Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a neurodegenerative 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 signals to “move” no longer occurs.
Breeds that are most affected by DM
- German Shephard Dogs
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks
- Standard Poodles
- Golden Retrievers
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.
Loss of coordination
Wobbling when walking and or rear feet, 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
- Limbs become weak; the dog has difficulty standing.
- Weakness progresses until the dog can no longer walk using hind limbs.
- 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 all other possible causes are excluded, a diagnosis is of DM is confirmed.
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 dog’s quality of life.
Assistive equipment can increase a dog’s 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 dog independence, improve quality of life, and make it easier to assist the dog safely.
(Dorothy uses her wheels for mobility.)
Again, balance is essential 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 management is often part of the treatment plan. While the disease itself is not painful, the dog’s 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 three 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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