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Degenerative Myelopathy In Dogs

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a degenerative disease affecting many breeds of dogs
According to Georgia Veterinary Rehabilitation Fitness and Pain Management (GVR), this disease is often compared to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease in humans
It impacts the myelin, the white matter of the spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. The place messages are sent from the dog’s brain to the limbs.  Eventually, the dog will become paralyzed when transmission of the messages to “move” no longer occurs.   
Breeds that are most affected by DM
  • German Shephard Dogs
  • Boxers
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks
  • Standard Poodles
Symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
The onset of symptoms of Degenerative Myelopathy in dogs is typically seen in adult dogs, anywhere from ages 8 to 14 years old.
Initial:
  • Loss of coordination

  • Wobbling when walking and or rear feed knuckling or dragging

  • Mild hind end weakness

  • Trouble navigating stairs, walking up steps, squatting to use the bathroom, sitting down and or getting into the car

  • Can first occur in one limb and then move to the other limb
 Intermediate:
  • Limbs become weak, the dog has difficulty standing
  • Weakness progresses until the dog can no longer walk using hind limbs
Advanced:
  • Incontinence
  • Weakness in the front limb
Diagnosis of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
According to the Canine Genetic Disease Network, Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs can only be diagnosed by eliminating other possible causes or diseases. This means a veterinarian will use diagnostic tests such as x-rays, CT scans, MRI or myelograms to determine his findings. Once other possible causes are excluded, a diagnosis is of DM is confirmed.
Other Causes:
  • Herniated discs

  • Stroke

  • Tumor

  • Infection

  • Cysts

  • Injuries
Treatment of Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs
There is no cure for Degenerative Myelopathy.  Treatments used are to keep a dog comfortable and enhance their quality of life. Unfortunately, the prognosis for DM is always death. However, through quality treatment options, a dog’s life can be extended and more enjoyable.
Beneficial Therapy & Rehabilitation
A fine balance of physical rehabilitation can help the progression of DM and the dogs quality of life.
Therapies include:
  • Electro-Acupuncture

  • Acupuncture

  • Chiropractic
  • Laser Therapy

  • Strength & Balance Exercises

  • Hydrotherapy

  • Swimming

  • Massage Therapy

Assisted Equipment
Assistive equipment can increase dogs mobility. By helping to shift weight, support affected limbs, help a dog can move around with ease, they are especially helpful for larger breeds as they are difficult to lift.
Using any of the listed assistance equipment will offer a dog independence, improve quality of life, and make it easier to safely assist the dog.
(Dorothy uses her wheels for mobility.)
Again, balance is important because there is a fine line between too much therapy and not enough. The goal is to find that balance and not aid the progression of the disease.
Pain Managment
Pain management is often part of the treatment plan. While the disease itself is not painful, the dogs stronger body parts begin to overcompensate for the weak parts and they can become tired and sore.
 
A dog that has been diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy and treated can expect to live an additional 3 years.  Remember, the goal is to provide comfort to the dog while rehabilitating him to work against a more rapid progression.

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