struggle can be very distressing. 

Euthanasia must be considered if the dog has a poor quality of life.

Breeds Affected the Most by DM

Degenerative myelopathy is most common in middle-aged to older dogs between the ages of 4 and 14. 

Certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to degenerative myelopathy than others. 

These breeds include:

Causes of Degenerative Mylopathy in Dogs

Causes of Degenerative Mylopathy in Dogs

Degenerative myelopathy is tied to a genetic mutation. 

The mutated SOD-1 gene is believed to cause degenerative myelopathy. 

DNA testing shows three possible scenarios:

  • Two normal copies of the SOD-1 gene (No risk of DM)
  • One normal and one mutated gene (Known as carriers, DM can occur in offspring)
  • Two copies of the mutated gene (High risk of developing DM)

The exact cause of degenerative myelopathy is unknown. 

Even dogs with two mutated SOD-1 genes can live their whole lives without any symptoms of DM. Other factors may play a role, but we do not know what these are.

In any case, at-risk breeds should be DNA tested before breeding. 

Even if both parents have only one mutated SOD-1 gene, there is still a 25 percent chance that their offspring will have two mutated genes. 

Symptoms of DM in Dogs

Your dog will have weak hind legs in the initial stages of degenerative myelopathy.

Dragging or crossing the hind legs while walking is a clear symptom that something is off. 

The paws may knuckle, especially when turning corners. 

Being off balance while standing and difficulty getting up are also common symptoms. 

As time passes, these symptoms worsen, leading to complete paralysis of the hind legs.

Many of these symptoms also occur in chronic orthopedic diseases like arthritis. 

If you notice these symptoms, you should take your dog to a vet for a thorough medical examination.

How is DM Diagnosed?

How is DM Diagnosed?

Degenerative myelopathy cannot be diagnosed directly. DM is suspected based on the breed, age, and symptoms. 

Afterward, all other conditions are ruled out to establish a diagnosis of DM.

DNA testing is done to check for the mutated SOD-1 gene. Only dogs with two mutated SOD-1 genes can develop degenerative myelopathy. 

However, DNA testing alone cannot prove that DM is the cause of the dog's symptoms. 

Many dogs present with multiple conditions, but this does not rule out the possibility of DM. 

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-rays, and other medical imaging techniques are then used to rule out arthritis and hip dysplasia.

Samples of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) are also taken. 

Your dog will need general anesthesia for the MRI and CSF tests. 

General anesthesia means your dog will be put to sleep for a short time so that medical procedures can be performed safely.

Treatment for DM in Dogs

Unfortunately, there aren't any known treatments for degenerative myelopathy in dogs. 

Dogs with degenerative myelopathy do not show signs of pain and just appear very weak. 

Other conditions, such as arthritis, can co-occur with degenerative myelopathy. This can result in your dog experiencing pain. 

nIt is crucial to get a proper diagnosis as medication can help reduce pain and improve quality of life.

In the early stages of degenerative myelopathy, an active lifestyle combined with physical therapy is the best option to slow the progression. 

Muscle atrophy is inevitable, but regular exercise will keep your dog on its feet for as long as possible. 

In the later stages, mobility aids will become necessary. 

There are paraplegic carts available for dogs that can help your dog move around, even with paralyzed hind legs. 

As the condition progresses, dogs with DM will have trouble controlling urination and defecation.

If your dog has degenerative myelopathy, you should watch the following youtube video:

Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs Summary

Quality of life is the most critical factor to consider if your dog has degenerative myelopathy. 

This condition is more common in dogs of older age and is progressive. The life expectancy of healthy dogs is around 12 years. 

You must talk to your veterinarian to help determine the best course of action for your dog. 

Mobility aids are a good option if the dog can learn to use them. 

Many owners choose palliative care before considering euthanasia once the dog cannot stand alone.

Saying goodbye to a pet is hard. We recommend talking to people who have gone through similar experiences. 

The tiniest feet leave the most giant footprints in our hearts. 

If you have any questions feel free to ask us in the comments